Children of the Ghetto
Part 6 out of 12
"Ah, they are a bad lot, these Rabbis," said Simon Wolf, sipping his
sherry. The conversation took place in English and the two men were
seated in a small private room in a public-house, awaiting the advent of
the Strike Committee.
"Dey are like de rest of de Community. I vash my hands of dem," said the
poet, waving his cigar in a fiery crescent.
"I have long since washed my hands of them," said Simon Wolf, though the
fact was not obvious. "We can trust neither our Rabbis nor our
philanthropists. The Rabbis engrossed in the hypocritical endeavor to
galvanize the corpse of Judaism into a vitality that shall last at least
their own lifetime, have neither time nor thought for the great labor
question. Our philanthropists do but scratch the surface. They give the
working-man with their right hand what they have stolen from him with
Simon Wolf was the great Jewish labor leader. Most of his cronies were
rampant atheists, disgusted with the commercialism of the believers.
They were clever young artisans from Russia and Poland with a smattering
of education, a feverish receptiveness for all the iconoclastic ideas
that were in the London air, a hatred of capitalism and strong social
sympathies. They wrote vigorous jargon for the _Friend of Labor_ and
compassed the extreme proverbial limits of impiety by "eating pork on
the Day of Atonement." This was done partly to vindicate their religious
opinions whose correctness was demonstrated by the non-appearance of
thunderbolts, partly to show that nothing one way or the other was to be
expected from Providence or its professors.
"The only way for our poor brethren to be saved from their slavery,"
went on Simon Wolf, "is for them to combine against the sweaters and to
let the West-End Jews go and hang themselves."
"Ah, dat is mine policee," said Pinchas, "dat was mine policee ven I
founded de Holy Land League. Help yourselves and Pinchas vill help you.
You muz combine, and den I vill be de Moses to lead you out of de land
of bondage. _Nein_, I vill be more dan Moses, for he had not de gift of
"And he was the meekest man that ever lived," added Wolf.
"Yes, he was a fool-man," said Pinchas imperturbably. "I agree with
Goethe--_nur Lumpen sind bescheiden_, only clods are modaist. I am not
modaist. Is the Almighty modaist? I know, I feel vat I am, vat I can
"Look here, Pinchas, you're a very clever fellow, I know, and I'm very
glad to have you with us--but remember I have organized this movement
for years, planned it out as I sat toiling in Belcovitch's machine-room,
written on it till I've got the cramp, spoken on it till I was hoarse,
given evidence before innumerable Commissions. It is I who have stirred
up the East-End Jews and sent the echo of their cry into Parliament, and
I will not be interfered with. Do you hear?"
"Yes, I hear. Vy you not listen to me? You no understand vat I mean!"
"Oh, I understand you well enough. You want to oust me from my
"Me? Me?" repeated the poet in an injured and astonished tone. "Vy
midout you de movement vould crumble like a mummy in de air; be not such
a fool-man. To everybody I haf said--ah, dat Simon Wolf he is a great
man, a vair great man; he is de only man among de English Jews who can
save de East-End; it is he that should be member for Vitechapel--not
that fool-man Gideon. Be not such a fool-man! Haf anoder glaz sherry and
some more ham-sandwiches." The poet had a simple child-like delight in
occasionally assuming the host.
"Very well, so long as I have your assurance," said the mollified
labor-leader, mumbling the conclusion of the sentence into his
wine-glass. "But you know how it is! After I have worked the thing for
years, I don't want to see a drone come in and take the credit."
"Yes, _sic vos non vobis_, as the Talmud says. Do you know I haf proved
that Virgil stole all his ideas from the Talmud?"
"First there was Black and then there was Cohen--now Gideon, M.P., sees
he can get some advertisement out of it in the press, he wants to
preside at the meetings. Members of Parliament are a bad lot!"
"Yes--but dey shall not take de credit from you. I will write and expose
dem--the world shall know what humbugs dey are, how de whole wealthy
West-End stood idly by with her hands in de working-men's pockets while
you vere building up de great organization. You know all de
jargon-papers jump at vat I write, dey sign my name in vair large
type--Melchitsedek Pinchas--under every ting, and I am so pleased with
deir homage, I do not ask for payment, for dey are vair poor. By dis
time I am famous everywhere, my name has been in de evening papers, and
ven I write about you to de _Times_, you vill become as famous as me.
And den you vill write about me--ve vill put up for Vitechapel at de
elections, ve vill both become membairs of Parliament, I and you, eh?"
"I'm afraid there's not much chance of that," sighed Simon Wolf.
"Vy not? Dere are two seats. Vy should you not haf de Oder?"
"Ain't you forgetting about election expenses, Pinchas?"
"_Nein_!" repeated the poet emphatically. "I forgets noding. Ve vill
start a fund."
"We can't start funds for ourselves."
"Be not a fool-man; of course not. You for me, I for you."
"You won't get much," said Simon, laughing ruefully at the idea.
"Tink not? Praps not. But _you_ vill for me. Ven I am in Parliament, de
load vill be easier for us both. Besides I vill go to de Continent soon
to give avay de rest of de copies of my book. I expect to make dousands
of pounds by it--for dey know how to honor scholars and poets abroad.
Dere dey haf not stupid-head stockbrokers like Gideon, M.P., ministers
like the Reverend Elkan Benjamin who keep four mistresses, and Rabbis
like Reb Shemuel vid long white beards outside and emptiness vidin who
sell deir daughters."
"I don't want to look so far ahead," said Simon Wolf. "At present, what
we have to do is to carry this strike through. Once we get our demands
from the masters a powerful blow will have been struck for the
emancipation of ten thousand working-men. They will have more money and
more leisure, a little less of hell and a little more of heaven. The
coming Passover would, indeed, be an appropriate festival even for the
most heterodox among them if we could strike oft their chains in the
interim. But it seems impossible to get unity among them--a large
section appears to mistrust me, though I swear to you, Pinchas, I am
actuated by nothing but an unselfish desire for their good. May this
morsel of sandwich choke me if I have ever been swayed by anything but
sympathy with their wrongs. And yet you saw that malicious pamphlet that
was circulated against me in Yiddish--silly, illiterate scribble."
"Oh, no!" said Pinchas. "It was vair beautiful; sharp as de sting of de
hornet. But vat can you expect? Christ suffered. All great benefactors
suffer. Am _I_ happy? But it is only your own foolishness that you must
tank if dere is dissension in de camp. De _Gomorah_ says ve muz be vize,
_chocham_, ve muz haf tact. See vat you haf done. You haf frighten avay
de ortodox fool-men. Dey are oppressed, dey sweat--but dey tink deir God
make dem sweat. Why you tell dem, no? Vat mattairs? Free dem from hunger
and tirst first, den freedom from deir fool-superstitions vill come of
itself. Jeshurun vax fat and kick? Hey? You go de wrong vay."
"Do you mean I'm to pretend to be _froom_," said Simon Wolf.
"And ven? Vat mattairs? You are a fool, man. To get to de goal one muz
go crooked vays. Ah, you have no stadesmanship. You frighten dem. You
lead processions vid bands and banners on _Shabbos_ to de _Shools_. Many
who vould be glad to be delivered by you tremble for de heavenly
lightning. Dey go not in de procession. Many go when deir head is on
fire--afterwards, dey take fright and beat deir breasts. Vat vill
happen? De ortodox are de majority; in time dere vill come a leader who
vill be, or pretend to be, ortodox as veil as socialist. Den vat become
of you? You are left vid von, two, tree ateists--not enough to make
_Minyan_. No, ve muz be _chocham_, ve muz take de men as ve find dem.
God has made two classes of men--vise-men and fool-men. Dere! is one
vise-man to a million fool-men--and he sits on deir head and dey support
him. If dese fool-men vant to go to _Shool_ and to fast on _Yom Kippur_,
vat for you make a feast of pig and shock dem, so dey not believe in
your socialism? Ven you vant to eat pig, you do it here, like ve do now,
in private. In public, ve spit out ven ve see pig. Ah, you are a
fool-man. I am a stadesman, a politician. I vill be de Machiavelli of de
"Ah, Pinchas, you are a devil of a chap," said Wolf, laughing. "And yet
you say you are the poet of patriotism and Palestine."
"Vy not? Vy should we lif here in captivity? Vy we shall not have our
own state--and our own President, a man who combine deep politic vid
knowledge of Hebrew literature and de pen of a poet. No, let us fight to
get back our country--ve vill not hang our harps on the villows of
Babylon and veep--ve vill take our swords vid Ezra and Judas Maccabaeus,
"One thing at a time, Pinchas," said Simon Wolf. "At present, we have to
consider how to distribute these food-tickets. The committee-men are
late; I wonder if there has been any fighting at the centres, where they
have been addressing meetings."
"Ah, dat is anoder point," said Pinchas. "Vy you no let me address
meetings--not de little ones in de street, but de great ones in de hall
of de Club? Dere my vords vould rush like de moundain dorrents, sveeping
avay de corruptions. But you let all dese fool-men talk. You know,
Simon, I and you are de only two persons in de East-End who speak
"I know. But these speeches must be in Yiddish."
"_Gewiss_. But who speak her like me and you? You muz gif me a speech
"I can't; really not," said Simon. "The programme's arranged. You know
they're all jealous of me already. I dare not leave one out."
"Ah, no; do not say dat!" said Pinchas, laying his finger pleadingly on
the side of his nose.
"You tear my heart in two. I lof you like a brother--almost like a
voman. Just von!" There was an appealing smile in his eye.
"I cannot. I shall have a hornet's nest about my ears."
"Von leedle von, Simon Wolf!" Again his finger was on his nose.
"It is impossible."
"You haf not considair how my Yiddish shall make kindle every heart,
strike tears from every eye, as Moses did from de rock."
"I have. I know. But what am I to do?"
"Jus dis leedle favor; and I vill be gradeful to you all mine life."
"You know I would if I could."
Pinchas's finger was laid more insistently on his nose.
"Just dis vonce. Grant me dis, and I vill nevair ask anyding of you in
all my life."
"No, no. Don't bother, Pinchas. Go away now," said Wolf, getting
annoyed. "I have lots to do."
"I vill never gif you mine ideas again!" said the poet, flashing up, and
he went out and banged the door.
The labor-leader settled to his papers with a sigh of relief.
The relief was transient. A moment afterwards the door was slightly
opened, and Pinchas's head was protruded through the aperture. The poet
wore his most endearing smile, the finger was laid coaxingly against the
"Just von leedle speech, Simon. Tink how I lof you."
"Oh, well, go away. I'll see," replied Wolf, laughing amid all his
The poet rushed in and kissed the hem of Wolf's coat.
"Oh, you be a great man!" he said. Then he walked out, closing the door
gently. A moment afterwards, a vision of the dusky head, with the
carneying smile and the finger on the nose, reappeared.
"You von't forget your promise," said the head.
"No, no. Go to the devil. I won't forget."
