Part 1 out of 12
CHILDREN OF THE GHETTO
A Study of a Peculiar People
Author of "The Master," "The King of Schnorrers" "Dreamers of the
Ghetto," "Without Prejudice," etc.
Preface to the Third Edition.
The issue of a one-volume edition gives me the opportunity of thanking
the public and the critics for their kindly reception of this chart of a
_terra incognita_, and of restoring the original sub-title, which is a
reply to some criticisms upon its artistic form. The book is intended as
a study, through typical figures, of a race whose persistence is the
most remarkable fact in the history of the world, the faith and morals
of which it has so largely moulded. At the request of numerous readers I
have reluctantly added a glossary of 'Yiddish' words and phrases, based
on one supplied to the American edition by another hand. I have omitted
only those words which occur but once and are then explained in the
text; and to each word I have added an indication of the language from
which it was drawn. This may please those who share Mr. Andrew Lang's
and Miss Rosa Dartle's desire for information. It will be seen that most
of these despised words are pure Hebrew; a language which never died off
the lips of men, and which is the medium in which books are written all
the world over even unto this day.
London, March, 1893.
BOOK I. THE CHILDREN OF THE GHETTO.
I. The Bread of Affliction
II. The Sweater
IV. The Redemption of the Son and the Daughter
V. The Pauper Alien
VI. "Reb" Shemuel
VII. The Neo-Hebrew Poet
VIII. Esther and her Children
IX. Dutch Debby
X. A Silent Family
XI. The Purim Ball
XII. The Sons of the Covenant
XIII. Sugarman's Barmitzvah Party
XIV. The Hope of the Family
XV. The Holy Land League
XVI. The Courtship of Shosshi Shmendrik
XVII. The Hyams's Honeymoon
XVIII. The Hebrew's Friday Night
XIX. With the Strikers
XX. The Hope Extinct
XXI. The Jargon Players
XXII. "For Auld Lang Syne, My Dear"
XXIII. The Dead Monkey
XXIV. The Shadow of Religion
XXV. Seder Night
BOOK II. THE GRANDCHILDREN OF THE GHETTO.
I. The Christmas Dinner
II. Raphael Leon
III. "The Flag of Judah"
IV. The Troubles of an Editor
V. A Woman's Growth
VI. Comedy or Tragedy?
VII. What the Years brought
VIII. The Ends of a Generation
IX. The "Flag" flutters
X. Esther defies the Universe
XI. Going Home
XII. A Sheaf of Sequels
XIII. The Dead Monkey again
XIV. Sidney settles down
XV. From Soul to Soul
XVI. Love's Temptation
XVII. The Prodigal Son
XVIII. Hopes and Dreams
Not here in our London Ghetto the gates and gaberdines of the olden
Ghetto of the Eternal City; yet no lack of signs external by which
one may know it, and those who dwell therein. Its narrow streets
have no specialty of architecture; its dirt is not picturesque. It
is no longer the stage for the high-buskined tragedy of massacre
and martyrdom; only for the obscurer, deeper tragedy that evolves
from the pressure of its own inward forces, and the long-drawn-out
tragi-comedy of sordid and shifty poverty. Natheless, this London
Ghetto of ours is a region where, amid uncleanness and squalor, the
rose of romance blows yet a little longer in the raw air of English
reality; a world which hides beneath its stony and unlovely surface
an inner world of dreams, fantastic and poetic as the mirage of the
Orient where they were woven, of superstitions grotesque as the
cathedral gargoyles of the Dark Ages in which they had birth. And
over all lie tenderly some streaks of celestial light shining from
the face of the great Lawgiver.
The folk who compose our pictures are children of the Ghetto; their
faults are bred of its hovering miasma of persecution, their
virtues straitened and intensified by the narrowness of its
horizon. And they who have won their way beyond its boundaries must
still play their parts in tragedies and comedies--tragedies of
spiritual struggle, comedies of material ambition--which are the
aftermath of its centuries of dominance, the sequel of that long
cruel night in Jewry which coincides with the Christian Era. If
they are not the Children, they are at least the Grandchildren of
The particular Ghetto that is the dark background upon which our
pictures will be cast, is of voluntary formation.
People who have been living in a Ghetto for a couple of centuries, are
not able to step outside merely because the gates are thrown down, nor
to efface the brands on their souls by putting off the yellow badges.
The isolation imposed from without will have come to seem the law of
their being. But a minority will pass, by units, into the larger, freer,
stranger life amid the execrations of an ever-dwindling majority. For
better or for worse, or for both, the Ghetto will be gradually
abandoned, till at last it becomes only a swarming place for the poor
and the ignorant, huddling together for social warmth. Such people are
their own Ghetto gates; when they migrate they carry them across the sea
to lands where they are not. Into the heart of East London there poured
from Russia, from Poland, from Germany, from Holland, streams of Jewish
exiles, refugees, settlers, few as well-to-do as the Jew of the proverb,
but all rich in their cheerfulness, their industry, and their
cleverness. The majority bore with them nothing but their phylacteries
and praying shawls, and a good-natured contempt for Christians and
Christianity. For the Jew has rarely been embittered by persecution. He
knows that he is in _Goluth_, in exile, and that the days of the Messiah
are not yet, and he looks upon the persecutor merely as the stupid
instrument of an all-wise Providence. So that these poor Jews were rich
in all the virtues, devout yet tolerant, and strong in their reliance on
Faith, Hope, and more especially Charity.
In the early days of the nineteenth century, all Israel were brethren.
Even the pioneer colony of wealthy Sephardim--descendants of the Spanish
crypto-Jews who had reached England _via_ Holland--had modified its
boycott of the poor Ashkenazic immigrants, now they were become an
overwhelming majority. There was a superior stratum of Anglo-German Jews
who had had time to get on, but all the Ashkenazic tribes lived very
much like a happy family, the poor not stand-offish towards the rich,
but anxious to afford them opportunities for well-doing. The _Schnorrer_
felt no false shame in his begging. He knew it was the rich man's duty
to give him unleavened bread at Passover, and coals in the winter, and
odd half-crowns at all seasons; and he regarded himself as the Jacob's
ladder by which the rich man mounted to Paradise. But, like all genuine
philanthropists, he did not look for gratitude. He felt that virtue was
its own reward, especially when he sat in Sabbath vesture at the head of
his table on Friday nights, and thanked God in an operatic aria for the
white cotton table-cloth and the fried sprats. He sought personal
interviews with the most majestic magnates, and had humorous repartees
for their lumbering censure.
As for the rich, they gave charity unscrupulously--in the same Oriental,
unscientific, informal spirit in which the _Dayanim_, those cadis of the
East End, administered justice. The _Takif_, or man of substance, was as
accustomed to the palm of the mendicant outside the Great Synagogue as
to the rattling pyx within. They lived in Bury Street, and Prescott
Street, and Finsbury--these aristocrats of the Ghetto--in mansions that
are now but congeries of "apartments." Few relations had they with
Belgravia, but many with Petticoat Lane and the Great _Shool_, the
stately old synagogue which has always been illuminated by candles and
still refuses all modern light. The Spanish Jews had a more ancient
_snoga_, but it was within a stone's throw of the "Duke's Place"
edifice. Decorum was not a feature of synagogue worship in those days,
nor was the Almighty yet conceived as the holder of formal receptions
once a week. Worshippers did not pray with bated breath, as if afraid
that the deity would overhear them. They were at ease in Zion. They
passed the snuff-boxes and remarks about the weather. The opportunities
of skipping afforded by a too exuberant liturgy promoted conversation,
and even stocks were discussed in the terrible _longueurs_ induced by
the meaningless ministerial repetition of prayers already said by the
congregation, or by the official recitations of catalogues of purchased
benedictions. Sometimes, of course, this announcement of the offertory
was interesting, especially when there was sensational competition. The
great people bade in guineas for the privilege of rolling up the Scroll
of the Law or drawing the Curtain of the Ark, or saying a particular
_Kaddish_ if they were mourners, and then thrills of reverence went
round the congregation. The social hierarchy was to some extent
graduated by synagogal contributions, and whoever could afford only a
little offering had it announced as a "gift"--a vague term which might
equally be the covering of a reticent munificence.
Very few persons, "called up" to the reading of the Law, escaped at the
cost they had intended, for one is easily led on by an insinuative
official incapable of taking low views of the donor's generosity and a
little deaf. The moment prior to the declaration of the amount was quite
exciting for the audience. On Sabbaths and festivals the authorities
could not write down these sums, for writing is work and work is
forbidden; even to write them in the book and volume of their brain
would have been to charge their memories with an illegitimate if not an
impossible burden. Parchment books on a peculiar system with holes in
the pages and laces to go through the holes solved the problem of
bookkeeping without pen and ink. It is possible that many of the
worshippers were tempted to give beyond their means for fear of losing
the esteem of the _Shammos_ or Beadle, a potent personage only next in
influence to the President whose overcoat he obsequiously removed on the
greater man's annual visit to the synagogue. The Beadle's eye was all
over the _Shool_ at once, and he could settle an altercation about seats
without missing a single response. His automatic amens resounded
magnificently through the synagogue, at once a stimulus and a rebuke. It
was probably as a concession to him that poor men, who were neither
seat-holders nor wearers of chimney-pot hats, were penned within an iron
enclosure near the door of the building and ranged on backless benches,
and it says much for the authority of the _Shammos_ that not even the
_Schnorrer_ contested it. Prayers were shouted rapidly by the
congregation, and elaborately sung by the _Chazan_. The minister was
_Vox et praeterea nihil_. He was the only musical instrument permitted,
and on him devolved the whole onus of making the service attractive. He
succeeded. He was helped by the sociability of the gathering--for the
Synagogue was virtually a Jewish Club, the focus of the sectarian life.
Hard times and bitter had some of the fathers of the Ghetto, but they
ate their dry bread with the salt of humor, loved their wives, and
praised God for His mercies. Unwitting of the genealogies that would be
found for them by their prosperous grandchildren, old clo' men plied
their trade in ambitious content. They were meek and timorous outside
the Ghetto, walking warily for fear of the Christian. Sufferance was
still the badge of all their tribe. Yet that there were Jews who held
their heads high, let the following legend tell: Few men could shuffle
along more inoffensively or cry "Old Clo'" with a meeker twitter than
Sleepy Sol. The old man crawled one day, bowed with humility and
clo'-bag, into a military mews and uttered his tremulous chirp. To him
came one of the hostlers with insolent beetling brow.
"Any gold lace?" faltered Sleepy Sol.
"Get out!" roared the hostler.
"I'll give you de best prices," pleaded Sleepy Sol.
"Get out!" repeated the hostler and hustled the old man into the street.
"If I catch you 'ere again, I'll break your neck." Sleepy Sol loved his
neck, but the profit on gold lace torn from old uniforms was high. Next
week he crept into the mews again, trusting to meet another hostler.
"Clo'! Clo'!" he chirped faintly.
Alas! the brawny bully was to the fore again and recognized him.
"You dirty old Jew," he cried. "Take that, and that! The next time I
sees you, you'll go 'ome on a shutter."
The old man took that, and that, and went on his way. The next day he
"Clo'! Clo'!" he whimpered.
"What!" said the ruffian, his coarse cheeks flooded with angry blood.
"Ev yer forgotten what I promised yer?" He seized Sleepy Sol by the
scruff of the neck.
"I say, why can't you leave the old man alone?"
