Part 4 out of 12
"But that would be cruel."
"He wouldn't think so. He'd think he was saving my soul, and you must
remember he can't imagine any one who has been taught to see its beauty
not loving the yoke of the Law. He's the best father in the world--but
when religion's concerned, the best-hearted of mankind are liable to
become hard as stone. You don't know my father as I do. But apart from
that, I wouldn't marry a man, myself, who might hurt my father's
position. I should have to keep a _kosher_ house or look how people
"And wouldn't you if you had your own way?"
"I don't know what I would do. It's so impossible, the idea of my having
my own way. I think I should probably go in for a change, I'm so
tired--so tired of this eternal ceremony. Always washing up plates and
dishes. I dare say it's all for our good, but I _am_ so tired."
"Oh, I don't see much difficulty about _Koshers_. I always eat _kosher_
meat myself when I can get it, providing it's not so beastly tough as it
has a knack of being. Of course it's absurd to expect a man to go
without meat when he's travelling up country, just because it hasn't
been killed with a knife instead of a pole-axe. Besides, don't we know
well enough that the folks who are most particular about those sort of
things don't mind swindling and setting their houses on fire and all
manner of abominations? I wouldn't be a Christian for the world, but I
should like to see a little more common-sense introduced into our
religion; it ought to be more up to date. If ever I marry, I should like
my wife to be a girl who wouldn't want to keep anything but the higher
parts of Judaism. Not out of laziness, mind you, but out of conviction."
David stopped suddenly, surprised at his own sentiments, which he
learned for the first time. However vaguely they might have been
simmering in his brain, he could not honestly accuse himself of having
ever bestowed any reflection on "the higher parts of Judaism" or even on
the religious convictions apart from the racial aspects of his future
wife. Could it be that Hannah's earnestness was infecting him?
"Oh, then you _would_ marry a Jewess!" said Hannah.
"Oh, of course," he said in astonishment. Then as he looked at her
pretty, earnest face the amusing recollection that she _was_ married
already came over him with a sort of shock, not wholly comical. There
was a minute of silence, each pursuing a separate train of thought. Then
David wound up, as if there had been no break, with an elliptical,
Hannah shrugged her shoulders and elevated her eyebrows in a gesture
that lacked her usual grace.
"Not if I had only to please myself," she added.
"Oh, come! Don't say that," he said anxiously. "I don't believe mixed
marriages are a success. Really, I don't. Besides, look at the scandal!"
Again she shrugged her shoulders, defiantly this time.
"I don't suppose I shall ever get married," she said. "I never could
marry a man father would approve of, so that a Christian would be no
worse than an educated Jew."
David did not quite grasp the sentence; he was trying to, when Sam and
Leah passed them. Sam winked in a friendly if not very refined manner.
"I see you two are getting on all right." he said.
"Good gracious!" said Hannah, starting up with a blush. "Everybody's
going back. They _will_ think us greedy. What a pair of fools we are to
have got into such serious conversation at a ball."
"Was it serious?" said David with a retrospective air. "Well, I never
enjoyed a conversation so much in my life."
"You mean the supper," Hannah said lightly.
"Well, both. It's your fault that we don't behave more appropriately."
"How do you mean?"
"You won't dance."
"Do you want to?"
"I thought you were afraid of all the swells."
"Supper has given me courage."
"Oh, very well if you want to, that's to say if you really can waltz."
"Try me, only you must allow for my being out of practice. I didn't get
many dances at the Cape, I can tell you."
"The Cape!" Hannah heard the words without making her usual grimace. She
put her hand lightly on his shoulder, he encircled her waist with his
arm and they surrendered themselves to the intoxication of the slow,
THE SONS OF THE COVENANT.