Pinchas walked home through streets thronged with excited strikers,
discussing the situation with oriental exuberance of gesture, with any
one who would listen. The demands of these poor slop-hands (who could
only count upon six hours out of the twenty-four for themselves, and
who, by the help of their wives and little ones in finishing, might earn
a pound a week) were moderate enough--hours from eight to eight, with an
hour for dinner and half an hour for tea, two shillings from the
government contractors for making a policeman's great-coat instead of
one and ninepence halfpenny, and so on and so on. Their intentions were
strictly peaceful. Every face was stamped with the marks of intellect
and ill-health--the hue of a muddy pallor relieved by the flash of eyes
and teeth. Their shoulders stooped, their chests were narrow, their arms
flabby. They came in their hundreds to the hall at night. It was
square-shaped with a stage and galleries, for a jargon-company sometimes
thrilled the Ghetto with tragedy and tickled it with farce. Both species
were playing to-night, and in jargon to boot. In real life you always
get your drama mixed, and the sock of comedy galls the buskin of
tragedy. It was an episode in the pitiful tussle of hunger and greed,
yet its humors were grotesque enough.
Full as the Hall was, it was not crowded, for it was Friday night and a
large contingent of strikers refused to desecrate the Sabbath by
attending the meeting. But these were the zealots--Moses Ansell among
them, for he, too, had struck. Having been out of work already he had
nothing to lose by augmenting the numerical importance of the agitation.
The moderately pious argued that there was no financial business to
transact and attendance could hardly come under the denomination of
work. It was rather analogous to attendance at a lecture--they would
simply have to listen to speeches. Besides it would be but a black
Sabbath at home with a barren larder, and they had already been to
synagogue. Thus degenerates ancient piety in the stress of modern social
problems. Some of the men had not even changed their everyday face for
their Sabbath countenance by washing it. Some wore collars, and shiny
threadbare garments of dignified origin, others were unaffectedly
poverty-stricken with dingy shirt-cuffs peeping out of frayed sleeve
edges and unhealthily colored scarfs folded complexly round their necks.
A minority belonged to the Free-thinking party, but the majority only
availed themselves of Wolf's services because they were indispensable.
For the moment he was the only possible leader, and they were
sufficiently Jesuitic to use the Devil himself for good ends.
Though Wolf would not give up a Friday-night meeting--especially
valuable, as permitting of the attendance of tailors who had not yet
struck--Pinchas's politic advice had not failed to make an impression.
Like so many reformers who have started with blatant atheism, he was
beginning to see the insignificance of irreligious dissent as compared
with the solution of the social problem, and Pinchas's seed had fallen
on ready soil. As a labor-leader, pure and simple, he could count upon a
far larger following than as a preacher of militant impiety. He resolved
to keep his atheism in the background for the future and devote himself
to the enfranchisement of the body before tampering with the soul. He
was too proud ever to acknowledge his indebtedness to the poet's
suggestion, but he felt grateful to him all the same.
"My brothers," he said in Yiddish, when his turn came to speak. "It
pains me much to note how disunited we are. The capitalists, the
Belcovitches, would rejoice if they but knew all that is going on. Have
we not enemies enough that we must quarrel and split up into little
factions among ourselves? (Hear, hear.) How can we hope to succeed
unless we are thoroughly organized? It has come to my ears that there
are men who insinuate things even about me and before I go on further
to-night I wish to put this question to you." He paused and there was a
breathless silence. The orator threw his chest forwards and gazing
fearlessly at the assembly cried in a stentorian voice:
_"Sind sie zufrieden mit ihrer Chairman?"_ (Are you satisfied with your
His audacity made an impression. The discontented cowered timidly in
"_Yes_," rolled back from the assembly, proud of its English
"_Nein_," cried a solitary voice from the topmost gallery.
Instantly the assembly was on its legs, eyeing the dissentient angrily.
"Get down! Go on the platform!" mingled with cries of "order" from the
Chairman, who in vain summoned him on to the stage. The dissentient
waved a roll of paper violently and refused to modify his standpoint. He
was evidently speaking, for his jaws were making movements, which in the
din and uproar could not rise above grimaces. There was a battered high
hat on the back of his head, and his hair was uncombed, and his face
unwashed. At last silence was restored and the tirade became audible.
"Cursed sweaters--capitalists--stealing men's brains--leaving us to rot
and starve in darkness and filth. Curse them! Curse them!" The speaker's
voice rose to a hysterical scream, as he rambled on.
Some of the men knew him and soon there flew from lip to lip, "Oh, it's
only _Meshuggene David_."
Mad Davy was a gifted Russian university student, who had been mixed up
with nihilistic conspiracies and had fled to England where the struggle
to find employ for his clerical talents had addled his brain. He had a
gift for chess and mechanical invention, and in the early days had saved
himself from starvation by the sale of some ingenious patents to a
swaggering co-religionist who owned race-horses and a music-hall, but he
sank into squaring the circle and inventing perpetual motion. He lived
now on the casual crumbs of indigent neighbors, for the charitable
organizations had marked him "dangerous." He was a man of infinite
loquacity, with an intense jealousy of Simon Wolf or any such
uninstructed person who assumed to lead the populace, but when the
assembly accorded him his hearing he forgot the occasion of his rising
in a burst of passionate invective against society.
When the irrelevancy of his remarks became apparent, he was rudely
howled down and his neighbors pulled him into his seat, where he
gibbered and mowed inaudibly.
Wolf continued his address.
"_Sind sie zufrieden mit ihrer Secretary_?"
This time there was no dissent. The _"Yes"_ came like thunder.
"_Sind sie zufrieden mit ihrer Treasurer_?"
_Yeas_ and _nays_ mingled. The question of the retention, of the
functionary was put to the vote. But there was much confusion, for the
East-End Jew is only slowly becoming a political animal. The ayes had
it, but Wolf was not yet satisfied with the satisfaction of the
gathering. He repeated the entire batch of questions in a new formula so
as to drive them home.
"_Hot aner etwas zu sagen gegen mir_?" Which is Yiddish for "has any one
anything to say against me?"
"_No_!" came in a vehement roar.
"_Hot aner etwas zu sagen gegen dem secretary_?"
"_Hot aner etwas zu sagen gegen dem treasurer_?"
Having thus shown his grasp of logical exhaustiveness in a manner unduly
exhausting to the more intelligent, Wolf consented to resume his
oration. He had scored a victory, and triumph lent him added eloquence.
When he ceased he left his audience in a frenzy of resolution and
loyalty. In the flush of conscious power and freshly added influence, he
found a niche for Pinchas's oratory.
"Brethren in exile," said the poet in his best Yiddish.
Pinchas spoke German which is an outlandish form of Yiddish and scarce
understanded of the people, so that to be intelligible he had to divest
himself of sundry inflections, and to throw gender to the winds and to
say "wet" for "wird" and mix hybrid Hebrew and ill-pronounced English
with his vocabulary. There was some cheering as Pinchas tossed his
dishevelled locks and addressed the gathering, for everybody to whom he
had ever spoken knew that he was a wise and learned man and a great
singer in Israel.
"Brethren in exile," said the poet. "The hour has come for laying the
sweaters low. Singly we are sand-grains, together we are the simoom. Our
great teacher, Moses, was the first Socialist. The legislation of the
Old Testament--the land laws, the jubilee regulations, the tender care
for the poor, the subordination of the rights of property to the
interests of the working-men--all this is pure Socialism!"
The poet paused for the cheers which came in a mighty volume. Few of
those present knew what Socialism was, but all knew the word as a
shibboleth of salvation from sweaters. Socialism meant shorter hours and
higher wages and was obtainable by marching with banners and brass
bands--what need to inquire further?
"In short," pursued the poet, "Socialism is Judaism and Judaism is
Socialism, and Karl Marx and Lassalle, the founders of Socialism, were
Jews. Judaism does not bother with the next world. It says, 'Eat, drink
and be satisfied and thank the Lord, thy God, who brought thee out of
Egypt from the land of bondage.' But we have nothing to eat, we have
nothing to drink, we have nothing to be satisfied with, we are still in
the land of bondage." (Cheers.) "My brothers, how can we keep Judaism in
a land where there is no Socialism? We must become better Jews, we must
bring on Socialism, for the period of Socialism on earth and of peace
and plenty and brotherly love is what all our prophets and great
teachers meant by Messiah-times."
A little murmur of dissent rose here and there, but Pinchas went on.
"When Hillel the Great summed up the law to the would-be proselyte while
standing on one leg, how did he express it? 'Do not unto others what you
would not have others do unto you.' This is Socialism in a nut-shell. Do
not keep your riches for yourself, spread them abroad. Do not fatten on
the labor of the poor, but share it. Do not eat the food others have
earned, but earn your own. Yes, brothers, the only true Jews in England
are the Socialists. Phylacteries, praying-shawls--all nonsense. Work
for Socialism--that pleases the Almighty. The Messiah will be a
There were mingled sounds, men asking each other dubiously, "What says
he?" They began to sniff brimstone. Wolf, shifting uneasily on his
chair, kicked the poet's leg in reminder of his own warning. But
Pinchas's head was touching the stars again. Mundane considerations were
left behind somewhere in the depths of space below his feet.
"But how is the Messiah to redeem his people?" he asked. "Not now-a-days
by the sword but by the tongue. He will plead the cause of Judaism, the
cause of Socialism, in Parliament. He will not come with mock miracle
like Bar Cochba or Zevi. At the general election, brothers, I will stand
as the candidate for Whitechapel. I, a poor man, one of yourselves, will
take my stand in that mighty assembly and touch the hearts of the
legislators. They shall bend before my oratory as the bulrushes of the
Nile when the wind passes. They will make me Prime Minister like Lord
Beaconsfield, only he was no true lover of his people, he was not the
Messiah. To hell with the rich bankers and the stockbrokers--we want
them not. We will free ourselves."
The extraordinary vigor of the poet's language and gestures told. Only
half comprehending, the majority stamped and huzzahed. Pinchas swelled
visibly. His slim, lithe form, five and a quarter feet high, towered
over the assembly. His complexion was as burnished copper, his eyes
"Yes, brethren," he resumed. "These Anglo-Jewish swine trample unheeding
on the pearls of poetry and scholarship, they choose for Ministers men
with four mistresses, for Chief Rabbis hypocrites who cannot even write
the holy tongue grammatically, for _Dayanim_ men who sell their
daughters to the rich, for Members of Parliament stockbrokers who cannot
speak English, for philanthropists greengrocers who embezzle funds. Let
us have nothing to do with these swine--Moses our teacher forbade it.