The hostler stared at the protester, whose presence he had not noticed
in the pleasurable excitement of the moment. It was a Jewish young man,
indifferently attired in a pepper-and-salt suit. The muscular hostler
measured him scornfully with his eye.
"What's to do with you?" he said, with studied contempt.
"Nothing," admitted the intruder. "And what harm is he doing you?"
"That's my bizness," answered the hostler, and tightened his clutch of
Sleepy Sol's nape.
"Well, you'd better not mind it," answered the young man calmly. "Let
The hostler's thick lips emitted a disdainful laugh.
"Let go, d'you hear?" repeated the young man.
"I'll let go at your nose," said the hostler, clenching his knobby fist.
"Very well," said the young man. "Then I'll pull yours."
"Oho!" said the hostler, his scowl growing fiercer. "Yer means bizness,
does yer?" With that he sent Sleepy Sol staggering along the road and
rolled up his shirt-sleeves. His coat was already off.
The young man did not remove his; he quietly assumed the defensive. The
hostler sparred up to him with grim earnestness, and launched a terrible
blow at his most characteristic feature. The young man blandly put it on
one side, and planted a return blow on the hostler's ear. Enraged, his
opponent sprang upon him. The young Jew paralyzed him by putting his
left hand negligently into his pocket. With his remaining hand he closed
the hostler's right eye, and sent the flesh about it into mourning. Then
he carelessly tapped a little blood from the hostler's nose, gave him a
few thumps on the chest as if to test the strength of his lungs, and
laid him sprawling in the courtyard. A brother hostler ran out from the
stables and gave a cry of astonishment.
"You'd better wipe his face," said the young man curtly.
The newcomer hurried back towards the stables.
"Vait a moment," said Sleepy Sol "I can sell you a sponge sheap; I've
got a beauty in my bag."
There were plenty of sponges about, but the newcomer bought the
"Do you want any more?" the young man affably inquired of his prostrate
The hostler gave a groan. He was shamed before a friend whom he had
early convinced of his fistic superiority.
"No, I reckon he don't," said his friend, with a knowing grin at the
"Then I will wish you a good day," said the young man. "Come along,
"Yes, ma son-in-law," said Sleepy Sol.
"Do you know who that was, Joe?" said his friend, as he sponged away the
Joe shook his head.
"That was Dutch Sam," said his friend in an awe-struck whisper.
All Joe's body vibrated with surprise and respect. Dutch Sam was the
champion bruiser of his time; in private life an eminent dandy and a
prime favorite of His Majesty George IV., and Sleepy Sol had a beautiful
daughter and was perhaps prepossessing himself when washed for the
"Dutch Sam!" Joe repeated.
"Dutch Sam! Why, we've got his picter hanging up inside, only he's naked
to the waist."
"Well, strike me lucky! What a fool I was not to rekkernize 'im!" His
battered face brightened up. "No wonder he licked me!"
Except for the comparative infrequency of the more bestial types of men
and women, Judaea has always been a cosmos in little, and its
prize-fighters and scientists, its philosophers and "fences," its
gymnasts and money-lenders, its scholars and stockbrokers, its
musicians, chess-players, poets, comic singers, lunatics, saints,
publicans, politicians, warriors, poltroons, mathematicians, actors,
foreign correspondents, have always been in the first rank. _Nihil
alienum a se Judaeus putat_.
Joe and his friend fell to recalling Dutch Sam's great feats. Each
out-vied the other in admiration for the supreme pugilist.
Next day Sleepy Sol came rampaging down the courtyard. He walked at the
rate of five miles to the hour, and despite the weight of his bag his
head pointed to the zenith.
"Clo'!" he shrieked. "Clo'!"
Joe the hostler came out. His head was bandaged, and in his hand was
gold lace. It was something even to do business with a hero's
But it is given to few men to marry their daughters to champion boxers:
and as Dutch Sam was not a Don Quixote, the average peddler or huckster
never enjoyed the luxury of prancing gait and cock-a-hoop business cry.
The primitive fathers of the Ghetto might have borne themselves more
jauntily had they foreseen that they were to be the ancestors of mayors
and aldermen descended from Castilian hidalgos and Polish kings, and
that an unborn historian would conclude that the Ghetto of their day was
peopled by princes in disguise. They would have been as surprised to
learn who they were as to be informed that they were orthodox. The great
Reform split did not occur till well on towards the middle of the
century, and the Jews of those days were unable to conceive that a man
could be a Jew without eating _kosher_ meat, and they would have looked
upon the modern distinctions between racial and religious Jews as the
sophistries of the convert or the missionary. If their religious life
converged to the Great _Shool_, their social life focussed on Petticoat
Lane, a long, narrow thoroughfare which, as late as Strype's day, was
lined with beautiful trees: vastly more pleasant they must have been
than the faded barrows and beggars of after days. The Lane--such was its
affectionate sobriquet--was the stronghold of hard-shell Judaism, the
Alsatia of "infidelity" into which no missionary dared set foot,
especially no apostate-apostle. Even in modern days the new-fangled
Jewish minister of the fashionable suburb, rigged out, like the
Christian clergyman, has been mistaken for such a _Meshumad_, and pelted
with gratuitous vegetables and eleemosynary eggs. The Lane was always
the great market-place, and every insalubrious street and alley abutting
on it was covered with the overflowings of its commerce and its mud.
Wentworth Street and Goulston Street were the chief branches, and in
festival times the latter was a pandemonium of caged poultry, clucking
and quacking and cackling and screaming. Fowls and geese and ducks were
bought alive, and taken to have their throats cut for a fee by the
official slaughterer. At Purim a gaiety, as of the Roman carnival,
enlivened the swampy Wentworth Street, and brought a smile into the
unwashed face of the pavement. The confectioners' shops, crammed with
"stuffed monkeys" and "bolas," were besieged by hilarious crowds of
handsome girls and their young men, fat women and their children, all
washing down the luscious spicy compounds with cups of chocolate;
temporarily erected swinging cradles bore a vociferous many-colored
burden to the skies; cardboard noses, grotesque in their departure from
truth, abounded. The Purim _Spiel_ or Purim play never took root in
England, nor was Haman ever burnt in the streets, but _Shalachmonos_, or
gifts of the season, passed between friend and friend, and masquerading
parties burst into neighbors' houses. But the Lane was lively enough on
the ordinary Friday and Sunday. The famous Sunday Fair was an event of
metropolitan importance, and thither came buyers of every sect. The
Friday Fair was more local, and confined mainly to edibles. The
Ante-Festival Fairs combined something of the other two, for Jews
desired to sport new hats and clothes for the holidays as well as to eat
extra luxuries, and took the opportunity of a well-marked epoch to
invest in new everythings from oil-cloth to cups and saucers. Especially
was this so at Passover, when for a week the poorest Jew must use a
supplementary set of crockery and kitchen utensils. A babel of sound,
audible for several streets around, denoted Market Day in Petticoat
Lane, and the pavements were blocked by serried crowds going both ways
It was only gradually that the community was Anglicized. Under the sway
of centrifugal impulses, the wealthier members began to form new
colonies, moulting their old feathers and replacing them by finer, and
flying ever further from the centre. Men of organizing ability founded
unrivalled philanthropic and educational institutions on British lines;
millionaires fought for political emancipation; brokers brazenly foisted
themselves on 'Change; ministers gave sermons in bad English; an English
journal was started; very slowly, the conventional Anglican tradition
was established; and on that human palimpsest which has borne the
inscriptions of all languages and all epochs, was writ large the
sign-manual of England. Judaea prostrated itself before the Dagon of its
hereditary foe, the Philistine, and respectability crept on to freeze
the blood of the Orient with its frigid finger, and to blur the vivid
tints of the East into the uniform gray of English middle-class life. In
the period within which our story moves, only vestiges of the old gaiety
and brotherhood remained; the full _al fresco_ flavor was evaporated.
And to-day they are alt dead--the _Takeefim_ with big hearts and bigger
purses, and the humorous _Schnorrers_, who accepted their gold, and the
cheerful pious peddlers who rose from one extreme to the other, building
up fabulous fortunes in marvellous ways. The young mothers, who suckled
their babes in the sun, have passed out of the sunshine; yea, and the
babes, too, have gone down with gray heads to the dust. Dead are the
fair fat women, with tender hearts, who waddled benignantly through
life, ever ready to shed the sympathetic tear, best of wives, and cooks,
and mothers; dead are the bald, ruddy old men, who ambled about in faded
carpet slippers, and passed the snuff-box of peace: dead are the
stout-hearted youths who sailed away to Tom Tiddler's ground; and dead
are the buxom maidens they led under the wedding canopy when they
returned. Even the great Dr. Sequira, pompous in white stockings,
physician extraordinary to the Prince Regent of Portugal, lies
vanquished by his life-long adversary and the Baal Shem himself, King of
Cabalists, could command no countervailing miracle.
Where are the little girls in white pinafores with pink sashes who
brightened the Ghetto on high days and holidays? Where is the beauteous
Betsy of the Victoria Ballet? and where the jocund synagogue dignitary
who led off the cotillon with her at the annual Rejoicing of the Law?
Worms have long since picked the great financier's brain, the
embroidered waistcoats of the bucks have passed even beyond the stage of
adorning sweeps on May Day, and Dutch Sam's fist is bonier than ever.
The same mould covers them all--those who donated guineas and those who
donated "gifts," the rogues and the hypocrites, and the wedding-drolls,
the observant and the lax, the purse-proud and the lowly, the coarse and
the genteel, the wonderful chapmen and the luckless _Schlemihls_, Rabbi
and _Dayan_ and _Shochet_, the scribes who wrote the sacred scroll and
the cantors who trolled it off mellifluous tongues, and the betting-men
who never listened to it; the grimy Russians of the capotes and the
earlocks, and the blue-blooded Dons, "the gentlemen of the Mahamad," who
ruffled it with swords and knee-breeches in the best Christian society.
Those who kneaded the toothsome "bolas" lie with those who ate them; and
the marriage-brokers repose with those they mated. The olives and the
cucumbers grow green and fat as of yore, but their lovers are mixed with
a soil that is barren of them. The restless, bustling crowds that
jostled laughingly in Rag Fair are at rest in the "House of Life;" the
pageant of their strenuous generation is vanished as a dream. They died
with the declaration of God's unity on their stiffening lips, and the
certainty of resurrection in their pulseless hearts, and a faded Hebrew
inscription on a tomb, or an unread entry on a synagogue brass is their
only record. And yet, perhaps, their generation is not all dust.
Perchance, here and there, some decrepit centenarian rubs his purblind
eyes with the ointment of memory, and sees these pictures of the past,
hallowed by the consecration of time, and finds his shrivelled cheek wet
with the pathos sanctifying the joys that have been.
CHILDREN OF THE GHETTO.
THE BREAD OF AFFLICTION.
A dead and gone wag called the street "Fashion Street," and most of the
people who live in it do not even see the joke. If it could exchange
names with "Rotten Row," both places would be more appropriately
designated. It is a dull, squalid, narrow thoroughfare in the East End
of London, connecting Spitalfields with Whitechapel, and branching off
in blind alleys. In the days when little Esther Ansell trudged its
unclean pavements, its extremities were within earshot of the
blasphemies from some of the vilest quarters and filthiest rookeries in
the capital of the civilized world. Some of these clotted spiders'-webs
have since been swept away by the besom of the social reformer, and the
spiders have scurried off into darker crannies.