The "Sons of the Covenant" sent no representatives to the club balls,
wotting neither of waltzes nor of dress-coats, and preferring death to
the embrace of a strange dancing woman. They were the congregation of
which Mr. Belcovitch was President and their synagogue was the ground
floor of No. 1 Royal Street--two large rooms knocked into one, and the
rear partitioned off for the use of the bewigged, heavy-jawed women who
might not sit with the men lest they should fascinate their thoughts
away from things spiritual. Its furniture was bare benches, a raised
platform with a reading desk in the centre and a wooden curtained ark at
the end containing two parchment scrolls of the Law, each with a silver
pointer and silver bells and pomegranates. The scrolls were in
manuscript, for the printing-press has never yet sullied the sanctity of
the synagogue editions of the Pentateuch. The room was badly ventilated
and what little air there was was generally sucked up by a greedy
company of wax candles, big and little, struck in brass holders. The
back window gave on the yard and the contiguous cow-sheds, and "moos"
mingled with the impassioned supplications of the worshippers, who came
hither two and three times a day to batter the gates of heaven and to
listen to sermons more exegetical than ethical. They dropped in, mostly
in their work-a-day garments and grime, and rumbled and roared and
chorused prayers with a zeal that shook the window-panes, and there was
never lack of _minyan_--the congregational quorum of ten. In the West
End, synagogues are built to eke out the income of poor _minyan-men_ or
professional congregants; in the East End rooms are tricked up for
prayer. This synagogue was all of luxury many of its Sons could boast.
It was their _salon_ and their lecture-hall. It supplied them not only
with their religion but their art and letters, their politics and their
public amusements. It was their home as well as the Almighty's, and on
occasion they were familiar and even a little vulgar with Him. It was a
place in which they could sit in their slippers, metaphorically that is;
for though they frequently did so literally, it was by way of reverence,
not ease. They enjoyed themselves in this _Shool_ of theirs; they
shouted and skipped and shook and sang, they wailed and moaned; they
clenched their fists and thumped their breasts and they were not least
happy when they were crying. There is an apocryphal anecdote of one of
them being in the act of taking a pinch of snuff when the "Confession"
caught him unexpectedly.
"We have trespassed," he wailed mechanically, as he spasmodically put
the snuff in his bosom and beat his nose with his clenched fist.
They prayed metaphysics, acrostics, angelology, Cabalah, history,
exegetics, Talmudical controversies, _menus_, recipes, priestly
prescriptions, the canonical books, psalms, love-poems, an undigested
hotch-potch of exalted and questionable sentiments, of communal and
egoistic aspirations of the highest order. It was a wonderful liturgy,
as grotesque as it was beautiful--like an old cathedral in all styles of
architecture, stored with shabby antiquities and side-shows and
overgrown with moss and lichen--a heterogeneous blend of historical
strata of all periods, in which gems of poetry and pathos and spiritual
fervor glittered and pitiful records of ancient persecution lay
petrified. And the method of praying these things was equally complex
and uncouth, equally the bond-slave of tradition; here a rising and
there a bow, now three steps backwards and now a beating of the breast,
this bit for the congregation and that for the minister, variants of a
page, a word, a syllable, even a vowel, ready for every possible
contingency. Their religious consciousness was largely a musical
box--the thrill of the ram's horn, the cadenza of psalmic phrase, the
jubilance of a festival "Amen" and the sobriety of a work-a-day "Amen,"
the Passover melodies and the Pentecost, the minor keys of Atonement and
the hilarious rhapsodies of Rejoicing, the plain chant of the Law and
the more ornate intonation of the Prophets--all this was known and
loved and was far more important than the meaning of it all or its
relation to their real lives; for page upon page was gabbled off at
rates that could not be excelled by automata. But if they did not always
know what they were saying they always meant it. If the service had been
more intelligible it would have been less emotional and edifying. There
was not a sentiment, however incomprehensible, for which they were not
ready to die or to damn.