(Laughter.) I will be the Member for Whitechapel. See, my name
Melchitsedek Pinchas already makes M.P.--it was foreordained. If every
letter of the _Torah_ has its special meaning, and none was put by
chance, why should the finger of heaven not have written my name thus:
M.P.--Melchitsedek Pinchas. Ah, our brother Wolf speaks truth--wisdom
issues from his lips. Put aside your petty quarrels and unite in working
for my election to Parliament. Thus and thus only shall you be redeemed
from bondage, made from beasts of burden into men, from slaves to
citizens, from false Jews to true Jews. Thus and thus only shall you
eat, drink and be satisfied, and thank me for bringing you out of the
land of bondage. Thus and thus only shall Judaism cover the world as the
waters cover the sea."
The fervid peroration overbalanced the audience, and from all sides
except the platform applause warmed the poet's ears. He resumed his
seat, and as he did so he automatically drew out a match and a cigar,
and lit the one with the other. Instantly the applause dwindled, died;
there was a moment of astonished silence, then a roar of execration. The
bulk of the audience, as Pinchas, sober, had been shrewd enough to see,
was still orthodox. This public desecration of the Sabbath by smoking
was intolerable. How should the God of Israel aid the spread of
Socialism and the shorter hours movement and the rise of prices a penny
on a coat, if such devil's incense were borne to His nostrils? Their
vague admiration of Pinchas changed into definite distrust. "_Epikouros,
Epikouros, Meshumad_" resounded from all sides. The poet looked
wonderingly about him, failing to grasp the situation. Simon Wolf saw
his opportunity. With an angry jerk he knocked the glowing cigar from
between the poet's teeth. There was a yell of delight and approbation.
Wolf jumped to his feet. "Brothers," he roared, "you know I am not
_froom_, but I will not have anybody else's feelings trampled upon." So
saying, he ground the cigar under his heel.
Immediately an abortive blow from the poet's puny arm swished the air.
Pinchas was roused, the veins on his forehead swelled, his heart thumped
rapidly in his bosom. Wolf shook his knobby fist laughingly at the poet,
who made no further effort to use any other weapon of offence but his
"Hypocrite!" he shrieked. "Liar! Machiavelli! Child of the separation! A
black year on thee! An evil spirit in thy bones and in the bones of thy
father and mother. Thy father was a proselyte and thy mother an
abomination. The curses of Deuteronomy light on thee. Mayest thou become
covered with boils like Job! And you," he added, turning on the
audience, "pack of Men-of-the-earth! Stupid animals! How much longer
will you bend your neck to the yoke of superstition while your bellies
are empty? Who says I shall not smoke? Was tobacco known to Moses our
Teacher? If so he would have enjoyed it on the _Shabbos_. He was a wise
man like me. Did the Rabbis know of it? No, fortunately, else they were
so stupid they would have forbidden it. You are all so ignorant that you
think not of these things. Can any one show me where it stands that we
must not smoke on _Shabbos_? Is not _Shabbos_ a day of rest, and how can
we rest if we smoke not? I believe with the Baal-Shem that God is more
pleased when I smoke my cigar than at the prayers of all the stupid
Rabbis. How dare you rob me of my cigar--is that keeping _Shabbos_?" He
turned back to Wolf, and tried to push his foot from off the cigar.
There was a brief struggle. A dozen men leaped on the platform and
dragged the poet away from his convulsive clasp of the labor-leader's
leg. A few opponents of Wolf on the platform cried, "Let the man alone,
give him his cigar," and thrust themselves amongst the invaders. The
hall was in tumult. From the gallery the voice of Mad Davy resounded
"Cursed sweaters--stealing men's brains--darkness and filth--curse them!
Blow them up I as we blew up Alexander. Curse them!"
Pinchas was carried, shrieking hysterically, and striving to bite the
arms of his bearers, through the tumultuous crowd, amid a little
ineffective opposition, and deposited outside the door.
Wolf made another speech, sealing the impression he had made. Then the
poor narrow-chested pious men went home through the cold air to recite
the Song of Solomon in their stuffy back-rooms and garrets. "Behold thou
art fair, my love," they intoned in a strange chant. "Behold thou art
fair, thou hast doves' eyes. Behold thou art fair, my beloved, yea
pleasant; also our couch is green. The beams of our house are cedar and
our rafters are fir. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and
gone; the flowers appear upon the earth; the time of the singing of
birds is come and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. Thy
plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits, calamus,
cinnamon with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloe with all the
chief spices; a fountain of gardens; a well of living waters and streams
from Lebanon. Awake, O north wind and come, thou south, blow upon my
garden that the spices thereof may flow out."
THE HOPE EXTINCT.
The strike came to an end soon after. To the delight of Melchitsedek
Pinchas, Gideon, M.P., intervened at the eleventh hour, unceremoniously
elbowing Simon Wolf out of his central position. A compromise was
arranged and jubilance and tranquillity reigned for some months, till
the corruptions of competitive human nature brought back the old state
of things--for employers have quite a diplomatic reverence for treaties
and the brotherly love of employees breaks down under the strain of
supporting families. Rather to his own surprise Moses Ansell found
himself in work at least three days a week, the other three being spent
in hanging round the workshop waiting for it. It is an uncertain trade,
is the manufacture of slops, which was all Moses was fitted for, but if
you are not at hand you may miss the "work" when it does come.
It never rains but it pours, and so more luck came to the garret of No.
1 Royal Street. Esther won five pounds at school. It was the Henry
Goldsmith prize, a new annual prize for general knowledge, instituted by
a lady named Mrs. Henry Goldsmith who had just joined the committee, and
the semi-divine person herself--a surpassingly beautiful radiant being,
like a princess in a fairy tale--personally congratulated her upon her
success. The money was not available for a year, but the neighbors
hastened to congratulate the family on its rise to wealth. Even Levi
Jacob's visits became more frequent, though this could scarcely be
ascribed to mercenary motives.
The Belcovitches recognized their improved status so far as to send to
borrow some salt: for the colony of No. 1 Royal Street carried on an
extensive system of mutual accommodation, coals, potatoes, chunks of
bread, saucepans, needles, wood-choppers, all passing daily to and fro.
Even garments and jewelry were lent on great occasions, and when that
dear old soul Mrs. Simons went to a wedding she was decked out in
contributions from a dozen wardrobes. The Ansells themselves were too
proud to borrow though they were not above lending.
It was early morning and Moses in his big phylacteries was droning his
orisons. His mother had had an attack of spasms and so he was praying at
home to be at hand in case of need. Everybody was up, and Moses was
superintending the household even while he was gabbling psalms. He never
minded breaking off his intercourse with Heaven to discuss domestic
affairs, for he was on free and easy terms with the powers that be, and
there was scarce a prayer in the liturgy which he would not interrupt to
reprimand Solomon for lack of absorption in the same. The exception was
the _Amidah_ or eighteen Blessings, so-called because there are
twenty-two. This section must be said standing and inaudibly and when
Moses was engaged upon it, a message from an earthly monarch would have
extorted no reply from him. There were other sacred silences which Moses
would not break save of dire necessity and then only by talking Hebrew;
but the _Amidah_ was the silence of silences. This was why the utterly
unprecedented arrival of a telegraph boy did not move him. Not even
Esther's cry of alarm when she opened the telegram had any visible
effect upon him, though in reality he whispered off his prayer at a
record-beating rate and duly danced three times on his toes with
spasmodic celerity at the finale.
"Father," said Esther, the never before received species of letter
trembling in her hand, "we must go at once to see Benjy. He is very
"Has he written to say so?"
"No, this is a telegram. I have read of such. Oh! perhaps he is dead.
It is always so in books. They break the news by saying the dead are
still alive." Her tones died away in a sob. The children clustered round
her--Rachel and Solomon fought for the telegram in their anxiety to read
it. Ikey and Sarah stood grave and interested. The sick grandmother sat
up in bed excited.
"He never showed me his 'four corners,'" she moaned. "Perhaps he did not
wear the fringes at all."
"Father, dost thou hear?" said Esther, for Moses Ansell was fingering
the russet envelope with a dazed air. "We must go to the Orphanage at
"Read it! What stands in the letter?" said Moses Ansell.
She took the telegram from the hands of Solomon. "It stands, 'Come up at
once. Your son Benjamin very ill.'"
"Tu! Tu! Tu!" clucked Moses. "The poor child. But how can we go up? Thou
canst not walk there. It will take _me_ more than three hours."
His praying-shawl slid from his shoulders in his agitation.
"Thou must not walk, either!" cried Esther excitedly. "We must get to
him at once! Who knows if he will be alive when we come? We must go by
train from London Bridge the way Benjy came that Sunday. Oh, my poor
"Give me back the paper, Esther," interrupted Solomon, taking it from
her limp hand. "The boys have never seen a telegram."
"But we cannot spare the money," urged Moses helplessly. "We have just
enough money to get along with to-day. Solomon, go on with thy prayers;
thou seizest every excuse to interrupt them. Rachel, go away from him.
Thou art also a disturbing Satan to him. I do not wonder his teacher
flogged him black and blue yesterday--he is a stubborn and rebellious
son who should be stoned, according to Deuteronomy."
"We must do without dinner," said Esther impulsively.
Sarah sat down on the floor and howled "Woe is me! Woe is me!"
"I didden touch 'er," cried Ikey in indignant bewilderment.
"'Tain't Ikey!" sobbed Sarah. "Little Tharah wants 'er dinner."
"Thou hearest?" said Moses pitifully. "How can we spare the money?"
"How much is it?" asked Esther.
"It will be a shilling each there and back," replied Moses, who from his
long periods of peregrination was a connoisseur in fares. "How can we
afford it when I lose a morning's work into the bargain?"
"No, what talkest thou?" said Esther. "Thou art looking a few months
ahead--thou deemest perhaps, I am already twelve. It will be only
sixpence for me."
Moses did not disclaim the implied compliment to his rigid honesty but
"Where is my head? Of course thou goest half-price. But even so where is
the eighteenpence to come from?"
"But it is not eighteenpence!" ejaculated Esther with a new inspiration.
Necessity was sharpening her wits to extraordinary acuteness. "We need
not take return tickets. We can walk back."
"But we cannot be so long away from the mother--both of us," said Moses.
"She, too, is ill. And how will the children do without thee? I will go
"No, I must see Benjy!" Esther cried.
"Be not so stiff-necked, Esther! Besides, it stands in the letter that I
am to come--they do not ask thee. Who knows that the great people will
not be angry if I bring thee with me? I dare say Benjamin will soon be
better. He cannot have been ill long."
"But, quick, then, father, quick!" cried Esther, yielding to the complex
difficulties of the position. "Go at once."
"Immediately, Esther. Wait only till I have finished my prayers. I am
"No! No!" cried Esther agonized. "Thou prayest so much--God will let
thee off a little bit just for once. Thou must go at once and ride both
ways, else how shall we know what has happened? I will pawn my new prize
and that will give thee money enough."