There were the conventional touches about the London street-picture, as
Esther Ansell sped through the freezing mist of the December evening,
with a pitcher in her hand, looking in her oriental coloring like a
miniature of Rebecca going to the well. A female street-singer, with a
trail of infants of dubious maternity, troubled the air with a piercing
melody; a pair of slatterns with arms a-kimbo reviled each other's
relatives; a drunkard lurched along, babbling amiably; an organ-grinder,
blue-nosed as his monkey, set some ragged children jigging under the
watery rays of a street-lamp. Esther drew her little plaid shawl tightly
around her, and ran on without heeding these familiar details, her
chilled feet absorbing the damp of the murky pavement through the worn
soles of her cumbrous boots. They were masculine boots, kicked off by
some intoxicated tramp and picked up by Esther's father. Moses Ansell
had a habit of lighting on windfalls, due, perhaps, to his meek manner
of walking with bent head, as though literally bowed beneath the yoke of
the Captivity. Providence rewarded him for his humility by occasional
treasure-trove. Esther had received a pair of new boots from her school
a week before, and the substitution, of the tramp's foot-gear for her
own resulted in a net profit of half-a-crown, and kept Esther's little
brothers and sisters in bread for a week. At school, under her teacher's
eye, Esther was very unobtrusive about the feet for the next fortnight,
but as the fear of being found out died away, even her rather morbid
conscience condoned the deception in view of the stomachic gain.
They gave away bread and milk at the school, too, but Esther and her
brothers and sisters never took either, for fear of being thought in
want of them. The superiority of a class-mate is hard to bear, and a
high-spirited child will not easily acknowledge starvation in presence
of a roomful of purse-proud urchins, some of them able to spend a
farthing a day on pure luxuries. Moses Ansell would have been grieved
had he known his children were refusing the bread he could not give
them. Trade was slack in the sweating dens, and Moses, who had always
lived from hand to mouth, had latterly held less than ever between the
one and the other. He had applied for help to the Jewish Board of
Guardians, but red-tape rarely unwinds as quickly as hunger coils
itself; moreover, Moses was an old offender in poverty at the Court of
Charity. But there was one species of alms which Moses could not be
denied, and the existence of which Esther could not conceal from him as
she concealed that of the eleemosynary breakfasts at the school. For it
was known to all men that soup and bread were to be had for the asking
thrice a week at the Institution in Fashion Street, and in the Ansell
household the opening of the soup-kitchen was looked forward to as the
dawn of a golden age, when it would be impossible to pass more than one
day without bread. The vaguely-remembered smell of the soup threw a
poetic fragrance over the coming winter. Every year since Esther's
mother had died, the child had been sent to fetch home the provender,
for Moses, who was the only other available member of the family, was
always busy praying when he had nothing better to do. And so to-night
Esther fared to the kitchen, with her red pitcher, passing in her
childish eagerness numerous women shuffling along on the same errand,
and bearing uncouth tin cans supplied by the institution. An
individualistic instinct of cleanliness made Esther prefer the family
pitcher. To-day this liberty of choice has been taken away, and the
regulation can, numbered and stamped, serves as a soup-ticket. There was
quite a crowd of applicants outside the stable-like doors of the kitchen
when Esther arrived, a few with well-lined stomachs, perhaps, but the
majority famished and shivering. The feminine element swamped the rest,
but there were about a dozen men and a few children among the group,
most of the men scarce taller than the children--strange, stunted,
swarthy, hairy creatures, with muddy complexions illumined by black,
twinkling eyes. A few were of imposing stature, wearing coarse, dusty
felt hats or peaked caps, with shaggy beards or faded scarfs around
their throats. Here and there, too, was a woman of comely face and
figure, but for the most part it was a collection of crones, prematurely
aged, with weird, wan, old-world features, slip-shod and draggle-tailed,
their heads bare, or covered with dingy shawls in lieu of bonnets--red
shawls, gray shawls, brick-dust shawls, mud-colored shawls. Yet there
was an indefinable touch of romance and pathos about the tawdriness and
witch-like ugliness, and an underlying identity about the crowd of
Polish, Russian, German, Dutch Jewesses, mutually apathetic, and
pressing forwards. Some of them had infants at their bare breasts, who
drowsed quietly with intervals of ululation. The women devoid of shawls
had nothing around their necks to protect them from the cold, the dusky
throats were exposed, and sometimes even the first hooks and eyes of the
bodice were unnecessarily undone. The majority wore cheap earrings and
black wigs with preternaturally polished hair; where there was no wig,
the hair was touzled.
At half-past five the stable-doors were thrown open, and the crowd
pressed through a long, narrow white-washed stone corridor into a
barn-like compartment, with a white-washed ceiling traversed by wooden
beams. Within this compartment, and leaving but a narrow, circumscribing
border, was a sort of cattle-pen, into which the paupers crushed,
awaiting amid discomfort and universal jabber the divine moment. The
single jet of gas-light depending from the ceiling flared upon the
strange simian faces, and touched them into a grotesque picturesqueness
that would have delighted Dore.
They felt hungry, these picturesque people; their near and dear ones
were hungering at home. Voluptuously savoring in imagination the
operation of the soup, they forgot its operation as a dole in aid of
wages; were unconscious of the grave economical possibilities of
pauperization and the rest, and quite willing to swallow their
independence with the soup. Even Esther, who had read much, and was
sensitive, accepted unquestioningly the theory of the universe that was
held by most people about her, that human beings were distinguished from
animals in having to toil terribly for a meagre crust, but that their
lot was lightened by the existence of a small and semi-divine class
called _Takeefim_, or rich people, who gave away what they didn't want.
How these rich people came to be, Esther did not inquire; they were as
much a part of the constitution of things as clouds and horses. The
semi-celestial variety was rarely to be met with. It lived far away from
the Ghetto, and a small family of it was said to occupy a whole house.
Representatives of it, clad in rustling silks or impressive broad-cloth,
and radiating an indefinable aroma of superhumanity, sometimes came to
the school, preceded by the beaming Head Mistress; and then all the
little girls rose and curtseyed, and the best of them, passing as
average members of the class, astonished the semi-divine persons by
their intimate acquaintance with the topography of the Pyrenees and the
disagreements of Saul and David, the intercourse of the two species
ending in effusive smiles and general satisfaction. But the dullest of
the girls was alive to the comedy, and had a good-humored contempt for
the unworldliness of the semi-divine persons who spoke to them as if
they were not going to recommence squabbling, and pulling one another's
hair, and copying one another's sums, and stealing one another's
needles, the moment the semi-celestial backs were turned.
To-night, semi-divine persons were to be seen in a galaxy of splendor,
for in the reserved standing-places, behind the white deal counter, was
gathered a group of philanthropists. The room was an odd-shaped polygon,
partially lined with eight boilers, whose great wooden lids were raised
by pulleys and balanced by red-painted iron balls. In the corner stood
the cooking-engine. Cooks in white caps and blouses stirred the steaming
soup with long wooden paddles. A tradesman besought the attention of the
Jewish reporters to the improved boiler he had manufactured, and the
superintendent adjured the newspaper men not to omit his name; while
amid the soberly-clad clergymen flitted, like gorgeous humming-birds
through a flock of crows, the marriageable daughters of an east-end
When a sufficient number of semi-divinities was gathered together, the
President addressed the meeting at considerable length, striving to
impress upon the clergymen and other philanthropists present that
charity was a virtue, and appealing to the Bible, the Koran, and even
the Vedas, for confirmation of his proposition. Early in his speech the
sliding door that separated the cattle-pen from the kitchen proper had
to be closed, because the jostling crowd jabbered so much and
inconsiderate infants squalled, and there did not seem to be any general
desire to hear the President's ethical views. They were a low material
lot, who thought only of their bellies, and did but chatter the louder
when the speech was shut out. They had overflowed their barriers by this
time, and were surging cruelly to and fro, and Esther had to keep her
elbows close to her sides lest her arms should be dislocated. Outside
the stable doors a shifting array of boys and girls hovered hungrily and
curiously. When the President had finished, the Rabbinate was invited to
address the philanthropists, which it did at not less length, eloquently
seconding the proposition that charity was a virtue. Then the door was
slid back, and the first two paupers were admitted, the rest of the
crowd being courageously kept at bay by the superintendent. The head
cook filled a couple of plates with soup, dipping a great pewter pot
into the cauldron. The Rabbinate then uplifted its eyes heavenwards, and
said the grace:
"Blessed art Thou, O Lord, King of the Universe, according to whose
word all things exist."
It then tasted a spoonful of the soup, as did also the President and
several of the visitors, the passage of the fluid along the palate
invariably evoking approving ecstatic smiles; and indeed, there was more
body in it this opening night than there would be later, when, in due
course, the bulk of the meat would take its legitimate place among the
pickings of office. The sight of the delighted deglutition of the
semi-divine persons made Esther's mouth water as she struggled for
breathing space on the outskirts of Paradise. The impatience which
fretted her was almost allayed by visions of stout-hearted Solomon and
gentle Rachel and whimpering little Sarah and I key, all gulping down
the delicious draught. Even the more stoical father and grandmother were
a little in her thoughts. The Ansells had eaten nothing but a slice of
dry bread each in the morning. Here before her, in the land of Goshen,
flowing with soup, was piled up a heap of halves of loaves, while
endless other loaves were ranged along the shelves as for a giant's
table. Esther looked ravenously at the four-square tower built of edible
bricks, shivering as the biting air sought out her back through a sudden
interstice in the heaving mass. The draught reminded her more keenly of
her little ones huddled together in the fireless garret at home. Ah!
what a happy night was in store. She must not let them devour the two
loaves to-night; that would be criminal extravagance. No, one would
suffice for the banquet, the other must be carefully put by. "To-morrow
is also a day," as the old grandmother used to say in her quaint jargon.
But the banquet was not to be spread as fast as Esther's fancy could
fly; the doors must be shut again, other semi-divine and wholly divine
persons (in white ties) must move and second (with eloquence and length)
votes of thanks to the President, the Rabbinate, and all other available
recipients; a French visitor must express his admiration of English
charity. But at last the turn of the gnawing stomachs came. The motley
crowd, still babbling, made a slow, forward movement, squeezing
painfully through the narrow aperture, and shivering a plate glass
window pane at the side of the cattle-pen in the crush; the semi-divine
persons rubbed their hands and smiled genially; ingenious paupers tried
to dodge round to the cauldrons by the semi-divine entrance; the
tropical humming-birds fluttered among the crows; there was a splashing
of ladles and a gurgling of cascades of soup into the cans, and a hubbub
of voices; a toothless, white-haired, blear-eyed hag lamented in
excellent English that soup was refused her, owing to her case not
having yet been investigated, and her tears moistened the one loaf she
received. In like hard case a Russian threw himself on the stones and
howled. But at last Esther was running through the mist, warmed by the
pitcher which she hugged to her bosom, and suppressing the blind impulse
to pinch the pair of loaves tied up in her pinafore. She almost flew up
the dark flight of stairs to the attic in Royal Street. Little Sarah was
sobbing querulously. Esther, conscious of being an angel of deliverance,
tried to take the last two steps at once, tripped and tumbled
ignominiously against the garret-door, which flew back and let her fall
into the room with a crash. The pitcher shivered into fragments under
her aching little bosom, the odorous soup spread itself in an irregular
pool over the boards, and flowed under the two beds and dripped down the
crevices into the room beneath. Esther burst into tears; her frock was
wet and greased, her hands were cut and bleeding. Little Sarah checked
her sobs at the disaster. Moses Ansell was not yet returned from evening
service, but the withered old grandmother, whose wizened face loomed
through the gloom of the cold, unlit garret, sat up on the bed and
cursed her angrily for a _Schlemihl_. A sense of injustice made Esther
cry more bitterly. She had never broken anything for years past. Ikey,
an eerie-looking dot of four and a half years, tottered towards her (all
the Ansells had learnt to see in the dark), and nestling his curly head
against her wet bodice, murmured:
"Neva mind, Estie, I lat oo teep in my new bed."