"All Israel are brethren," and indeed there was a strange antique
clannishness about these "Sons of the Covenant" which in the modern
world, where the ends of the ages meet, is Socialism. They prayed for
one another while alive, visited one another's bedsides when sick,
buried one another when dead. No mercenary hands poured the yolks of
eggs over their dead faces and arrayed their corpses in their
praying-shawls. No hired masses were said for the sick or the troubled,
for the psalm-singing services of the "Sons of the Covenant" were always
available for petitioning the Heavens, even though their brother had
been arrested for buying stolen goods, and the service might be an
invitation to Providence to compound a felony. Little charities of their
own they had, too--a Sabbath Meal Society, and a Marriage Portion
Society to buy the sticks for poor couples--and when a pauper countryman
arrived from Poland, one of them boarded him and another lodged him and
a third taught him a trade. Strange exotics in a land of prose carrying
with them through the paven highways of London the odor of Continental
Ghettos and bearing in their eyes through all the shrewdness of their
glances the eternal mysticism of the Orient, where God was born! Hawkers
and peddlers, tailors and cigar-makers, cobblers and furriers, glaziers
and cap-makers--this was in sum their life. To pray much and to work
long, to beg a little and to cheat a little, to eat not over-much and to
"drink" scarce at all, to beget annual children by chaste wives
(disallowed them half the year), and to rear them not over-well, to
study the Law and the Prophets and to reverence the Rabbinical tradition
and the chaos of commentaries expounding it, to abase themselves before
the "Life of Man" and Joseph Cam's "Prepared Table" as though the
authors had presided at the foundation of the earth, to wear
phylacteries and fringes, to keep the beard unshaven, and the corners of
the hair uncut, to know no work on Sabbath and no rest on week-day. It
was a series of recurrent landmarks, ritual and historical, of intimacy
with God so continuous that they were in danger of forgetting His
existence as of the air they breathed. They ate unleavened bread in
Passover and blessed the moon and counted the days of the _Omer_ till
Pentecost saw the synagogue dressed with flowers in celebration of an
Asiatic fruit harvest by a European people divorced from agriculture;
they passed to the terrors and triumphs of the New Year (with its
domestic symbolism of apple and honey and its procession to the river)
and the revelry of repentance on the Great White Fast, when they burned
long candles and whirled fowls round their heads and attired themselves
in grave-clothes and saw from their seats in synagogue the long fast-day
darken slowly into dusk, while God was sealing the decrees of life and
death; they passed to Tabernacles when they ran up rough booths in back
yards draped with their bed-sheets and covered with greenery, and bore
through the streets citrons in boxes and a waving combination of myrtle,
and palm and willow branches, wherewith they made a pleasant rustling in
the synagogue; and thence to the Rejoicing of the Law when they danced
and drank rum in the House of the Lord and scrambled sweets for the
little ones, and made a sevenfold circuit with the two scrolls,
supplemented by toy flags and children's candles stuck in hollow
carrots; and then on again to Dedication with its celebration of the
Maccabaean deliverance and the miracle of the unwaning oil in the
Temple, and to Purim with its masquerading and its execration of Haman's
name by the banging of little hammers; and so back to Passover. And with
these larger cycles, epicycles of minor fasts and feasts, multiplex, not
to be overlooked, from the fast of the ninth of Ab--fatal day for the
race--when they sat on the ground in shrouds, and wailed for the
destruction of Jerusalem, to the feast of the Great Hosannah when they
whipped away willow-leaves on the _Shool_ benches in symbolism of
forgiven sins, sitting up the whole of the night before in a long
paroxysm of prayer mitigated by coffee and cakes; from the period in
which nuts were prohibited to the period in which marriages were
And each day, too, had its cycles of religious duty, its comprehensive
and cumbrous ritual with accretions of commentary and tradition.
And every contingency of the individual life was equally provided for,
and the writings that regulated all this complex ritual are a marvellous
monument of the patience, piety and juristic genius of the race--and of
the persecution which threw it back upon its sole treasure, the Law.
Thus they lived and died, these Sons of the Covenant, half-automata,
sternly disciplined by voluntary and involuntary privation, hemmed and
mewed in by iron walls of form and poverty, joyfully ground under the
perpetual rotary wheel of ritualism, good-humored withal and casuistic
like all people whose religion stands much upon ceremony; inasmuch as a
ritual law comes to count one equally with a moral, and a man is not
half bad who does three-fourths of his duty.
And so the stuffy room with its guttering candles and its
Chameleon-colored ark-curtain was the pivot of their barren lives. Joy
came to bear to it the offering of its thanksgiving and to vow sixpenny
bits to the Lord, prosperity came in a high hat to chaffer for the holy
privileges, and grief came with rent garments to lament the beloved dead
and glorify the name of the Eternal.
The poorest life is to itself the universe and all that therein is, and
these humble products of a great and terrible past, strange fruits of a
motley-flowering secular tree whose roots are in Canaan and whose boughs
overshadow the earth, were all the happier for not knowing that the
fulness of life was not theirs.