"Good!" said Moses. "While thou art pledging the book I shall have time
to finish _davening_." He hitched up his _Talith_ and commenced to
gabble off, "Happy are they who dwell in Thy house; ever shall they
praise Thee, Selah," and was already saying, "And a Redeemer shall come
unto Zion," by the time Esther rushed out through the door with the
pledge. It was a gaudily bound volume called "Treasures of Science," and
Esther knew it almost by heart, having read it twice from gilt cover to
gilt cover. All the same, she would miss it sorely. The pawnbroker lived
only round the corner, for like the publican he springs up wherever the
conditions are favorable. He was a Christian; by a curious anomaly the
Ghetto does not supply its own pawnbrokers, but sends them out to the
provinces or the West End. Perhaps the business instinct dreads the
solicitation of the racial.
Esther's pawnbroker was a rubicund portly man. He knew the fortunes of a
hundred families by the things left with him or taken back. It was on
his stuffy shelves that poor Benjamin's coat had lain compressed and
packed away when it might have had a beautiful airing in the grounds of
the Crystal Palace. It was from his stuffy shelves that Esther's mother
had redeemed it--a day after the fair--soon to be herself compressed and
packed away in a pauper's coffin, awaiting in silence whatsoever
Redemption might be. The best coat itself had long since been sold to a
ragman, for Solomon, upon whose back it devolved, when Benjamin was so
happily translated, could never be got to keep a best coat longer than a
year, and when a best coat is degraded to every-day wear its attrition
is much more than six times as rapid.
"Good mornen, my little dear," said the rubicund man. "You're early this
mornen." The apprentice had, indeed, only just taken down the shutters.
"What can I do for you to-day? You look pale, my dear; what's the
"I have a bran-new seven and sixpenny book," she answered hurriedly,
passing it to him.
He turned instinctively to the fly-leaf.
"Bran-new book!" he said contemptuously. "'Esther Ansell--For
improvement!' When a book's spiled like that, what can you expect for
"Why, it's the inscription that makes it valuable," said Esther
"Maybe," said the rubicund man gruffly. "But d'yer suppose I should just
find a buyer named Esther Ansell?" Do you suppose everybody in the
world's named Esther Ansell or is capable of improvement?"
"No," breathed Esther dolefully. "But I shall take it out myself soon."
"In this world," said the rubicund man, shaking his head sceptically,
"there ain't never no knowing. Well, how much d'yer want?"
"I only want a shilling," said Esther, "and threepence," she added as a
"All right," said the rubicund man softened. "I won't 'aggle this
mornen. You look quite knocked up. Here you are!" and Esther darted out
of the shop with the money clasped tightly in her palm.
Moses had folded his phylacteries with pious primness and put them away
in a little bag, and he was hastily swallowing a cup of coffee.
"Here is the shilling," she cried. "And twopence extra for the 'bus to
London Bridge. Quick!" She put the ticket away carefully among its
companions in a discolored leather purse her father had once picked up
in the street, and hurried him off. When his steps ceased on the stairs,
she yearned to run after him and go with him, but Ikey was clamoring for
breakfast and the children had to run off to school. She remained at
home herself, for the grandmother groaned heavily. When the other
children had gone off she tidied up the vacant bed and smoothed the old
woman's pillows. Suddenly Benjamin's reluctance to have his father
exhibited before his new companions recurred to her; she hoped Moses
would not be needlessly obtrusive and felt that if she had gone with him
she might have supplied tact in this direction. She reproached herself
for not having made him a bit more presentable. She should have spared
another halfpenny for a new collar, and seen that he was washed; but in
the rush and alarm all thoughts of propriety had been submerged. Then
her thoughts went off at a tangent and she saw her class-room, where new
things were being taught, and new marks gained. It galled her to think
she was missing both. She felt so lonely in the company of her
grandmother, she could have gone downstairs and cried on Dutch Debby's
musty lap. Then she strove to picture the room where Benjy was lying,
but her imagination lacked the data. She would not let herself think the
brilliant Benjamin was dead, that he would be sewn up in a shroud just
like his poor mother, who had no literary talent whatever, but she
wondered whether he was groaning like the grandmother. And so, half
distracted, pricking up her ears at the slightest creak on the stairs,
Esther waited for news of her Benjy. The hours dragged on and on, and
the children coming home at one found dinner ready but Esther still
waiting. A dusty sunbeam streamed in through the garret window as though
to give her hope.
Benjamin had been beguiled from his books into an unaccustomed game of
ball in the cold March air. He had taken off his jacket and had got very
hot with his unwonted exertions. A reactionary chill followed. Benjamin
had a slight cold, which being ignored, developed rapidly into a heavy
one, still without inducing the energetic lad to ask to be put upon the
sick list. Was not the publishing day of _Our Own_ at hand?
The cold became graver with the same rapidity, and almost as soon as the
boy had made complaint he was in a high fever, and the official doctor
declared that pneumonia had set in. In the night Benjamin was delirious,
and the nurse summoned the doctor, and next morning his condition was so
critical that his father was telegraphed for. There was little to be
done by science--all depended on the patient's constitution. Alas! the
four years of plenty and country breezes had not counteracted the eight
and three-quarter years of privation and foul air, especially in a lad
more intent on emulating Dickens and Thackeray than on profiting by the
advantages of his situation.
When Moses arrived he found his boy tossing restlessly in a little bed,
in a private little room away from the great dormitories. "The
matron"--a sweet-faced young lady--was bending tenderly over him, and a
nurse sat at the bedside. The doctor stood--waiting--at the foot of the
bed. Moses took his boy's hand. The matron silently stepped aside.
Benjamin stared at him with wide, unrecognizing eyes.
"_Nu_, how goes it, Benjamin?" cried Moses in Yiddish, with mock
"Thank you, old Four-Eyes. It's very good of you to come. I always said
there mustn't be any hits at you in the paper. I always told the fellows
you were a very decent chap."
"What says he?" asked Moses, turning to the company. "I cannot
They could not understand his own question, but the matron guessed it.
She tapped her forehead and shook her head for reply. Benjamin closed
his eyes and there was silence. Presently he opened them and looked
straight at his father. A deeper crimson mantled on the flushed cheek as
Benjamin beheld the dingy stooping being to whom he owed birth. Moses
wore a dirty red scarf below his untrimmed beard, his clothes were
greasy, his face had not yet been washed, and--for a climax--he had not
removed his hat, which other considerations than those of etiquette
should have impelled him to keep out of sight.
"I thought you were old Four-Eyes," the boy murmured in
confusion--"Wasn't he here just now?"
"Go and fetch Mr. Coleman," said the matron, to the nurse, half-smiling
through tears at her own knowledge of the teacher's nickname and
wondering what endearing term she was herself known by.
"Cheer up, Benjamin," said his father, seeing his boy had become
sensible of his presence. "Thou wilt be all right soon. Thou hast been
much worse than this."
"What does he say?" asked Benjamin, turning his eyes towards the matron.
"He says he is sorry to see you so bad," said the matron, at a venture.
"But I shall be up soon, won't I? I can't have _Our Own_ delayed,"
"Don't worry about _Our Own_, my poor boy," murmured the matron,
pressing his forehead. Moses respectfully made way for her.
"What says he?" he asked. The matron repeated the words, but Moses could
not understand the English.
Old Four-Eyes arrived--a mild spectacled young man. He looked at the
doctor, and the doctor's eye told him all.
"Ah, Mr. Coleman," said Benjamin, with joyous huskiness, "you'll see
that _Our Own_ comes out this week as usual. Tell Jack Simmonds he must
not forget to rule black lines around the page containing Bruno's
epitaph. Bony-nose--I--I mean Mr. Bernstein, wrote it for us in
dog-Latin. Isn't it a lark? Thick, black lines, tell him. He was a good
dog and only bit one boy in his life."
"All right. I'll see to it," old Four-Eyes assured him with answering
"What says he?" helplessly inquired Moses, addressing himself to the
"Isn't it a sad case, Mr. Coleman?" said the matron, in a low tone.
"They can't understand each other."
"You ought to keep an interpreter on the premises," said the doctor,
blowing his nose. Coleman struggled with himself. He knew the jargon to
perfection, for his parents spoke it still, but he had always posed as
being ignorant of it.
"Tell my father to go home, and not to bother; I'm all right--only a
little weak," whispered Benjamin.
Coleman was deeply perturbed. He was wondering whether he should plead
guilty to a little knowledge, when a change of expression came over the
wan face on the pillow. The doctor came and felt the boy's pulse.
"No, I don't want to hear that _Maaseh_," cried Benjamin. "Tell me about
the Sambatyon, father, which refuses to flow on _Shabbos_."
He spoke Yiddish, grown a child again. Moses's face lit up with joy. His
eldest born had returned to intelligibility. There was hope still then.
A sudden burst of sunshine flooded the room. In London the sun would not
break through the clouds for some hours. Moses leaned over the pillow,
his face working with blended emotions. Me let a hot tear fall on his
boy's upturned face.
"Hush, hush, my little Benjamin, don't cry," said Benjamin, and began to
sing in his mothers jargon:
"Sleep, little father, sleep,
Thy father shall be a Rav,
Thy mother shall bring little apples,
Blessings on thy little head,"
Moses saw his dead Gittel lulling his boy to sleep. Blinded by his
tears, he did not see that they were falling thick upon the little white
"Nay, dry thy tears, I tell thee, my little Benjamin," said Benjamin, in
tones more tender and soothing, and launched into the strange wailing
"Alas, woe is me!
How wretched to be
Driven away and banished,
Yet so young, from thee."
"And Joseph's mother called to him from the grave: Be comforted, my son,
a great future shall be thine."
"The end is near," old Four-Eyes whispered to the father in jargon.
Moses trembled from head to foot. "My poor lamb! My poor Benjamin," he
wailed. "I thought thou wouldst say _Kaddish_ after me, not I for thee."
Then he began to recite quietly the Hebrew prayers. The hat he should
have removed was appropriate enough now.
Benjamin sat up excitedly in bed: "There's mother, Esther!" he cried in
English. "Coming back with my coat. But what's the use of it now?"
His head fell back again. Presently a look of yearning came over the
face so full of boyish beauty. "Esther," he said. "Wouldn't you like to
be in the green country to-day? Look how the sun shines."
It shone, indeed, with deceptive warmth, bathing in gold the green
country that stretched beyond, and dazzling the eyes of the dying boy.
The birds twittered outside the window. "Esther!" he said, wistfully,
"do you think there'll be another funeral soon?".
The matron burst into tears and turned away.
"Benjamin," cried the father, frantically, thinking the end had come,
"say the _Shemang_."
The boy stared at him, a clearer look in his eyes.
"Say the _Shemang_!" said Moses peremptorily. The word _Shemang_, the
old authoritative tone, penetrated the consciousness of the dying boy.
"Yes, father, I was just going to," he grumbled, submissively.
They repeated the last declaration of the dying Israelite together. It
was in Hebrew. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." Both
Benjamin lingered on a few more minutes, and died in a painless torpor.
"He is dead," said the doctor.