The consolation of sleeping in that imaginary new bed to the possession
of which Ikey was always looking forward was apparently adequate; for
Esther got up from the floor and untied the loaves from her pinafore. A
reckless spirit of defiance possessed her, as of a gambler who throws
good money after bad. They should have a mad revelry to-night--the two
loaves should be eaten at once. One (minus a hunk for father's supper)
would hardly satisfy six voracious appetites. Solomon and Rachel,
irrepressibly excited by the sight of the bread, rushed at it greedily,
snatched a loaf from Esther's hand, and tore off a crust each with their
"Heathen," cried the old grandmother. "Washing and benediction."
Solomon was used to being called a "heathen" by the _Bube_. He put on
his cap and went grudgingly to the bucket of water that stood in a
corner of the room, and tipped a drop over his fingers. It is to be
feared that neither the quantity of water nor the area of hand covered
reached even the minimum enjoined by Rabbinical law. He murmured
something intended for Hebrew during the operation, and was beginning to
mutter the devout little sentence which precedes the eating of bread
when Rachel, who as a female was less driven to the lavatory ceremony,
and had thus got ahead of him, paused in her ravenous mastication and
made a wry face. Solomon took a huge bite at his crust, then he uttered
an inarticulate "pooh," and spat out his mouthful.
There was no salt in the bread.
The catastrophe was not complete. There were some long thin fibres of
pale boiled meat, whose juices had gone to enrich the soup, lying about
the floor or adhering to the fragments of the pitcher. Solomon, who was
a curly-headed chap of infinite resource, discovered them, and it had
just been decided to neutralize the insipidity of the bread by the
far-away flavor of the meat, when a peremptory knocking was heard at the
door, and a dazzling vision of beauty bounded into the room.
"'Ere! What are you doin', leavin' things leak through our ceiling?"
Becky Belcovitch was a buxom, bouncing girl, with cherry cheeks that
looked exotic in a land of pale faces. She wore a mass of black crisp
ringlets aggressively suggestive of singeing and curl-papers. She was
the belle of Royal Street in her spare time, and womanly triumphs dogged
even her working hours. She was sixteen years old, and devoted her youth
and beauty to buttonholes. In the East End, where a spade is a spade, a
buttonhole is a buttonhole, and not a primrose or a pansy. There are two
kinds of buttonhole--the coarse for slop goods and the fine for
gentlemanly wear. Becky concentrated herself on superior buttonholes,
which are worked with fine twist. She stitched them in her father's
workshop, which was more comfortable than a stranger's, and better
fitted for evading the Factory Acts. To-night she was radiant in silk
and jewelry, and her pert snub nose had the insolence of felicity which
Agamemnon deprecated. Seeing her, you would have as soon connected her
with Esoteric Buddhism as with buttonholes.
The _Bube_ explained the situation in voluble Yiddish, and made Esther
wince again under the impassioned invective on her clumsiness. The old
beldame expended enough oriental metaphor on the accident to fit up a
minor poet. If the family died of starvation, their blood would be upon
their granddaughter's head.
"Well, why don't you wipe it up, stupid?" said Becky. "'Ow would you
like to pay for Pesach's new coat? It just dripped past his shoulder."
"I'm so sorry, Becky," said Esther, striving hard to master the tremor
in her voice. And drawing a house-cloth from a mysterious recess, she
went on her knees in a practical prayer for pardon.
Becky snorted and went back to her sister's engagement-party. For this
was the secret of her gorgeous vesture, of her glittering earrings, and
her massive brooch, as it was the secret of the transformation of the
Belcovitch workshop (and living room) into a hall of dazzling light.
Four separate gaunt bare arms of iron gas-pipe lifted hymeneal torches.
The labels from reels of cotton, pasted above the mantelpiece as indexes
of work done, alone betrayed the past and future of the room. At a long
narrow table, covered with a white table-cloth spread with rum, gin,
biscuits and fruit, and decorated with two wax candles in tall, brass
candlesticks, stood or sat a group of swarthy, neatly-dressed Poles,
most of them in high hats. A few women wearing wigs, silk dresses, and
gold chains wound round half-washed necks, stood about outside the inner
circle. A stooping black-bearded blear-eyed man in a long threadbare
coat and a black skull cap, on either side of which hung a corkscrew
curl, sat abstractedly eating the almonds and raisins, in the central
place of honor which befits a _Maggid_. Before him were pens and ink and
a roll of parchment. This was the engagement contract.
The damages of breach of promise were assessed in advance and without
respect of sex. Whichever side repented of the bargain undertook to pay
ten pounds by way of compensation for the broken pledge. As a nation,
Israel is practical and free from cant. Romance and moonshine are
beautiful things, but behind the glittering veil are always the stern
realities of things and the weaknesses of human nature. The high
contracting parties were signing the document as Becky returned. The
bridegroom, who halted a little on one leg, was a tall sallow man named
Pesach Weingott. He was a boot-maker, who could expound the Talmud and
play the fiddle, but was unable to earn a living. He was marrying Fanny
Belcovitch because his parents-in-law would give him free board and
lodging for a year, and because he liked her. Fanny was a plump, pulpy
girl, not in the prime of youth. Her complexion was fair and her manner
lymphatic, and if she was not so well-favored as her sister, she was
more amiable and pleasant. She could sing sweetly in Yiddish and in
English, and had once been a pantomime fairy at ten shillings a week,
and had even flourished a cutlass as a midshipman. But she had long
since given up the stage, to become her father's right hand woman in the
workshop. She made coats from morning till midnight at a big machine
with a massive treadle, and had pains in her chest even before she fell
in love with Pesach Weingott.
There was a hubbub of congratulation (_Mazzoltov, Mazzoltov_, good
luck), and a palsy of handshaking, when the contract was signed.
Remarks, grave and facetious, flew about in Yiddish, with phrases of
Polish and Russian thrown in for auld lang syne, and cups and jugs were
broken in reminder of the transiency of things mortal. The Belcovitches
had been saving up their already broken crockery for the occasion. The
hope was expressed that Mr. and Mrs. Belcovitch would live to see
"rejoicings" on their other daughter, and to see their daughters'
daughters under the _Chuppah_, or wedding-canopy.
Becky's hardened cheek blushed under the oppressive jocularity.
Everybody spoke Yiddish habitually at No. 1 Royal Street, except the
younger generation, and that spoke it to the elder.
"I always said, no girl of mine should marry a Dutchman." It was a
dominant thought of Mr. Belcovitch's, and it rose spontaneously to his
lips at this joyful moment. Next to a Christian, a Dutch Jew stood
lowest in the gradation of potential sons-in-law. Spanish Jews, earliest
arrivals by way of Holland, after the Restoration, are a class apart,
and look down on the later imported _Ashkenazim_, embracing both Poles
and Dutchmen in their impartial contempt. But this does not prevent the
Pole and the Dutchman from despising each other. To a Dutch or Russian
Jew, the "Pullack," or Polish Jew, is a poor creature; and scarce
anything can exceed the complacency with which the "Pullack" looks down
upon the "Litvok" or Lithuanian, the degraded being whose Shibboleth is
literally Sibboleth, and who says "ee" where rightly constituted persons
say "oo." To mimic the mincing pronunciation of the "Litvok" affords the
"Pullack" a sense of superiority almost equalling that possessed by the
English Jew, whose mispronunciation of the Holy Tongue is his title to
rank far above all foreign varieties. Yet a vein of brotherhood runs
beneath all these feelings of mutual superiority; like the cliqueism
which draws together old clo' dealers, though each gives fifty per cent,
more than any other dealer in the trade. The Dutch foregather in a
district called "The Dutch Tenters;" they eat voraciously, and almost
monopolize the ice-cream, hot pea, diamond-cutting, cucumber, herring,
and cigar trades. They are not so cute as the Russians. Their women are
distinguished from other women by the flaccidity of their bodices; some
wear small woollen caps and sabots. When Esther read in her school-books
that the note of the Dutch character was cleanliness, she wondered. She
looked in vain for the scrupulously scoured floors and the shining caps
and faces. Only in the matter of tobacco-smoke did the Dutch people she
knew live up to the geographical "Readers."
German Jews gravitate to Polish and Russian; and French Jews mostly stay
in France. _Ici on ne parle pas Francais_, is the only lingual certainty
in the London Ghetto, which is a cosmopolitan quarter.
"I always said no girl of mine should marry a Dutchman." Mr. Belcovitch
spoke as if at the close of a long career devoted to avoiding Dutch
alliances, forgetting that not even one of his daughters was yet secure.
"Nor any girl of mine," said Mrs. Belcovitch, as if starting a separate
proposition. "I would not trust a Dutchman with my medicine-bottle, much
less with my Alte or my Becky. Dutchmen were not behind the door when
the Almighty gave out noses, and their deceitfulness is in proportion to
The company murmured assent, and one gentleman, with a rather large
organ, concealed it in a red cotton handkerchief, trumpeting uneasily.
"The Holy One, blessed be He, has given them larger noses than us," said
the _Maggid_, "because they have to talk through them so much."
A guffaw greeted this sally. The _Maggid's_ wit was relished even when
not coming from the pulpit. To the outsider this disparagement of the
Dutch nose might have seemed a case of pot calling kettle black. The
_Maggid_ poured himself out a glass of rum, under cover of the laughter,
and murmuring "Life to you." in Hebrew, gulped it down, and added, "They
oughtn't to call it the Dutch tongue, but the Dutch nose."
"Yes, I always wonder how they can understand one another," said Mrs.
Belcovitch, "with their _chatuchayacatigewesepoopa_." She laughed
heartily over her onomatopoetic addition to the Yiddish vocabulary,
screwing up her nose to give it due effect. She was a small
sickly-looking woman, with black eyes, and shrivelled skin, and the wig
without which no virtuous wife is complete. For a married woman must
sacrifice her tresses on the altar of home, lest she snare other men
with such sensuous baits. As a rule, she enters into the spirit of the
self-denying ordinance so enthusiastically as to become hideous hastily
in every other respect. It is forgotten that a husband is also a man.
Mrs. Belcovitch's head was not completely shaven and shorn, for a lower
stratum of an unmatched shade of brown peeped out in front of the
_shaitel_, not even coinciding as to the route of the central parting.
Meantime Pesach Weingott and Alte (Fanny) Belcovitch held each other's
hand, guiltily conscious of Batavian corpuscles in the young man's
blood. Pesach had a Dutch uncle, but as he had never talked like him
Alte alone knew. Alte wasn't her real name, by the way, and Alte was the
last person in the world to know what it was. She was the Belcovitches'
first successful child; the others all died before she was born. Driven
frantic by a fate crueller than barrenness, the Belcovitches consulted
an old Polish Rabbi, who told them they displayed too much fond
solicitude for their children, provoking Heaven thereby; in future, they
were to let no one but themselves know their next child's name, and
never to whisper it till the child was safely married. In such wise,
Heaven would not be incessantly reminded of the existence of their dear
one, and would not go out of its way to castigate them. The ruse
succeeded, and Alte was anxiously waiting to change both her names under
the _Chuppah_, and to gratify her life-long curiosity on the subject.