"Blessed be the true Judge," said Moses. He rent his coat, and closed
the staring eyes. Then he went to the toilet table and turned the
looking-glass to the wall, and opened the window and emptied the jug of
water upon the green sunlit grass.
THE JARGON PLAYERS.
"No, don't stop me, Pinchas," said Gabriel Hamburg. "I'm packing up, and
I shall spend my Passover in Stockholm. The Chief Rabbi there has
discovered a manuscript which I am anxious to see, and as I have saved
up a little money I shall speed thither."
"Ah, he pays well, that boy-fool, Raphael Leon," said Pinchas, emitting
a lazy ring of smoke.
"What do you mean?" cried Gabriel, flushing angrily. "Do you mean,
perhaps, that _you_ have been getting money out of him?"
"Precisely. That is what I _do_ mean," said the poet naively. "What
"Well, don't let me hear you call him a fool. He _is_ one to send you
money, but then it is for others to call him so. That boy will be a
great man in Israel. The son of rich English Jews--a Harrow-boy, yet he
already writes Hebrew almost grammatically."
Pinchas was aware of this fact: had he not written to the lad (in
response to a crude Hebrew eulogium and a crisp Bank of England note):
"I and thou are the only two people in England who write the Holy Tongue
He replied now: "It is true; soon he will vie with me and you."
The old scholar took snuff impatiently. The humors of Pinchas were
beginning to pall upon him.
"Good-bye," he said again.
"No, wait, yet a little," said Pinchas, buttonholing him resolutely. "I
want to show you my acrostic on Simon Wolf; ah! I will shoot him, the
miserable labor-leader, the wretch who embezzles the money of the
Socialist fools who trust him. Aha! it will sting like Juvenal, that
"I haven't time," said the gentle savant, beginning to lose his temper.
"Well, have I time? I have to compose a three-act comedy by to-morrow
at noon. I expect I shall have to sit up all night to get it done
in time." Then, anxious to complete the conciliation of the
old snuff-and-pepper-box, as he mentally christened him for his next
acrostic, he added: "If there is anything in this manuscript that you
cannot decipher or understand, a letter to me, care of Reb Shemuel, will
always find me. Somehow I have a special genius for filling up _lacunae_
in manuscripts. You remember the famous discovery that I made by
rewriting the six lines torn out of the first page of that Midrash I
discovered in Cyprus."
"Yes, those six lines proved it thoroughly," sneered the savant.
"Aha! You see!" said the poet, a gratified smile pervading his dusky
features. "But I must tell you of this comedy--it will be a satirical
picture (in the style of Moliere, only sharper) of Anglo-Jewish Society.
The Rev. Elkan Benjamin, with his four mistresses, they will all be
there, and Gideon, the Man-of-the-Earth, M.P.,--ah, it will be terrible.
If I could only get them to see it performed, they should have free
"No, shoot them first; it would be more merciful. But where is this
comedy to be played?" asked Hamburg curiously.
"At the Jargon Theatre, the great theatre in Prince's Street, the only
real national theatre in England. The English stage--Drury Lane--pooh!
It is not in harmony with the people; it does not express them."
Hamburg could not help smiling. He knew the wretched little hall, since
tragically famous for a massacre of innocents, victims to the fatal cry
of fire--more deadly than fiercest flame.
"But how will your audience understand it?" he asked.
"Aha!" said the poet, laying his finger on his nose and grinning. "They
will understand. They know the corruptions of our society. All this
conspiracy to crush me, to hound me out of England so that ignoramuses
may prosper and hypocrites wax fat--do you think it is not the talk of
the Ghetto? What! Shall it be the talk of Berlin, of Constantinople, of
Mogadore, of Jerusalem, of Paris, and here it shall not be known?
Besides, the leading actress will speak a prologue. Ah! she is
beautiful, beautiful as Lilith, as the Queen of Sheba, as Cleopatra! And
how she acts! She and Rachel--both Jewesses! Think of it! Ah, we are a
great people. If I could tell you the secrets of her eyes as she looks
at me--but no, you are dry as dust, a creature of prose! And there will
be an orchestra, too, for Pesach Weingott has promised to play the
overture on his fiddle. How he stirs the soul! It is like David playing
"Yes, but it won't be javelins the people will throw," murmured Hamburg,
adding aloud: "I suppose you have written the music of this overture."
"No, I cannot write music," said Pinchas.
"Good heavens! You don't say so?" gasped Gabriel Hamburg. "Let that be
my last recollection of you! No! Don't say another word! Don't spoil
it! Good-bye." And he tore himself away, leaving the poet bewildered.
"Mad! Mad!" said Pinchas, tapping his brow significantly; "mad, the old
snuff-and-pepper-box." He smiled at the recollection of his latest
phrase. "These scholars stagnate so. They see not enough of the women.
Ha! I will go and see my actress."
He threw out his chest, puffed out a volume of smoke, and took his way
to Petticoat Lane. The compatriot of Rachel was wrapping up a scrag of
mutton. She was a butcher's daughter and did not even wield the chopper,
as Mrs. Siddons is reputed to have flourished the domestic table-knife.
She was a simple, amiable girl, who had stepped into the position of
lead in the stock jargon company as a way of eking out her pocket-money,
and because there was no one else who wanted the post. She was rather
plain except when be-rouged and be-pencilled. The company included
several tailors and tailoresses of talent, and the low comedian was a
Dutchman who sold herrings. They all had the gift of improvisation more
developed than memory, and consequently availed themselves of the
faculty that worked easier. The repertory was written by goodness knew
whom, and was very extensive. It embraced all the species enumerated by
Polonius, including comic opera, which was not known to the Danish
saw-monger. There was nothing the company would not have undertaken to
play or have come out of with a fair measure of success. Some of the
plays were on Biblical subjects, but only a minority. There were also
plays in rhyme, though Yiddish knows not blank verse. Melchitsedek
accosted his interpretess and made sheep's-eyes at her. But an actress
who serves in a butcher's shop is doubly accustomed to such, and being
busy the girl paid no attention to the poet, though the poet was paying
marked attention to her.
"Kiss me, thou beauteous one, the gems of whose crown are foot-lights,"
said the poet, when the custom ebbed for a moment.
"If thou comest near me," said the actress whirling the chopper, "I'll
chop thy ugly little head off."
"Unless thou lendest me thy lips thou shalt not play in my comedy,"
said Pinchas angrily.
"_My_ trouble!" said the leading lady, shrugging her shoulders.
Pinchas made several reappearances outside the open shop, with his
insinuative finger on his nose and his insinuative smile on his face,
but in the end went away with a flea in his ear and hunted up the
actor-manager, the only person who made any money, to speak of, out of
the performances. That gentleman had not yet consented to produce the
play that Pinchas had ready in manuscript and which had been coveted by
all the great theatres in the world, but which he, Pinchas, had reserved
for the use of the only actor in Europe. The result of this interview
was that the actor-manager yielded to Pinchas's solicitations, backed by
frequent applications of poetic finger to poetic nose.
"But," said the actor-manager, with a sudden recollection, "how about
"The besom!" repeated Pinchas, nonplussed for once.
"Yes, thou sayest thou hast seen all the plays I have produced. Hast
thou not noticed that I have a besom in all my plays?"
"Aha! Yes, I remember," said Pinchas.
"An old garden-besom it is," said the actor-manager. "And it is the
cause of all my luck." He took up a house-broom that stood in the
corner. "In comedy I sweep the floor with it--so--and the people grin;
in comic-opera I beat time with it as I sing--so--and the people laugh;
in farce I beat my mother-in-law with it--so--and the people roar; in
tragedy I lean upon it--so--and the people thrill; in melodrama I sweep
away the snow with it--so--and the people burst into tears. Usually I
have my plays written beforehand and the authors are aware of the besom.
Dost thou think," he concluded doubtfully, "that thou hast sufficient
ingenuity to work in the besom now that the play is written?"
Pinchas put his finger to his nose and smiled reassuringly.
"It shall be all besom," he said.
"And when wilt thou read it to me?"
"Will to-morrow this time suit thee?"
"As honey a bear."
"Good, then!" said Pinchas; "I shall not fail."
The door closed upon him. In another moment it reopened a bit and he
thrust his grinning face through the aperture.
"Ten per cent. of the receipts!" he said with his cajoling digito-nasal
"Certainly," rejoined the actor-manager briskly. "After paying the
expenses--ten per cent. of the receipts."
"Thou wilt not forget?"
"I shall not forget."
Pinchas strode forth into the street and lit a new cigar in his
exultation. How lucky the play was not yet written! Now he would be able
to make it all turn round the axis of the besom. "It shall be all
besom!" His own phrase rang in his ears like voluptuous marriage bells.
Yes, it should, indeed, be all besom. With that besom he would sweep all
his enemies--all the foul conspirators--in one clean sweep, down, down
to Sheol. He would sweep them along the floor with it--so--and grin; he
would beat time to their yells of agony--so--and laugh; he would beat
them over the heads--so--and roar; he would lean upon it in statuesque
greatness--so--and thrill; he would sweep away their remains with
it--so--and weep for joy of countermining and quelling the long
All night he wrote the play at railway speed, like a night
express--puffing out volumes of smoke as he panted along. "I dip my pen
in their blood," he said from time to time, and threw back his head and
laughed aloud in the silence of the small hours.
Pinchas had a good deal to do to explain the next day to the
actor-manager where the fun came in. "Thou dost not grasp all the
allusions, the back-handed slaps, the hidden poniards; perhaps not," the
author acknowledged. "But the great heart of the people--it will
The actor-manager was unconvinced, but he admitted there was a good deal
of besom, and in consideration of the poet bating his terms to five per
cent. of the receipts he agreed to give it a chance. The piece was
billed widely in several streets under the title of "The Hornet of
Judah," and the name of Melchitsedek Pinchas appeared in letters of the
size stipulated by the finger on the nose.
But the leading actress threw up her part at the last moment, disgusted
by the poet's amorous advances; Pinchas volunteered to play the part
himself and, although his offer was rejected, he attired himself in
skirts and streaked his complexion with red and white to replace the
promoted second actress, and shaved off his beard.
But in spite of this heroic sacrifice, the gods were unpropitious. They
chaffed the poet in polished Yiddish throughout the first two acts.
There was only a sprinkling of audience (most of it paper) in the
dimly-lit hall, for the fame of the great writer had not spread from
Berlin, Mogadore, Constantinople and the rest of the universe.
No one could make head or tail of the piece with its incessant play of
occult satire against clergymen with four mistresses, Rabbis who sold
their daughters, stockbrokers ignorant of Hebrew and destitute of
English, greengrocers blowing Messianic and their own trumpets,
labor-leaders embezzling funds, and the like. In vain the actor-manager
swept the floor with the besom, beat time with the besom, beat his
mother-in-law with the besom, leaned on the besom, swept bits of white
paper with the besom. The hall, empty of its usual crowd, was fuller of
derisive laughter. At last the spectators tired of laughter and the
rafters re-echoed with hoots. At the end of the second act, Melchitsedek
Pinchas addressed the audience from the stage, in his ample petticoats,
his brow streaming with paint and perspiration. He spoke of the great
English conspiracy and expressed his grief and astonishment at finding
it had infected the entire Ghetto.