Meantime, her mother had been calling her "Alte," or "old 'un," which
sounded endearing to the child, but grated on the woman arriving ever
nearer to the years of discretion. Occasionally, Mrs. Belcovitch
succumbed to the prevailing tendency, and called her "Fanny," just as
she sometimes thought of herself as Mrs. Belcovitch, though her name
was Kosminski. When Alte first went to school in London, the Head
Mistress said, "What's your name?" The little "old 'un" had not
sufficient English to understand the question, but she remembered that
the Head Mistress had made the same sounds to the preceding applicant,
and, where some little girls would have put their pinafores to their
eyes and cried, Fanny showed herself full of resource. As the last
little girl, though patently awe-struck, had come off with flying
colors, merely by whimpering "Fanny Belcovitch," Alte imitated these
sounds as well as she was able.
"Fanny Belcovitch, did you say?" said the Head Mistress, pausing with
Alte nodded her flaxen poll vigorously.
"Fanny Belcovitch," she repeated, getting the syllables better on a
The Head Mistress turned to an assistant.
"Isn't it astonishing how names repeat themselves? Two girls, one after
the other, both with exactly the same name."
They were used to coincidences in the school, where, by reason of the
tribal relationship of the pupils, there was a great run on some
half-a-dozen names. Mr. Kosminski took several years to understand that
Alte had disowned him. When it dawned upon him he was not angry, and
acquiesced in his fate. It was the only domestic detail in which he had
allowed himself to be led by his children. Like his wife, Chayah, he was
gradually persuaded into the belief that he was a born Belcovitch, or at
least that Belcovitch was Kosminski translated into English.
Blissfully unconscious of the Dutch taint in Pesach Weingott, Bear
Belcovitch bustled about in reckless hospitality. He felt that
engagements were not every-day events, and that even if his whole
half-sovereign's worth of festive provision was swallowed up, he would
not mind much. He wore a high hat, a well-preserved black coat, with a
cutaway waistcoat, showing a quantity of glazed shirtfront and a massive
watch chain. They were his Sabbath clothes, and, like the Sabbath they
honored, were of immemorial antiquity. The shirt served him for seven
Sabbaths, or a week of Sabbaths, being carefully folded after each. His
boots had the Sabbath polish. The hat was the one he bought when he
first set up as a _Baal Habaas_ or respectable pillar of the synagogue;
for even in the smallest _Chevra_ the high hat comes next in sanctity to
the Scroll of the Law, and he who does not wear it may never hope to
attain to congregational dignities. The gloss on that hat was wonderful,
considering it had been out unprotected in all winds and weathers. Not
that Mr. Belcovitch did not possess an umbrella. He had two,--one of
fine new silk, the other a medley of broken ribs and cotton rags. Becky
had given him the first to prevent the family disgrace of the spectacle
of his promenades with the second. But he would not carry the new one on
week-days because it was too good. And on Sabbaths it is a sin to carry
any umbrella. So Becky's self-sacrifice was vain, and her umbrella stood
in the corner, a standing gratification to the proud possessor.
Kosminski had had a hard fight for his substance, and was not given to
waste. He was a tall, harsh-looking man of fifty, with grizzled hair, to
whom life meant work, and work meant money, and money meant savings. In
Parliamentary Blue-Books, English newspapers, and the Berner Street
Socialistic Club, he was called a "sweater," and the comic papers
pictured him with a protuberant paunch and a greasy smile, but he had
not the remotest idea that he was other than a God-fearing, industrious,
and even philanthropic citizen. The measure that had been dealt to him
he did but deal to others. He saw no reason why immigrant paupers should
not live on a crown a week while he taught them how to handle a
press-iron or work a sewing machine. They were much better off than in
Poland. He would have been glad of such an income himself in those
terrible first days of English life when he saw his wife and his two
babes starving before his eyes, and was only precluded from investing a
casual twopence in poison by ignorance of the English name for anything
deadly. And what did he live on now? The fowl, the pint of haricot
beans, and the haddocks which Chayah purchased for the Sabbath
overlapped into the middle of next week, a quarter of a pound of coffee
lasted the whole week, the grounds being decocted till every grain of
virtue was extracted. Black bread and potatoes and pickled herrings
made up the bulk of the every-day diet No, no one could accuse Bear
Belcovitch of fattening on the entrails of his employees. The furniture
was of the simplest and shabbiest,--no aesthetic instinct urged the
Kosminskis to overpass the bare necessities of existence, except in
dress. The only concessions to art were a crudely-colored _Mizrach_ on
the east wall, to indicate the direction towards which the Jew should
pray, and the mantelpiece mirror which was bordered with yellow
scalloped paper (to save the gilt) and ornamented at each corner with
paper roses that bloomed afresh every Passover. And yet Bear Belcovitch
had lived in much better style in Poland, possessing a brass wash-hand
basin, a copper saucepan, silver spoons, a silver consecration beaker,
and a cupboard with glass doors, and he frequently adverted to their
fond memories. But he brought nothing away except his bedding, and that
was pawned in Germany on the route. When he arrived in London he had
with him three groschen and a family.
"What do you think, Pesach," said Becky, as soon as she could get at her
prospective brother-in-law through the barriers of congratulatory
countrymen. "The stuff that came through there"--she pointed to the
discolored fragment of ceiling--"was soup. That silly little Esther
spilt all she got from the kitchen."
"_Achi-nebbich_, poor little thing," cried Mrs. Kosminski, who was in a
tender mood, "very likely it hungers them sore upstairs. The father is
out of work."
"Knowest thou what, mother," put in Fanny. "Suppose we give them our
soup. Aunt Leah has just fetched it for us. Have we not a special supper
"But father?" murmured the little woman dubiously.
"Oh, he won't notice it. I don't think he knows the soup kitchen opens
to-night. Let me, mother."
And Fanny, letting Pesach's hand go, slipped out to the room that served
as a kitchen, and bore the still-steaming pot upstairs. Pesach, who had
pursued her, followed with some hunks of bread and a piece of lighted
candle, which, while intended only to illumine the journey, came in
handy at the terminus. And the festive company grinned and winked when
the pair disappeared, and made jocular quotations from the Old Testament
and the Rabbis. But the lovers did not kiss when they came out of the
garret of the Ansells; their eyes were wet, and they went softly
downstairs hand in hand, feeling linked by a deeper love than before.
Thus did Providence hand over the soup the Belcovitches took from old
habit to a more necessitous quarter, and demonstrate in double sense
that Charity never faileth. Nor was this the only mulct which Providence
exacted from the happy father, for later on a townsman of his appeared
on the scene in a long capote, and with a grimy woe-begone expression.
He was a "greener" of the greenest order, having landed at the docks
only a few hours ago, bringing over with him a great deal of luggage in
the shape of faith in God, and in the auriferous character of London
pavements. On arriving in England, he gave a casual glance at the
metropolis and demanded to be directed to a synagogue wherein to shake
himself after the journey. His devotions over, he tracked out Mr.
Kosminski, whose address on a much-creased bit of paper had been his
talisman of hope during the voyage. In his native town, where the Jews
groaned beneath divers and sore oppressions, the fame of Kosminski, the
pioneer, the Croesus, was a legend. Mr. Kosminski was prepared for these
contingencies. He went to his bedroom, dragged out a heavy wooden chest
from under the bed, unlocked it and plunged his hand into a large dirty
linen bag, full of coins. The instinct of generosity which was upon him
made him count out forty-eight of them. He bore them to the "greener" in
over-brimming palms and the foreigner, unconscious how much he owed to
the felicitous coincidence of his visit with Fanny's betrothal, saw
fortune visibly within his grasp. He went out, his heart bursting with
gratitude, his pocket with four dozen farthings. They took him in and
gave him hot soup at a Poor Jews' Shelter, whither his townsman had
directed him. Kosminski returned to the banqueting room, thrilling from
head to foot with the approval of his conscience. He patted Becky's
curly head and said:
"Well, Becky, when shall we be dancing at your wedding?"
Becky shook her curls. Her young men could not have a poorer opinion of
one another than Becky had of them all. Their homage pleased her, though
it did not raise them in her esteem. Lovers grew like blackberries--only
more so; for they were an evergreen stock. Or, as her mother put it in
her coarse, peasant manner. _Chasanim_ were as plentiful as the
street-dogs. Becky's beaux sat on the stairs before she was up and
became early risers in their love for her, each anxious to be the first
to bid their Penelope of the buttonholes good morrow. It was said that
Kosminski's success as a "sweater" was due to his beauteous Becky, the
flower of sartorial youth gravitating to the work-room of this East
London Laban. What they admired in Becky was that there was so much of
her. Still it was not enough to go round, and though Becky might keep
nine lovers in hand without fear of being set down as a flirt, a larger
number of tailors would have been less consistent with prospective
"I'm not going to throw myself away like Fanny," said she confidentially
to Pesach Weingott in the course of the evening. He smiled
apologetically. "Fanny always had low views," continued Becky. "But I
always said I would marry a gentleman."
"And I dare say," answered Pesach, stung into the retort, "Fanny could
marry a gentlemen, too, if she wanted."
Becky's idea of a gentleman was a clerk or a school-master, who had no
manual labor except scribbling or flogging. In her matrimonial views
Becky was typical. She despised the status of her parents and looked to
marry out of it. They for their part could not understand the desire to
be other than themselves.
"I don't say Fanny couldn't," she admitted. "All I say is, nobody could
call this a luck-match."
"Ah, thou hast me too many flies in thy nose," reprovingly interposed
Mrs. Belcovitch, who had just crawled up. "Thou art too high-class."
Becky tossed her head. "I've got a new dolman," she said, turning to one
of her young men who was present by special grace. "You should see me in
it. I look noble."
"Yes," said Mrs. Belcovitch proudly. "It shines in the sun."
"Is it like the one Bessie Sugarman's got?" inquired the young man.
"Bessie Sugarman!" echoed Becky scornfully. "She gets all her things
from the tallyman. She pretends to be so grand, but all her jewelry is
paid for at so much a week."
"So long as it is paid for," said Fanny, catching the words and turning
a happy face on her sister.
"Not so jealous, Alte," said her mother. "When I shall win on the
lottery, I will buy thee also a dolman."
Almost all the company speculated on the Hamburg lottery, which, whether
they were speaking Yiddish or English, they invariably accentuated on
the last syllable. When an inhabitant of the Ghetto won even his money
back, the news circulated like wild-fire, and there was a rush to the
agents for tickets. The chances of sudden wealth floated like dazzling
Will o' the Wisps on the horizon, illumining the gray perspectives of
the future. The lottery took the poor ticket-holders out of themselves,
and gave them an interest in life apart from machine-cotton, lasts or
tobacco-leaf. The English laborer, who has been forbidden State
Lotteries, relieves the monotony of existence by an extremely indirect
interest in the achievements of a special breed of horses.
"_Nu_, Pesach, another glass of rum," said Mr. Belcovitch genially to
his future son-in-law and boarder.
"Yes, I will," said Pesach. "After all, this is the first time I've got
The rum was of Mr. Belcovitch's own manufacture; its ingredients were
unknown, but the fame of it travelled on currents of air to the remotest
parts of the house. Even the inhabitants of the garrets sniffed and
thought of turpentine. Pesach swallowed the concoction, murmuring "To
life" afresh. His throat felt like the funnel of a steamer, and there
were tears in his eyes when he put down the glass.
"Ah, that was good," he murmured.
"Not like thy English drinks, eh?" said Mr. Belcovitch.
"England!" snorted Pesach in royal disdain. "What a country! Daddle-doo
is a language and ginger-beer a liquor."
"Daddle doo" was Pesach's way of saying "That'll do." It was one of the
first English idioms he picked up, and its puerility made him facetious.
It seemed to smack of the nursery; when a nation expressed its soul
thus, the existence of a beverage like ginger-beer could occasion no
"You shan't have anything stronger than ginger-beer when we're married,"
said Fanny laughingly. "I am not going to have any drinking.'"
"But I'll get drunk on ginger-beer," Pesach laughed back.
"You can't," Fanny said, shaking her large fond smile to and fro. "By my
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Can't even get _shikkur_ on it. What a liquor!"
In the first Anglo-Jewish circles with which Pesach had scraped
acquaintance, ginger-beer was the prevalent drink; and, generalizing
almost as hastily as if he were going to write a book on the country, he
concluded that it was the national beverage. He had long since
discovered his mistake, but the drift of the discussion reminded Becky
of a chance for an arrow.
"On the day when you sit for joy, Pesach," she said slily. "I shall send
you a valentine."
Pesach colored up and those in the secret laughed; the reference was to
another of Pesach's early ideas. Some mischievous gossip had heard him
arguing with another Greener outside a stationer's shop blazing with
comic valentines. The two foreigners were extremely puzzled to
understand what these monstrosities portended; Pesach, however, laid it
down that the microcephalous gentlemen with tremendous legs, and the
ladies five-sixths head and one-sixth skirt, were representations of the
English peasants who lived in the little villages up country.
"When I sit for joy," retorted Pesach, "it will not be the season for
"Won't it though!" cried Becky, shaking her frizzly black curls. "You'll
be a pair of comic 'uns."
"All right, Becky," said Alte good-humoredly. "Your turn'll come, and
then we shall have the laugh of you."
"Never," said Becky. "What do I want with a man?"
The arm of the specially invited young man was round her as she spoke.
"Don't make _schnecks_," said Fanny.
"It's not affectation. I mean it. What's the good of the men who visit
father? There isn't a gentleman among them."
"Ah, wait till I win on the lottery," said the special young man.
"Then, vy not take another eighth of a ticket?" inquired Sugarman the
_Shadchan_, who seemed to spring from the other end of the room. He was
one of the greatest Talmudists in London--a lean, hungry-looking man,
sharp of feature and acute of intellect. "Look at Mrs. Robinson--I've
just won her over twenty pounds, and she only gave me two pounds for
myself. I call it a _cherpah_--a shame."
"Yes, but you stole another two pounds," said Becky.
"How do you know?" said Sugarman startled.
Becky winked and shook her head sapiently. "Never _you_ mind."
The published list of the winning numbers was so complex in construction
that Sugarman had ample opportunities of bewildering his clients.
"I von't sell you no more tickets," said Sugarman with righteous
"A fat lot I care," said Becky, tossing her curls.
"Thou carest for nothing," said Mrs. Belcovitch, seizing the opportunity
for maternal admonition. "Thou hast not even brought me my medicine
to-night. Thou wilt find, it on the chest of drawers in the bedroom."
Becky shook herself impatiently.
"I will go," said the special young man.
"No, it is not beautiful that a young man shall go into my bedroom in my
absence," said Mrs. Belcovitch blushing.
Becky left the room.
"Thou knowest," said Mrs. Belcovitch, addressing herself to the special
young man, "I suffer greatly from my legs. One is a thick one, and one a
The young man sighed sympathetically.
"Whence comes it?" he asked.
"Do I know? I was born so. My poor lambkin (this was the way Mrs.
Belcovitch always referred to her dead mother) had well-matched legs. If
I had Aristotle's head I might be able to find out why my legs are
inferior. And so one goes about."
The reverence for Aristotle enshrined in Yiddish idiom is probably due
to his being taken by the vulgar for a Jew. At any rate the theory that
Aristotle's philosophy was Jewish was advanced by the mediaeval poet,
Jehuda Halevi, and sustained by Maimonides. The legend runs that when
Alexander went to Palestine, Aristotle was in his train. At Jerusalem
the philosopher had sight of King Solomon's manuscripts, and he
forthwith edited them and put his name to them. But it is noteworthy
that the story was only accepted by those Jewish scholars who adopted
the Aristotelian philosophy, those who rejected it declaring that
Aristotle in his last testament had admitted the inferiority of his
writings to the Mosaic, and had asked that his works should be
When Becky returned with the medicine, Mrs. Belcovitch mentioned that it
was extremely nasty, and offered the young man a taste, whereat he
rejoiced inwardly, knowing he had found favor in the sight of the
parent. Mrs. Belcovitch paid a penny a week to her doctor, in sickness
or health, so that there was a loss on being well. Becky used to fill up
the bottles with water to save herself the trouble of going to fetch the
medicine, but as Mrs. Belcovitch did not know this it made no
"Thou livest too much indoors," said Mr. Sugarman, in Yiddish.
"Shall I march about in this weather? Black and slippery, and the Angel
"Ah!" said Mr. Sugarman, relapsing proudly into the vernacular, "Ve
English valk about in all vedders."
Meanwhile Moses Ansell had returned from evening service and sat down,
unquestioningly, by the light of an unexpected candle to his expected
supper of bread and soup, blessing God for both gifts. The rest of the
family had supped. Esther had put the two youngest children to bed
(Rachel had arrived at years of independent undressing), and she and
Solomon were doing home-lessons in copy-books, the candle saving them
from a caning on the morrow. She held her pen clumsily, for several of
her fingers were swathed in bloody rags tied with cobweb. The
grandmother dozed in her chair. Everything was quiet and peaceful,
though the atmosphere was chilly. Moses ate his supper with a great
smacking of the lips and an equivalent enjoyment. When it was over he
sighed deeply, and thanked God in a prayer lasting ten minutes, and
delivered in a rapid, sing-song manner. He then inquired of Solomon
whether he had said his evening prayer. Solomon looked out of the corner
of his eyes at his _Bube_, and, seeing she was asleep on the bed, said
he had, and kicked Esther significantly but hurtfully under the table.
"Then you had better say your night-prayer."
There was no getting out of that; so Solomon finished his sum, writing
the figures of the answer rather faint, in case he should discover from
another boy next morning that they were wrong; then producing a Hebrew
prayer-book from his inky cotton satchel, he made a mumbling sound, with
occasional enthusiastic bursts of audible coherence, for a length of
time proportioned to the number of pages. Then he went to bed. After
that, Esther put her grandmother to bed and curled herself up at her
side. She lay awake a long time, listening to the quaint sounds emitted
by her father in his study of Rashi's commentary on the Book of Job, the
measured drone blending not disagreeably with the far-away sounds of
Pesach Weingott's fiddle.
Pesach's fiddle played the accompaniment to many other people's
thoughts. The respectable master-tailor sat behind his glazed
shirt-front beating time with his foot. His little sickly-looking wife
stood by his side, nodding her bewigged head joyously. To both the music
brought the same recollection--a Polish market-place.
Belcovitch, or rather Kosminski, was the only surviving son of a widow.
It was curious, and suggestive of some grim law of heredity, that his
parents' elder children had died off as rapidly as his own, and that his
life had been preserved by some such expedient as Alte's. Only, in his
case the Rabbi consulted had advised his father to go into the woods and
call his new-born son by the name of the first animal that he saw. This
was why the future sweater was named Bear. To the death of his brothers
and sisters, Bear owed his exemption from military service. He grew up
to be a stalwart, well-set-up young baker, a loss to the Russian army.
Bear went out in the market-place one fine day and saw Chayah in maiden
ringlets. She was a slim, graceful little thing, with nothing obviously
odd about the legs, and was buying onions. Her back was towards him, but
in another moment she turned her head and Bear's. As he caught the
sparkle of her eye, he felt that without her life were worse than the
conscription. Without delay, he made inquiries about the fair young
vision, and finding its respectability unimpeachable, he sent a
_Shadchan_ to propose to her, and they were affianced: Chayah's father
undertaking to give a dowry of two hundred gulden. Unfortunately, he
died suddenly in the attempt to amass them, and Chayah was left an
orphan. The two hundred gulden were nowhere to be found. Tears rained
down both Chayah's cheeks, on the one side for the loss of her father,
on the other for the prospective loss of a husband. The Rabbi was full
of tender sympathy. He bade Bear come to the dead man's chamber. The
venerable white-bearded corpse lay on the bed, swathed in shroud, and
_Talith_ or praying-shawl.
"Bear," he said, "thou knowest that I saved thy life."
"Nay," said Bear, "indeed, I know not that."
"Yea, of a surety," said the Rabbi. "Thy mother hath not told thee, but
all thy brothers and sisters perished, and, lo! thou alone art
preserved! It was I that called thee a beast."
Bear bowed his head in grateful silence.
"Bear," said the Rabbi, "thou didst contract to wed this dead man's
daughter, and he did contract to pay over to thee two hundred gulden.''
"Truth." replied Bear.
"Bear," said the Rabbi, "there are no two hundred gulden."
A shadow flitted across Bear's face, but he said nothing.
"Bear," said the Rabbi again, "there are not two gulden."
Bear did not move.
"Bear," said the Rabbi, "leave thou my side, and go over to the other
side of the bed, facing me."
So Bear left his side and went over to the other side of the bed facing
"Bear," said the Rabbi, "give me thy right hand."
The Rabbi stretched his own right hand across the bed, but Bear kept his
obstinately behind his back.
"Bear," repeated the Rabbi, in tones of more penetrating solemnity,
"give me thy right hand."
"Nay," replied Bear, sullenly. "Wherefore should I give thee my right
"Because," said the Rabbi, and his tones trembled, and it seemed to him
that the dead man's face grew sterner. "Because I wish thee to swear
across the body of Chayah's father that thou wilt marry her."
"Nay, that I will not," said Bear.
"Will not?" repeated the Rabbi, his lips growing white with pity.
"Nay, I will not take any oaths," said Bear, hotly. "I love the maiden,
and I will keep what I have promised. But, by my father's soul, I will
take no oaths!"
"Bear," said the Rabbi in a choking voice, "give me thy hand. Nay, not
to swear by, but to grip. Long shalt thou live, and the Most High shall
prepare thy seat in Gan Iden."
So the old man and the young clasped hands across the corpse, and the
simple old Rabbi perceived a smile flickering over the face of Chayah's
father. Perhaps it was only a sudden glint of sunshine.
The wedding-day drew nigh, but lo! Chayah was again dissolved in tears.
"What ails thee?" said her brother Naphtali.
"I cannot follow the custom of the maidens," wept Chayah. "Thou knowest
we are blood-poor, and I have not the wherewithal to buy my Bear a
_Talith_ for his wedding-day; nay, not even to make him a _Talith_-bag.
And when our father (the memory of the righteous for a blessing) was
alive, I had dreamed of making my _chosan_ a beautiful velvet satchel
lined with silk, and I would have embroidered his initials thereon in
gold, and sewn him beautiful white corpse-clothes. Perchance he will
rely upon me for his wedding _Talith_, and we shall be shamed in the
sight of the congregation."
"Nay, dry thine eyes, my sister," said Naphtali. "Thou knowest that my
Leah presented me with a costly _Talith_ when I led her under the
canopy. Wherefore, do thou take my praying-shawl and lend it to Bear for
the wedding-day, so that decency may be preserved in the sight of the
congregation. The young man has a great heart, and he will understand."