There was no third act. It was the poet's first--and last--appearance on
"FOR AULD LANG SYNE, MY DEAR."
The learned say that Passover was a Spring festival even before it was
associated with the Redemption from Egypt, but there is not much Nature
to worship in the Ghetto and the historical elements of the Festival
swamp all the others. Passover still remains the most picturesque of the
"Three Festivals" with its entire transmogrification of things culinary,
its thorough taboo of leaven. The audacious archaeologist of the
thirtieth century may trace back the origin of the festival to the
Spring Cleaning, the annual revel of the English housewife, for it is
now that the Ghetto whitewashes itself and scrubs itself and paints
itself and pranks itself and purifies its pans in a baptism of fire.
Now, too, the publican gets unto himself a white sheet and suspends it
at his door and proclaims that he sells _Kosher rum_ by permission of
the Chief Rabbi. Now the confectioner exchanges his "stuffed monkeys,"
and his bolas and his jam-puffs, and his cheese-cakes for unleavened
"palavas," and worsted balls and almond cakes. Time was when the
Passover dietary was restricted to fruit and meat and vegetables, but
year by year the circle is expanding, and it should not be beyond the
reach of ingenuity to make bread itself Passoverian. It is now that the
pious shopkeeper whose store is tainted with leaven sells his business
to a friendly Christian, buying it back at the conclusion of the
festival. Now the Shalotten _Shammos_ is busy from morning to night
filling up charity-forms, artistically multiplying the poor man's
children and dividing his rooms. Now is holocaust made of a people's
bread-crumbs, and now is the national salutation changed to "How do the
_Motsos_ agree with you?" half of the race growing facetious, and the
other half finical over the spotted Passover cakes.
It was on the evening preceding the opening of Passover that Esther
Ansell set forth to purchase a shilling's worth of fish in Petticoat
Lane, involuntarily storing up in her mind vivid impressions of the
bustling scene. It is one of the compensations of poverty that it allows
no time for mourning. Daily duty is the poor man's nepenthe.
Esther and her father were the only two members of the family upon whom
the death of Benjamin made a deep impression. He had been so long away
from home that he was the merest shadow to the rest. But Moses bore the
loss with resignation, his emotions discharging themselves in the daily
_Kaddish_. Blent with his personal grief was a sorrow for the
commentaries lost to Hebrew literature by his boy's premature
transference to Paradise. Esther's grief was more bitter and defiant.
All the children were delicate, but it was the first time death had
taken one. The meaningless tragedy of Benjamin's end shook the child's
soul to its depths. Poor lad! How horrible to be lying cold and ghastly
beneath the winter snow! What had been the use of all his long prepay
rations to write great novels? The name of Ansell would now become
ingloriously extinct. She wondered whether _Our Own_ would collapse and
secretly felt it must. And then what of the hopes of worldly wealth she
had built on Benjamin's genius? Alas! the emancipation of the Ansells
from the yoke of poverty was clearly postponed. To her and her alone
must the family now look for deliverance. Well, she would take up the
mantle of the dead boy, and fill it as best she might. She clenched her
little hands in iron determination. Moses Ansell knew nothing either of
her doubts or her ambitions. Work was still plentiful three days a week,
and he was unconscious he was not supporting his family in comparative
affluence. But even with Esther the incessant grind of school-life and
quasi-motherhood speedily rubbed away the sharper edges of sorrow,
though the custom prohibiting obvious pleasures during the year of
mourning went in no danger of transgression, for poor little Esther
gadded neither to children's balls nor to theatres. Her thoughts were
full of the prospects of piscine bargains, as she pushed her way through
a crowd so closely wedged, and lit up by such a flare of gas from the
shops and such streamers of flame from the barrows that the cold wind
of early April lost its sting.
Two opposing currents of heavy-laden pedestrians were endeavoring in
their progress to occupy the same strip of pavement at the same moment,
and the laws of space kept them blocked till they yielded to its
remorseless conditions. Rich and poor elbowed one another, ladies in
satins and furs were jammed against wretched looking foreign women with
their heads swathed in dirty handkerchiefs; rough, red-faced English
betting men struggled good-humoredly with their greasy kindred from over
the North Sea; and a sprinkling of Christian yokels surveyed the Jewish
hucksters and chapmen with amused superiority.
For this was the night of nights, when the purchases were made for the
festival, and great ladies of the West, leaving behind their daughters
who played the piano and had a subscription at Mudie's, came down again
to the beloved Lane to throw off the veneer of refinement, and plunge
gloveless hands in barrels where pickled cucumbers weltered in their own
"_russell_," and to pick fat juicy olives from the rich-heaped tubs. Ah,
me! what tragic comedy lay behind the transient happiness of these
sensuous faces, laughing and munching with the shamelessness of
school-girls! For to-night they need not hanker in silence after the
flesh-pots of Egypt. To-night they could laugh and talk over _Olov
hasholom_ times--"Peace be upon him" times--with their old cronies, and
loosen the stays of social ambition, even while they dazzled the Ghetto
with the splendors of their get-up and the halo of the West End whence
they came. It was a scene without parallel in the history of the
world--this phantasmagoria of grubs and butterflies, met together for
auld lang syne in their beloved hatching-place. Such violent contrasts
of wealth and poverty as might be looked for in romantic gold-fields, or
in unsettled countries were evolved quite naturally amid a colorless
civilization by a people with an incurable talent for the picturesque.
"Hullo! Can that be you, Betsy?" some grizzled shabby old man would
observe in innocent delight to Mrs. Arthur Montmorenci; "Why so it is!
I never would have believed my eyes! Lord, what a fine woman you've
grown! And so you're little Betsy who used to bring her father's coffee
in a brown jug when he and I stood side by side in the Lane! He used to
sell slippers next to my cutlery stall for eleven years--Dear, dear, how
time flies to be sure."
Then Betsy Montmorenci's creamy face would grow scarlet under the
gas-jets, and she would glower and draw her sables around her, and look
round involuntarily, to see if any of her Kensington friends were within
Another Betsy Montmorenci would feel Bohemian for this occasion only,
and would receive old acquaintances' greeting effusively, and pass the
old phrases and by-words with a strange sense of stolen sweets; while
yet a third Betsy Montmorenci, a finer spirit this, and worthier of the
name, would cry to a Betsy Jacobs:
"Is that you, Betsy, how _are_ you? How _are_ you? I'm so glad to see
you. Won't you come and treat me to a cup of chocolate at Bonn's, just
to show you haven't forgot _Olov hasholom_ times?"
And then, having thus thrown the responsibility of stand-offishness on
the poorer Betsy, the Montmorenci would launch into recollections of
those good old "Peace be upon him" times till the grub forgot the
splendors of the caterpillar in a joyous resurrection of ancient
scandals. But few of the Montmorencis, whatever their species, left the
Ghetto without pressing bits of gold into half-reluctant palms in shabby
back-rooms where old friends or poor relatives mouldered.
Overhead, the stars burned silently, but no one looked up at them.
Underfoot, lay the thick, black veil of mud, which the Lane never
lifted, but none looked down on it. It was impossible to think of aught
but humanity in the bustle and confusion, in the cram and crush, in the
wedge and the jam, in the squeezing and shouting, in the hubbub and
medley. Such a jolly, rampant, screaming, fighting, maddening, jostling,
polyglot, quarrelling, laughing broth of a Vanity Fair! Mendicants,
vendors, buyers, gossips, showmen, all swelled the roar.
"Here's your cakes! All _yontovdik_ (for the festival)! _Yontovdik_--"
"Braces, best braces, all--"
"_Yontovdik_! Only one shilling--"
"It's the Rav's orders, mum; all legs of mutton must be porged or my
"Now's your chance--"
"The best trousers, gentlemen. Corst me as sure as I stand--"
"On your own head, you old--"
"_Arbah Kanfus_ (four fringes)! _Arbah_--"
"My old man's been under an operation--"
"Hokey Pokey! _Yontovdik_! Hokey--"
"Get out of the way, can't you--"
"By your life and mine, Betsy--"
"Gord blesh you, mishter, a toisand year shall ye live."
"Eat the best _Motsos_. Only fourpence--"
"The bones must go with, marm. I've cut it as lean as possible."
"_Charoises_ (a sweet mixture). _Charoises! Moroire_ (bitter herb)!
_Chraine_ (horseradish)! _Pesachdik_ (for Passover)."
"Come and have a glass of Old Tom, along o' me, sonny."
"Fine plaice! Here y'are! Hi! where's yer pluck! S'elp me--"
"Bob! _Yontovdik! Yontovdik_! Only a bob!"
"Chuck steak and half a pound of fat."
"A slap in the eye, if you--"
"Gord bless you. Remember me to Jacob."
"_Shaink_ (spare) _meer_ a 'apenny, missis _lieben_, missis _croin_
"An unnatural death on you, you--"
"Lord! Sal, how you've altered!"
"Ladies, here you are--"
"I give you my word, sir, the fish will be home before you."
"Painted in the best style, for a tanner--"
"A spoonge, mister?"
"I'll cut a slice of this melon for you for--"
"She's dead, poor thing, peace be upon him."
"_Yontovdik_! Three bob for one purse containing--"
"The real live tattooed Hindian, born in the African Harchipellygo. Walk
"This way for the dwarf that will speak, dance, and sing."
"Tree lemons a penny. Tree lemons--"
"A _Shtibbur_ (penny) for a poor blind man--"
"_Yontovdik! Yontovdik! Yontovdik! Yontovdik!_"
And in this last roar, common to so many of the mongers, the whole Babel
would often blend for a moment and be swallowed up, re-emerging anon in
its broken multiplicity.
Everybody Esther knew was in the crowd--she met them all sooner or
later. In Wentworth Street, amid dead cabbage-leaves, and mud, and
refuse, and orts, and offal, stood the woe-begone Meckisch, offering his
puny sponges, and wooing the charitable with grinning grimaces tempered
by epileptic fits at judicious intervals. A few inches off, his wife in
costly sealskin jacket, purchased salmon with a Maida Vale manner.
Compressed in a corner was Shosshi Shmendrik, his coat-tails yellow with
the yolks of dissolving eggs from a bag in his pocket. He asked her
frantically, if she had seen a boy whom he had hired to carry home his
codfish and his fowls, and explained that his missus was busy in the
shop, and had delegated to him the domestic duties. It is probable, that
if Mrs. Shmendrik, formerly the widow Finkelstein, ever received these
dainties, she found her good man had purchased fish artificially
inflated with air, and fowls fattened with brown paper. Hearty Sam
Abrahams, the bass chorister, whose genial countenance spread sunshine
for yards around, stopped Esther and gave her a penny. Further, she met
her teacher, Miss Miriam Hyams, and curtseyed to her, for Esther was not
of those who jeeringly called "teacher" and "master" according to sex
after her superiors, till the victims longed for Elisha's influence over
bears. Later on, she was shocked to see her teacher's brother piloting
bonny Bessie Sugarman through the thick of the ferment. Crushed between
two barrows, she found Mrs. Belcovitch and Fanny, who were shopping
together, attended by Pesach Weingott, all carrying piles of purchases.