So Chayah, blushing prettily, lent Bear Naphtali's delicate _Talith_,
and Beauty and the Beast made a rare couple under the wedding canopy.
Chayah wore the gold medallion and the three rows of pearls which her
lover had sent her the day before. And when the Rabbi had finished
blessing husband and wife, Naphtali spake the bridegroom privily, and
"Pass me my _Talith_ back."
But Bear answered: "Nay, nay; the _Talith_ is in my keeping, and there
it shall remain."
"But it is my _Talith_," protested Naphtali in an angry whisper. "I only
lent it to Chayah to lend it thee."
"It concerns me not." Bear returned in a decisive whisper. "The _Talith_
is my due and I shall keep it. What! Have I not lost enough by marrying
thy sister? Did not thy father, peace be upon him, promise me two
hundred gulden with her?"
Naphtali retired discomfited. But he made up his mind not to go without
some compensation. He resolved that during the progress of the wedding
procession conducting the bridegroom to the chamber of the bride, he
would be the man to snatch off Bear's new hat. Let the rest of the
riotous escort essay to snatch whatever other article of the
bridegroom's attire they would, the hat was the easiest to dislodge, and
he, Naphtali, would straightway reimburse himself partially with that.
But the instant the procession formed itself, behold the shifty
bridegroom forthwith removed his hat, and held it tightly under his arm.
A storm of protestations burst forth at his daring departure from
"Nay, nay, put it on," arose from every mouth.
But Bear closed his and marched mutely on.
"Heathen," cried the Rabbi. "Put on your hat."
The attempt to enforce the religious sanction failed too. Bear had spent
several gulden upon his head-gear, and could not see the joke. He
plodded towards his blushing Chayah through a tempest of disapprobation.
Throughout life Bear Belcovitch retained the contrariety of character
that marked his matrimonial beginnings. He hated to part with money; he
put off paying bills to the last moment, and he would even beseech his
"hands" to wait a day or two longer for their wages. He liked to feel
that he had all that money in his possession. Yet "at home," in Poland,
he had always lent money to the officers and gentry, when they ran
temporarily short at cards. They would knock him up in the middle of the
night to obtain the means of going on with the game. And in England he
never refused to become surety for a loan when any of his poor friends
begged the favor of him. These loans ran from three to five pounds, but
whatever the amount, they were very rarely paid. The loan offices came
down upon him for the money. He paid it without a murmur, shaking his
head compassionately over the poor ne'er do wells, and perhaps not
without a compensating consciousness of superior practicality.
Only, if the borrower had neglected to treat him to a glass of rum to
clench his signing as surety, the shake of Bear's head would become more
reproachful than sympathetic, and he would mutter bitterly: "Five pounds
and not even a drink for the money." The jewelry he generously lavished
on his womankind was in essence a mere channel of investment for his
savings, avoiding the risks of a banking-account and aggregating his
wealth in a portable shape, in obedience to an instinct generated by
centuries of insecurity. The interest on the sums thus invested was the
gratification of the other oriental instinct for gaudiness.
The Sunday Fair, so long associated with Petticoat Lane, is dying hard,
and is still vigorous; its glories were in full swing on the dull, gray
morning when Moses Ansell took his way through the Ghetto. It was near
eleven o'clock, and the throng was thickening momently. The vendors
cried their wares in stentorian tones, and the babble of the buyers was
like the confused roar of a stormy sea. The dead walls and hoardings
were placarded with bills from which the life of the inhabitants could
be constructed. Many were in Yiddish, the most hopelessly corrupt and
hybrid jargon ever evolved. Even when the language was English the
letters were Hebrew. Whitechapel, Public Meeting, Board School, Sermon,
Police, and other modern banalities, glared at the passer-by in the
sacred guise of the Tongue associated with miracles and prophecies,
palm-trees and cedars and seraphs, lions and shepherds and harpists.
Moses stopped to read these hybrid posters--he had nothing better to
do--as he slouched along. He did not care to remember that dinner was
due in two hours. He turned aimlessly into Wentworth Street, and studied
a placard that hung in a bootmaker's window. This was the announcement
it made in jargon:
Riveters, Clickers, Lasters, Finishers,
Makes and Repairs Boots.
Every Bit as Cheaply
of 12 Goulston Street.
Mordecai Schwartz was written in the biggest and blackest of Hebrew
letters, and quite dominated the little shop-window. Baruch Emanuel was
visibly conscious of his inferiority, to his powerful rival, though
Moses had never heard of Mordecai Schwartz before. He entered the shop
and said in Hebrew "Peace be to you." Baruch Emanuel, hammering a sole,
answered in Hebrew:
"Peace be to you."
Moses dropped into Yiddish.
"I am looking for work. Peradventure have you something for me?"
"What can you do?"
"I have been a riveter."
"I cannot engage any more riveters."
Moses looked disappointed.
"I have also been a clicker," he said.
"I have all the clickers I can afford," Baruch answered.
Moses's gloom deepened. "Two years ago I worked as a finisher."
Baruch shook his head silently. He was annoyed at the man's persistence.
There was only the laster resource left.
"And before that I was a laster for a week," Moses answered.
"I don't want any!" cried Baruch, losing his temper.
"But in your window it stands that you do," protested Moses feebly.
"I don't care what stands in my window," said Baruch hotly. "Have you
not head enough to see that that is all bunkum? Unfortunately I work
single-handed, but it looks good and it isn't lies. Naturally I want
Riveters and Clickers and Lasters and Finishers. Then I could set up a
big establishment and gouge out Mordecai Schwartz's eyes. But the Most
High denies me assistants, and I am content to want."
Moses understood that attitude towards the nature of things. He went out
and wandered down another narrow dirty street in search of Mordecai
Schwartz, whose address Baruch Emanuel had so obligingly given him. He
thought of the _Maggid's_ sermon on the day before. The _Maggid_ had
explained a verse of Habakkuk in quite an original way which gave an
entirely new color to a passage in Deuteronomy. Moses experienced acute
pleasure in musing upon it, and went past Mordecai's shop without going
in, and was only awakened from his day-dream by the brazen clanging of a
bell It was the bell of the great Ghetto school, summoning its pupils
from the reeking courts and alleys, from the garrets and the cellars,
calling them to come and be Anglicized. And they came in a great
straggling procession recruited from every lane and by-way, big children
and little children, boys in blackening corduroy, and girls in
washed-out cotton; tidy children and ragged children; children in great
shapeless boots gaping at the toes; sickly children, and sturdy
children, and diseased children; bright-eyed children and hollow-eyed
children; quaint sallow foreign-looking children, and fresh-colored
English-looking children; with great pumpkin heads, with oval heads,
with pear-shaped heads; with old men's faces, with cherubs' faces, with
monkeys' faces; cold and famished children, and warm and well-fed
children; children conning their lessons and children romping
carelessly; the demure and the anaemic; the boisterous and the
blackguardly, the insolent, the idiotic, the vicious, the intelligent,
the exemplary, the dull--spawn of all countries--all hastening at the
inexorable clang of the big school-bell to be ground in the same great,
blind, inexorable Governmental machine. Here, too, was a miniature fair,
the path being lined by itinerant temptations. There was brisk traffic
in toffy, and gray peas and monkey-nuts, and the crowd was swollen by
anxious parents seeing tiny or truant offspring safe within the
school-gates. The women were bare-headed or be-shawled, with infants at
their breasts and little ones toddling at their sides, the men were
greasy, and musty, and squalid. Here a bright earnest little girl held
her vagrant big brother by the hand, not to let go till she had seen him
in the bosom of his class-mates. There a sullen wild-eyed mite in
petticoats was being dragged along, screaming, towards distasteful
durance. It was a drab picture--the bleak, leaden sky above, the sloppy,
miry stones below, the frowsy mothers and fathers, the motley children.
"Monkey-nuts! Monkey-nuts!" croaked a wizened old woman.
"Oppea! Oppea!" droned a doddering old Dutchman. He bore a great can of
hot peas in one hand and a lighthouse-looking pepper-pot in the other.
Some of the children swallowed the dainties hastily out of miniature
basins, others carried them within in paper packets for surreptitious
"Call that a ay-puth?" a small boy would say.
"Not enough!" the old man would exclaim in surprise. "Here you are,
then!" And he would give the peas another sprinkling from the
Moses Ansell's progeny were not in the picture. The younger children
were at home, the elder had gone to school an hour before to run about
and get warm in the spacious playgrounds. A slice of bread each and the
wish-wash of a thrice-brewed pennyworth of tea had been their morning
meal, and there was no prospect of dinner. The thought of them made
Moses's heart heavy again; he forgot the _Maggid's_ explanation of the
verse in Habakkuk, and he retraced his steps towards Mordecai Schwartz's
shop. But like his humbler rival, Mordecai had no use for the many-sided
Moses; he was "full up" with swarthy "hands," though, as there were
rumors of strikes in the air, he prudently took note of Moses's address.
After this rebuff, Moses shuffled hopelessly about for more than an
hour; the dinner-hour was getting desperately near; already children
passed him, carrying the Sunday dinners from the bakeries, and there
were wafts of vague poetry in the atmosphere. Moses felt he could not
face his own children.
At last he nerved himself to an audacious resolution, and elbowed his
way blusterously towards the Ruins, lest he might break down if his
courage had time to cool.
"The Ruins" was a great stony square, partly bordered by houses, and
only picturesque on Sundays when it became a branch of the all-ramifying
Fair. Moses could have bought anything there from elastic braces to
green parrots in gilt cages. That is to say if he had had money. At
present he had nothing in his pocket except holes.
What he might be able to do on his way back was another matter; for it
was Malka that Moses Ansell was going to see. She was the cousin of his
deceased wife, and lived in Zachariah Square. Moses had not been there
for a month, for Malka was a wealthy twig of the family tree, to be
approached with awe and trembling. She kept a second-hand clothes store
in Houndsditch, a supplementary stall in the Halfpenny Exchange, and a
barrow on the "Ruins" of a Sunday; and she had set up Ephraim, her
newly-acquired son-in-law, in the same line of business in the same
district. Like most things she dealt in, her son-in-law was second-hand,
having lost his first wife four years ago in Poland. But he was only
twenty-two, and a second-hand son-in-law of twenty-two is superior to
many brand new ones. The two domestic establishments were a few minutes
away from the shops, facing each other diagonally across the square.
They were small, three-roomed houses, without basements, the ground
floor window in each being filled up with a black gauze blind (an
invariable index of gentility) which allowed the occupants to see all
that was passing outside, but confronted gazers with their own
rejections. Passers-by postured at these mirrors, twisting moustaches
perkily, or giving coquettish pats to bonnets, unwitting of the grinning
inhabitants. Most of the doors were ajar, wintry as the air was: for the
Zachariah Squareites lived a good deal on the door-step. In the summer,
the housewives sat outside on chairs and gossiped and knitted, as if the
sea foamed at their feel, and wrinkled good-humored old men played nap
on tea-trays. Some of the doors were blocked below with sliding barriers
of wood, a sure token of infants inside given to straying. More obvious
tokens of child-life were the swings nailed to the lintels of a few
doors, in which, despite the cold, toothless babes swayed like monkeys
on a branch. But the Square, with its broad area of quadrangular
pavement, was an ideal playing-ground for children, since other animals
came not within its precincts, except an inquisitive dog or a local cat.
Solomon Ansell knew no greater privilege than to accompany his father to
these fashionable quarters and whip his humming-top across the ample
spaces, the while Moses transacted his business with Malka. Last time
the business was psalm-saying. Milly had been brought to bed of a son,
but it was doubtful if she would survive, despite the charms hung upon
the bedpost to counteract the nefarious designs of Lilith, the wicked
first wife of Adam, and of the Not-Good Ones who hover about women in
childbirth. So Moses was sent for, post-haste, to intercede with the
Almighty. His piety, it was felt, would command attention. For an
average of three hundred and sixty-two days a year Moses was a miserable
worm, a nonentity, but on the other three, when death threatened to
visit Malka or her little clan, Moses became a personage of prime
importance, and was summoned at all hours of the day and night to
wrestle with the angel Azrael. When the angel had retired, worsted,
after a match sometimes protracted into days, Moses relapsed into his
primitive insignificance, and was dismissed with a mouthful of rum and a
shilling. It never seemed to him an unfair equivalent, for nobody could
make less demand on the universe than Moses. Give him two solid meals
and three solid services a day, and he was satisfied, and he craved more
for spiritual snacks between meals than for physical.
The last crisis had been brief, and there was so little danger that,
when Milly's child was circumcised, Moses had not even been bidden to
the feast, though his piety would have made him the ideal _sandek_ or
god-father. He did not resent this, knowing himself dust--and that
anything but gold-dust.
Moses had hardly emerged from the little arched passage which led to the
Square, when sounds of strife fell upon his ears. Two stout women
chatting amicably at their doors, had suddenly developed a dispute. In
Zachariah Square, when you wanted to get to the bottom of a quarrel, the
cue was not "find the woman," but find the child. The high-spirited
bantlings had a way of pummelling one another in fistic duels, and of
calling in their respective mothers when they got the worse of it--which
is cowardly, but human. The mother of the beaten belligerent would then
threaten to wring the "year," or to twist the nose of the victorious
party--sometimes she did it. In either case, the other mother would
intervene, and then the two bantlings would retire into the background
and leave their mothers to take up the duel while they resumed their
Of such sort was the squabble betwixt Mrs. Isaacs and Mrs. Jacobs. Mrs.
Isaacs pointed out with superfluous vehemence that her poor lamb had
been mangled beyond recognition. Mrs. Jacobs, _per contra_, asseverated
with superfluous gesture that it was _her_ poor lamb who had received
irreparable injury. These statements were not in mutual contradiction,
but Mrs. Isaacs and Mrs. Jacobs were, and so the point at issue was
gradually absorbed in more personal recriminations.
"By my life, and by my Fanny's life, I'll leave my seal on the first
child of yours that comes across my way! There!" Thus Mrs. Isaacs.
"Lay a linger on a hair of a child of mine, and, by my husband's life,
I'll summons you; I'll have the law on you." Thus Mrs. Jacobs; to the
gratification of the resident populace.
Mrs. Isaacs and Mrs. Jacobs rarely quarrelled with each other, uniting
rather in opposition to the rest of the Square. They were English, quite
English, their grandfather having been born in Dresden; and they gave
themselves airs in consequence, and called their _kinder_ "children,"
which annoyed those neighbors who found a larger admixture of Yiddish
necessary for conversation. These very _kinder_, again, attained
considerable importance among their school-fellows by refusing to
pronounce the guttural "ch" of the Hebrew otherwise than as an English
"Summons me, indeed," laughed back Mrs. Isaacs. "A fat lot I'd care for
that. You'd jolly soon expose your character to the magistrate.
Everybody knows what _you_ are."
"Your mother!" retorted Mrs. Jacobs mechanically; the elliptical method
of expression being greatly in vogue for conversation of a loud
character. Quick as lightning came the parrying stroke.
"Yah! And what was your father, I should like to know?"
Mrs. Isaacs had no sooner made this inquiry than she became conscious of
an environment of suppressed laughter; Mrs. Jacobs awoke to the
situation a second later, and the two women stood suddenly dumbfounded,
petrified, with arms akimbo, staring at each other.
The wise, if apocryphal, Ecclesiasticus, sagely and pithily remarked,
many centuries before modern civilization was invented: Jest not with a
rude man lest thy ancestors be disgraced. To this day the oriental
methods of insult have survived in the Ghetto. The dead past is never
allowed to bury its dead; the genealogical dust-heap is always liable to
be raked up, and even innocuous ancestors may be traduced to the third
and fourth generation.
Now it so happened that Mrs. Isaacs and Mrs. Jacobs were sisters. And
when it dawned upon them into what dilemma their automatic methods of
carte and tierce had inveigled them, they were frozen with confusion.
They retired crestfallen to their respective parlors, and sported their
oaks. The resources of repartee were dried up for the moment. Relatives
are unduly handicapped in these verbal duels; especially relatives with
the same mother and father.
Presently Mrs. Isaacs reappeared. She had thought of something she ought
to have said. She went up to her sister's closed door, and shouted into
the key-hole: "None of my children ever had bandy-legs!"
Almost immediately the window of the front bedroom was flung up, and
Mrs. Jacobs leant out of it waving what looked like an immense streamer.
"Aha," she observed, dangling it tantalizingly up and down. "Morry
The dress fluttered in the breeze. Mrs. Jacobs caressed the stuff
between her thumb and forefinger.
"Aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-awl silk," she announced with a long ecstatic quaver.
Mrs. Isaacs stood paralyzed by the brilliancy of the repartee.
Mrs. Jacobs withdrew the moire antique and exhibited a mauve gown.
The mauve fluttered for a triumphant instant, the next a puce and amber
dress floated on the breeze.
"Aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-awl silk." Mrs. Jacobs's fingers smoothed it lovingly,
then it was drawn within to be instantly replaced by a green dress.
Mrs. Jacobs passed the skirt slowly through her fingers.
"Aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-awl silk!" she quavered mockingly.
By this time Mrs. Isaacs's face was the color of the latest flag of
"The tallyman!" she tried to retort, but the words stuck in her throat.
Fortunately just then she caught sight of her poor lamb playing with the
other poor lamb. She dashed at her offspring, boxed its ears and crying,
"You little blackguard, if I ever catch you playing with blackguards
again, I'll wring your neck for you," she hustled the infant into the
house and slammed the door viciously behind her.
Moses had welcomed this every-day scene, for it put off a few moments
his encounter with the formidable Malka. As she had not appeared at door
or window, he concluded she was in a bad temper or out of London;
neither alternative was pleasant.
He knocked at the door of Milly's house where her mother was generally
to be found, and an elderly char-woman opened it. There were some
bottles of spirit, standing on a wooden side-table covered with a
colored cloth, and some unopened biscuit bags. At these familiar
premonitory signs of a festival, Moses felt tempted to beat a retreat.
He could not think for the moment what was up, but whatever it was he
had no doubt the well-to-do persons would supply him with ice. The
char-woman, with brow darkened by soot and gloom, told him that Milly
was upstairs, but that her mother had gone across to her own house with
Moses's face fell. When his wife was alive, she had been a link of
connection between "The Family" and himself, her cousin having
generously employed her as a char-woman. So Moses knew the import of the
clothes-brush. Malka was very particular about her appearance and loved
to be externally speckless, but somehow or other she had no
clothes-brush at home. This deficiency did not matter ordinarily, for
she practically lived at Milly's. But when she had words with Milly or
her husband, she retired to her own house to sulk or _schmull_, as they
called it. The carrying away of the clothes-brush was, thus, a sign that
she considered the breach serious and hostilities likely to be
protracted. Sometimes a whole week would go by without the two houses
ceasing to stare sullenly across at each other, the situation in Milly's
camp being aggravated by the lack of a clothes-brush. In such moments of
irritation, Milly's husband was apt to declare that his mother-in-law
had abundance of clothes-brushes, for, he pertinently asked, how did she
manage during her frequent business tours in the country? He gave it as
his conviction that Malka merely took the clothes-brush away to afford
herself a handle for returning. But then Ephraim Phillips was a
graceless young fellow, the death of whose first wife was probably a
judgment on his levity, and everybody except his second mother-in-law
knew that he had a book of tickets for the Oxbridge Music Hall, and went
there on Friday nights. Still, in spite of these facts, experience did
show that whenever Milly's camp had outsulked Malka's, the old woman's
surrender was always veiled under the formula of: "Oh Milly, I've
brought you over your clothes-brush. I just noticed it, and thought you
might be wanting it." After this, conversation was comparatively easy.
Moses hardly cared to face Malka in such a crisis of the clothes-brush.
He turned away despairingly, and was going back through the small
archway which led to the Ruins and the outside world, when a grating
voice startled his ear.
"Well, Meshe, whither fliest thou? Has my Milly forbidden thee to see
He looked back. Malka was standing at her house-door. He retraced his
"N-n-o," he murmured. "I thought you still out with your stall."
That was where she should have been, at any rate, till half an hour ago.
She did not care to tell herself, much less Moses, that she had been
waiting at home for the envoy of peace from the filial camp summoning
her to the ceremony of the Redemption of her grandson.
"Well, now thou seest me," she said, speaking Yiddish for his behoof,
"thou lookest not outwardly anxious to know how it goes with me."
"How goes it with you?"
"As well as an old woman has a right to expect. The Most High is good!"
Malka was in her most amiable mood, to emphasize to outsiders the
injustice of her kin in quarrelling with her. She was a tall woman of
fifty, with a tanned equine gypsy face surmounted by a black wig, and
decorated laterally by great gold earrings. Great black eyes blazed
beneath great black eyebrows, and the skin between them was capable of
wrinkling itself black with wrath. A gold chain was wound thrice round
her neck, and looped up within her black silk bodice. There were
numerous rings on her fingers, and she perpetually smelt of peppermint.
"_Nu_, stand not chattering there," she went on. "Come in. Dost thou
wish me to catch my death of cold?"
Moses slouched timidly within, his head bowed as if in dread of knocking
against the top of the door. The room was a perfect fac-simile of
Milly's parlor at the other end of the diagonal, save that instead of
the festive bottles and paper bags on the small side-table, there was a
cheerless clothes-brush. Like Milly's, the room contained a round table,
a chest of drawers with decanters on the top, and a high mantelpiece
decorated with pendant green fringes, fastened by big-headed brass
nails. Here cheap china dogs, that had had more than their day squatted
amid lustres with crystal drops. Before the fire was a lofty steel
guard, which, useful enough in Milly's household, had survived its
function in Malka's, where no one was ever likely to tumble into the
grate. In a corner of the room a little staircase began to go upstairs.
There was oilcloth on the floor. In Zachariah Square anybody could go
into anybody else's house and feel at home. There was no visible
difference between one and another. Moses sat down awkwardly on a chair
and refused a peppermint. In the end he accepted an apple, blessed God
for creating the fruit of the tree, and made a ravenous bite at it.
"I must take peppermints," Malka explained. "It's for the spasms."
"But you said you were well," murmured Moses.
"And suppose? If I did not take peppermint I should have the spasms. My
poor sister Rosina, peace be upon him, who died of typhoid, suffered
greatly from the spasms. It's in the family. She would have died of
asthma if she had lived long enough. _Nu_, how goes it with thee?" she
went on, suddenly remembering that Moses, too, had a right to be ill. At
bottom, Malka felt a real respect for Moses, though he did not know it.
It dated from the day he cut a chip of mahogany out of her best round
table. He had finished cutting his nails, and wanted a morsel of wood to
burn with them in witness of his fulfilment of the pious custom. Malka
raged, but in her inmost heart there was admiration for such