"Esther, if you should see my Becky in the crowd, tell her where I am,"
said Mrs. Belcovitch. "She is with one of her chosen young men. I am so
feeble, I can hardly crawl around, and my Becky ought to carry home the
cabbages. She has well-matched legs, not one a thick one and one a thin
Around the fishmongers the press was great. The fish-trade was almost
monopolized by English Jews--blonde, healthy-looking fellows, with
brawny, bare arms, who were approached with dread by all but the bravest
foreign Jewesses. Their scale of prices and politeness varied with the
status of the buyer. Esther, who had an observant eye and ear for such
things, often found amusement standing unobtrusively by. To-night there
was the usual comedy awaiting her enjoyment. A well-dressed dame came up
to "Uncle Abe's" stall, where half a dozen lots of fishy miscellanaea
were spread out.
"Good evening, madam. Cold night but fine. That lot? Well, you're an old
customer and fish are cheap to-day, so I can let you have 'em for a
sovereign. Eighteen? Well, it's hard, but--boy! take the lady's fish.
Thank you. Good evening."
"How much that?" says a neatly dressed woman, pointing to a precisely
"Can't take less than nine bob. Fish are dear to-day. You won't get
anything cheaper in the Lane, by G---- you won't. Five shillings! By my
life and by my children's life, they cost me more than that. So sure as
I stand here and--well, come, gie's seven and six and they're yours. You
can't afford more? Well, 'old up your apron, old gal. I'll make it up
out of the rich. By your life and mine, you've got a _Metsiah_ (bargain)
Here old Mrs. Shmendrik, Shosshi's mother, came up, a rich Paisley shawl
over her head in lieu of a bonnet. Lane women who went out without
bonnets were on the same plane as Lane men who went out without collars.
One of the terrors of the English fishmongers was that they required the
customer to speak English, thus fulfilling an important educative
function in the community. They allowed a certain percentage of
jargon-words, for they themselves took licenses in this direction, but
they professed not to understand pure Yiddish.
"Abraham, 'ow mosh for dees lot," said old Mrs. Shmendrik, turning over
a third similar heap and feeling the fish all over.
"Paws off!" said Abraham roughly. "Look here! I know the tricks of you
Polakinties. I'll name you the lowest price and won't stand a farthing's
bating. I'll lose by you, but you ain't, going to worry me. Eight bob!
"Avroomkely (dear little Abraham) take lebbenpence!"
"Elevenpence! By G----," cried Uncle Abe, desperately tearing his hair.
"I knew it!" And seizing a huge plaice by the tail he whirled it round
and struck Mrs. Shmendrik full in the face, shouting, "Take that, you
old witch! Sling your hook or I'll murder you."
"Thou dog!" shrieked Mrs. Shmendrik, falling back on the more copious
resources of her native idiom. "A black year on thee! Mayest thou swell
and die! May the hand that struck me rot away! Mayest thou be burned
alive! Thy father was a _Gonof_ and thou art a _Gonof_ and thy whole
family are _Gonovim_. May Pharaoh's ten plagues--"
There was little malice at the back of it all--the mere imaginative
exuberance of a race whose early poetry consisted in saying things twice
Uncle Abraham menacingly caught up the plaice, crying:
"May I be struck dead on the spot, if you ain't gone in one second I
won't answer for the consequences. Now, then, clear off!"
"Come, Avroomkely," said Mrs. Shmendrik, dropping suddenly from
invective to insinuativeness. "Take fourteenpence. _Shemah, beni_!
Fourteen _Shtibbur's_ a lot of _Gelt."_
"Are you a-going?" cried Abraham in a terrible rage. "Ten bob's my price
"Avroomkely, _noo, zoog_ (say now)! Fourteenpence 'apenny. I am a poor
voman. Here, fifteenpence."
Abraham seized her by the shoulders and pushed her towards the wall,
where she cursed picturesquely. Esther thought it was a bad time to
attempt to get her own shilling's worth--she fought her way towards
There was a kindly, weather-beaten old fellow with whom Esther had often
chaffered job-lots when fortune smiled on the Ansells. Him, to her joy,
Esther perceived--she saw a stack of gurnards on his improvised slab,
and in imagination smelt herself frying them. Then a great shock as of a
sudden icy douche traversed her frame, her heart seemed to stand still.
For when she put her hand to her pocket to get her purse, she found but
a thimble and a slate-pencil and a cotton handkerchief. It was some
minutes before she could or would realize the truth that the four and
sevenpence halfpenny on which so much depended was gone. Groceries and
unleavened cakes Charity had given, raisin wine had been preparing for
days, but fish and meat and all the minor accessories of a well-ordered
Passover table--these were the prey of the pickpocket. A blank sense of
desolation overcame the child, infinitely more horrible than that which
she felt when she spilled the soup; the gurnards she could have touched
with her finger seemed far off, inaccessible; in a moment more they and
all things were blotted out by a hot rush of tears, and she was jostled
as in a dream hither and thither by the double stream of crowd. Nothing
since the death of Benjamin had given her so poignant a sense of the
hollowness and uncertainty of existence. What would her father say,
whose triumphant conviction that Providence had provided for his
Passover was to be so rudely dispelled at the eleventh hour. Poor Moses!
He had been so proud of having earned enough money to make a good
_Yontov_, and was more convinced than ever that given a little capital
to start with he could build up a colossal business! And now she would
have to go home and spoil everybody's _Yontov_, and see the sour faces
of her little ones round a barren _Seder_ table. Oh, it was terrible!
and the child wept piteously, unheeded in the block, unheard amid the
THE DEAD MONKEY.
An old _Maaseh_ the grandmother had told her came back to her fevered
brain. In a town in Russia lived an old Jew who earned scarce enough to
eat, and half of what he did earn was stolen from him in bribes to the
officials to let him be. Persecuted and spat upon, he yet trusted in his
God and praised His name. And it came on towards Passover and the winter
was severe and the Jew was nigh starving and his wife had made no
preparations for the Festival. And in the bitterness of her soul she
derided her husband's faith and made mock of him, but he said, "Have
patience, my wife! Our _Seder_ board shall be spread as in the days of
yore and as in former years." But the Festival drew nearer and nearer
and there was nothing in the house. And the wife taunted her husband yet
further, saying, "Dost thou think that Elijah the prophet will call upon
thee or that the Messiah will come?" But he answered: "Elijah the
prophet walketh the earth, never having died; who knows but that he will
cast an eye my way?" Whereat his wife laughed outright. And the days
wore on to within a few hours of Passover and the larder was still empty
of provender and the old Jew still full of faith. Now it befell that the
Governor of the City, a hard and cruel man, sat counting out piles of
gold into packets for the payment of the salaries of the officials and
at his side sat his pet monkey, and as he heaped up the pieces, so his
monkey imitated him, making little packets of its own to the amusement
of the Governor. And when the Governor could not pick up a piece easily,
he moistened his forefinger, putting it to his mouth, whereupon the
monkey followed suit each time; only deeming its master was devouring
the gold, it swallowed a coin every time he put his finger to his lips.
So that of a sudden it was taken ill and died. And one of his men said,
"Lo, the creature is dead. What shall we do with it?" And the Governor
was sorely vexed in spirit, because he could not make his accounts
straight and he answered gruffly, "Trouble me not! Throw it into the
house of the old Jew down the street." So the man took the carcass and
threw it with thunderous violence into the passage of the Jew's house
and ran off as hard as he could. And the good wife came bustling out in
alarm and saw a carcass hanging over an iron bucket that stood in the
passage. And she knew that it was the act of a Christian and she took up
the carrion to bury it when Lo! a rain of gold-pieces came from the
stomach ripped up by the sharp rim of the vessel. And she called to her
husband. "Hasten! See what Elijah the prophet hath sent us." And she
scurried into the market-place and bought wine and unleavened bread, and
bitter herbs and all things necessary for the _Seder_ table, and a
little fish therewith which might be hastily cooked before the Festival
came in, and the old couple were happy and gave the monkey honorable
burial and sang blithely of the deliverance at the Red Sea and filled
Elijah's goblet to the brim till the wine ran over upon the white cloth.
Esther gave a scornful little sniff as the thought of this happy
denouement flashed upon her. No miracle like that would happen to her or
hers, nobody was likely to leave a dead monkey on the stairs of the
garret--hardly even the "stuffed monkey" of contemporary confectionery.
And then her queer little brain forgot its grief in sudden speculations
as to what she would think if her four and sevenpence halfpenny came
back. She had never yet doubted the existence of the Unseen Power; only
its workings seemed so incomprehensibly indifferent to human joys and
sorrows. Would she believe that her father was right in holding that a
special Providence watched over him? The spirit of her brother Solomon
came upon her and she felt that she would. Speculation had checked her
sobs; she dried her tears in stony scepticism and, looking up, saw
Malka's gipsy-like face bending over her, breathing peppermint.
"What weepest thou, Esther?" she said not unkindly. "I did not know thou
wast a gusher with the eyes."
"I've lost my purse," sobbed Esther, softened afresh by the sight of a
"Ah, thou _Schlemihl_! Thou art like thy father. How much was in it?"
"Four and sevenpence halfpenny!" sobbed Esther.
"Tu, tu, tu, tu, tu!" ejaculated Malka in horror. "Thou art the ruin of
thy father." Then turning to the fishmonger with whom she had just
completed a purchase, she counted out thirty-five shillings into his
hand. "Here, Esther," she said, "thou shalt carry my fish and I will
give thee a shilling."
A small slimy boy who stood expectant by scowled at Esther as she
painfully lifted the heavy basket and followed in the wake of her
relative whose heart was swelling with self-approbation.
Fortunately Zachariah Square was near and Esther soon received her
shilling with a proportionate sense of Providence. The fish was
deposited at Milly's house, which was brightly illuminated and seemed to
poor Esther a magnificent palace of light and luxury. Malka's own house,
diagonally across the Square, was dark and gloomy. The two families
being at peace, Milly's house was the headquarters of the clan and the
clothes-brush. Everybody was home for _Yomtov_. Malka's husband,
Michael, and Milly's husband, Ephraim, were sitting at the table smoking
big cigars and playing Loo with Sam Levine and David Brandon, who had
been seduced into making a fourth. The two young husbands had but that
day returned from the country, for you cannot get unleavened bread at
commercial hotels, and David in spite of a stormy crossing had arrived
from Germany an hour earlier than he had expected, and not knowing what
to do with himself had been surveying the humors of the Festival Fair
till Sam met him and dragged him round to Zachariah Square. It was too
late to call that night on Hannah to be introduced to her parents,
especially as he had wired he would come the next day. There was no
chance of Hannah being at the club, it was too busy a night for all
angels of the hearth; even to-morrow, the even of the Festival, would be
an awkward time for a young man to thrust his love-affairs upon a
household given over to the more important matters of dietary
preparation. Still David could not consent to live another whole day
without seeing the light of his eyes.
Leah, inwardly projecting an orgie of comic operas and dances, was
assisting Milly in the kitchen. Both young women were covered with flour
and oil and grease, and their coarse handsome faces were flushed, for
they had been busy all day drawing fowls, stewing prunes and pippins,
gutting fish, melting fat, changing the crockery and doing the thousand
and one things necessitated by gratitude for the discomfiture of Pharaoh
at the Red Sea; Ezekiel slumbered upstairs in his crib.
"Mother," said Michael, pulling pensively at his whisker as he looked at
his card. "This is Mr. Brandon, a friend of Sam's. Don't get up,
Brandon, we don't make ceremonies here. Turn up yours--ah, the nine of
"Lucky men!" said Malka with festival flippancy. "While I must hurry off
my supper so as to buy the fish, and Milly and Leah must sweat in the
kitchen, you can squat yourselves down and play cards."
"Yes," laughed Sam, looking up and adding in Hebrew, "Blessed art thou,
O Lord, who hath not made me a woman."
"Now, now," said David, putting his hand jocosely across the young man's
mouth. "No more Hebrew. Remember what happened last time. Perhaps
there's some mysterious significance even in that, and you'll find
yourself let in for something before you know where you are."
"You're not going to prevent me talking the language of my Fathers,"
gurgled Sam, bursting into a merry operatic whistle when the pressure
"Milly! Leah!" cried Malka. "Come and look at my fish! Such a _Metsiah_!
See, they're alive yet."
"They _are_ beauties, mother," said Leah, entering with her sleeves half
tucked up, showing the finely-moulded white arms in curious
juxtaposition with the coarse red hands.
"O, mother, they're alive!" said Milly, peering over her younger
Both knew by bitter experience that their mother considered herself a
connoisseur in the purchase of fish.
"And how much do you think I gave for them?" went on Malka triumphantly.
"Two pounds ten," said Milly.
Malka's eyes twinkled and she shook her head.
"Two pounds fifteen," said Leah, with the air of hitting it now.
Still Malka shook her head.
"Here, Michael, what do you think I gave for all this lot?"
"Diamonds!" said Michael.
"Be not a fool, Michael," said Malka sternly. "Look here a minute."
"Eh? Oh!" said Michael looking up from his cards. "Don't bother, mother.
"Michael!" thundered Malka. "Will you look at this fish? How much do you
think I gave for this splendid lot? here, look at 'em, alive yet."
"H'm--Ha!" said Michael, taking his complex corkscrew combination out of
his pocket and putting it back again. "Three guineas?"
"Three guineas!" laughed Malka, in good-humored scorn. "Lucky I don't
let _you_ do my marketing."
"Yes, he'd be a nice fishy customer!" said Sam Levine with a guffaw.
"Ephraim, what think you I got this fish for? Cheap now, you know?"
"I don't know, mother," replied the twinkling-eyed Pole obediently.
"Three pounds, perhaps, if you got it cheap."
Samuel and David duly appealed to, reduced the amount to two pounds five
and two pounds respectively. Then, having got everybody's attention
fixed upon her, she exclaimed:
She could not resist nibbling off the five shillings. Everybody drew a
"Tu! Tu!" they ejaculated in chorus. "What a _Metsiah_!"
"Sam," said Ephraim immediately afterwards, "_You_ turned up the ace."
Milly and Leah went back into the kitchen.
It was rather too quick a relapse into the common things of life and
made Malka suspect the admiration was but superficial.
She turned, with a spice of ill-humor, and saw Esther still standing
timidly behind her. Her face flushed for she knew the child had
overheard her in a lie.
"What art thou waiting about for?" she said roughly in Yiddish. "Na!
there's a peppermint."
"I thought you might want me for something else," said Esther, blushing
but accepting the peppermint for Ikey. "And I--I--"
"Well, speak up! I won't bite thee." Malka continued to talk in Yiddish
though the child answered her in English. "I--I--nothing," said Esther,
"Here, turn thy face round, child," said Malka, putting her hand on the
girl's forcibly averted head. "Be not so sullen, thy mother was like
that, she'd want to bite my head off if I hinted thy father was not the
man for her, and then she'd _schmull_ and sulk for a week after. Thank
God, we have no one like that in this house. I couldn't live for a day
with people with such nasty tempers. Her temper worried her into the
grave, though, if thy father had not brought his mother over from Poland
my poor cousin might have carried home my fish to-night instead of thee.
Poor Gittel, peace be upon him! Come tell me what ails thee, or thy dead
mother will be cross with thee."
Esther turned her head and murmured: "I thought you might lend me the
three and sevenpence halfpenny!"
"Lend thee--?" exclaimed Malka. "Why, how canst thou ever repay it?"
"Oh yes," affirmed Esther earnestly. "I have lots of money in the bank."
"Eh! what? In the bank!" gasped Malka.
"Yes. I won five pounds in the school and I'll pay you out of that."
"Thy father never told me that!" said Malka. "He kept that dark. Ah, he
is a regular _Schnorrer_!"
"My father hasn't seen you since," retorted Esther hotly. "If you had
come round when he was sitting _shiva_ for Benjamin, peace be upon him,
you would have known."
Malka got as red as fire. Moses had sent Solomon round to inform the
_Mishpocha_ of his affliction, but at a period when the most casual
acquaintance thinks it his duty to call (armed with hard boiled eggs, a
pound of sugar, or an ounce of tea) on the mourners condemned to sit on
the floor for a week, no representative of the "family" had made an
appearance. Moses took it meekly enough, but his mother insisted that
such a slight from Zachariah Square would never have been received if he
had married another woman, and Esther for once agreed with her
grandmother's sentiments if not with her Hibernian expression of them.
But that the child should now dare to twit the head of the family with
bad behavior was intolerable to Malka, the more so as she had no
"Thou impudent of face!" she cried sharply. "Dost thou forget whom thou
"No," retorted Esther. "You are my father's cousin--that is why you
ought to have come to see him."
"I am not thy father's cousin, God forbid!" cried Malka. "I was thy
mother's cousin, God have mercy on her, and I wonder not you drove her
into the grave between the lot of you. I am no relative of any of you,
thank God, and from this day forwards I wash my hands of the lot of you,
you ungrateful pack! Let thy father send you into the streets, with
matches, not another thing will I do for thee."
"Ungrateful!" said Esther hotly. "Why, what have you ever done for us?
When my poor mother was alive you made her scrub your floors and clean
your windows, as if she was an Irishwoman."
"Impudent of face!" cried Malka, almost choking with rage. "What have I
done for you? Why--why--I--I--shameless hussy! And this is what
Judaism's coming to in England! This is the manners and religion they
teach thee at thy school, eh? What have I--? Impudent of face! At this
very moment thou holdest one of my shillings in thy hand."
"Take it!" said Esther. And threw the coin passionately to the floor,
where it rolled about pleasantly for a terrible minute of human
silence. The smoke-wreathed card-players looked up at last.
"Eh? Eh? What's this, my little girl." said Michael genially. "What
makes you so naughty?"
A hysterical fit of sobbing was the only reply. In the bitterness of
that moment Esther hated the whole world.
"Don't cry like that! Don't!" said David Brandon kindly.
Esther, her little shoulders heaving convulsively, put her hand on the
"What's the matter with the girl, mother?" said Michael.
"She's _meshugga_!" said Malka. "Raving mad!" Her face was white and she
spoke as if in self-defence. "She's such a _Schlemihl_ that she lost her
purse in the Lane, and I found her gushing with the eyes, and I let her
carry home my fish and gave her a shilling and a peppermint, and thou
seest how she turns on me, thou seest."
"Poor little thing!" said David impulsively. "Here, come here, my
Esther refused to budge.
"Come here," he repeated gently. "See, I will make up the loss to you.
Take the pool. I've just won it, so I shan't miss it."
Esther sobbed louder, but she did not move.
David rose, emptied the heap of silver into his palm, walked over to
Esther, and pushed it into her pocket. Michael got up and added half a
crown to it, and the other two men followed suit. Then David opened the
door, put her outside gently and said: "There! Run away, my little dear,
and be more careful of pickpockets."
All this while Malka had stood frozen to the stony dignity of a dingy
terra-cotta statue. But ere the door could close again on the child, she
darted forward and seized her by the collar of her frock.
"Give me that money," she cried.
Half hypnotized by the irate swarthy face, Esther made no resistance
while Malka rifled her pocket less dexterously than the first operator.
Malka counted it out.
"Seventeen and sixpence," she announced in terrible tones. "How darest
thou take all this money from strangers, and perfect strangers? Do my
children think to shame me before my own relative?" And throwing the
money violently into the plate she took out a gold coin and pressed it
into the bewildered child's hand.
"There!" she shouted. "Hold that tight! It is a sovereign. And if ever I
catch thee taking money from any one in this house but thy mother's own
cousin, I'll wash my hands of thee for ever. Go now! Go on! I can't
afford any more, so it's useless waiting. Good-night, and tell thy
father I wish him a happy _Yontov_, and I hope he'll lose no more
She hustled the child into the Square and banged the door upon her, and
Esther went about her mammoth marketing half-dazed, with an undercurrent
of happiness, vaguely apologetic towards her father and his Providence.
Malka stooped down, picked up the clothes-brush from under the
side-table, and strode silently and diagonally across the Square.
There was a moment's dread silence. The thunderbolt had fallen. The
festival felicity of two households trembled in the balance. Michael
muttered impatiently and went out on his wife's track.
"He's an awful fool," said Ephraim. "I should make her pay for her
The card party broke up in confusion. David Brandon took his leave and
strolled about aimlessly under the stars, his soul blissful with the
sense of a good deed that had only superficially miscarried. His feet
took him to Hannah's house. All the windows were lit up. His heart began
to ache at the thought that his bright, radiant girl was beyond that
doorstep he had never crossed.
He pictured the love-light in her eyes; for surely she was dreaming of
him, as he of her. He took out his watch--the time was twenty to nine.
After all, would it be so outrageous to call? He went away twice. The
third time, defying the _convenances_, he knocked at the door, his heart
beating almost as loudly.
THE SHADOW OF RELIGION.
The little servant girl who opened the door for him looked relieved by
the sight of him, for it might have been the Rebbitzin returning from
the Lane with heaps of supplies and an accumulation of ill-humor. She
showed him into the study, and in a few moments Hannah hurried in with a
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