And the years went rolling on, and the children grew up and here and
there a parent.
* * * * *
The elders of the synagogue were met in council.
"He is greater than a Prince," said the Shalotten _Shammos_.
"If all the Princes of the Earth were put in one scale," said Mr.
Belcovitch, "and our _Maggid_, Moses, in the other, he would outweigh
them all. He is worth a hundred of the Chief Rabbi of England, who has
been seen bareheaded."
"From Moses to Moses there has been none like Moses," said old Mendel
Hyams, interrupting the Yiddish with a Hebrew quotation.
"Oh no," said the Shalotten _Shammos_, who was a great stickler for
precision, being, as his nickname implied, a master of ceremonies. "I
can't admit that. Look at my brother Nachmann."
There was a general laugh at the Shalotten _Shammos's_ bull; the proverb
dealing only with Moseses.
"He has the true gift," observed _Froom_ Karlkammer, shaking the flames
of his hair pensively. "For the letters of his name have the same
numerical value as those of the great Moses da Leon."
_Froom_ Karlkammer was listened to with respect, for he was an honorary
member of the committee, who paid for two seats in a larger congregation
and only worshipped with the Sons of the Covenant on special occasions.
The Shalotten _Shammos_, however, was of contradictory temperament--a
born dissentient, upheld by a steady consciousness of highly superior
English, the drop of bitter in Belcovitch's presidential cup. He was a
long thin man, who towered above the congregation, and was as tall as
the bulk of them even when he was bowing his acknowledgments to his
"How do you make that out?" he asked Karlkammer. "Moses of course adds
up the same as Moses--but while the other part of the _Maggid's_ name
makes seventy-three, da Leon's makes ninety-one."
"Ah, that's because you're ignorant of _Gematriyah_," said little
Karlkammer, looking up contemptuously at the cantankerous giant. "You
reckon all the letters on the same system, and you omit to give yourself
the license of deleting the ciphers."
In philology it is well known that all consonants are interchangeable
and vowels don't count; in _Gematriyah_ any letter may count for
anything, and the total may be summed up anyhow.
Karlkammer was one of the curiosities of the Ghetto. In a land of
_froom_ men he was the _froomest_. He had the very genius of fanaticism.
On the Sabbath he spoke nothing but Hebrew whatever the inconvenience
and however numerous the misunderstandings, and if he perchance paid a
visit he would not perform the "work" of lifting the knocker. Of course
he had his handkerchief girt round his waist to save him from carrying
it, but this compromise being general was not characteristic of
Karlkammer any more than his habit of wearing two gigantic sets of
phylacteries where average piety was content with one of moderate size.
One of the walls of his room had an unpapered and unpainted scrap in
mourning for the fall of Jerusalem. He walked through the streets to
synagogue attired in his praying-shawl and phylacteries, and knocked
three times at the door of God's house when he arrived. On the Day of
Atonement he walked in his socks, though the heavens fell, wearing his
grave-clothes. On this day he remained standing in synagogue from 6 A.M.
to 7 P.M. with his body bent at an angle of ninety degrees; it was to
give him bending space that he hired two seats. On Tabernacles, not
having any ground whereon to erect a booth, by reason of living in an
attic, he knocked a square hole in the ceiling, covered it with branches
through which the free air of heaven played, and hung a quadrangle of
sheets from roof to floor; he bore to synagogue the tallest _Lulav_ of
palm-branches that could be procured and quarrelled with a rival pietist
for the last place in the floral procession, as being the lowliest and
meekest man in Israel--an ethical pedestal equally claimed by his rival.
He insisted on bearing a corner of the biers of all the righteous dead.
Almost every other day was a fast-day for Karlkammer, and he had a host
of supplementary ceremonial observances which are not for the vulgar.
Compared with him Moses Ansell and the ordinary "Sons of the Covenant"
were mere heathens. He was a man of prodigious distorted mental
activity. He had read omnivorously amid the vast stores of Hebrew
literature, was a great authority on Cabalah, understood astronomy, and,
still more, astrology, was strong on finance, and could argue coherently
on any subject outside religion. His letters to the press on
specifically Jewish subjects were the most hopeless, involved,
incomprehensible and protracted puzzles ever penned, bristling with
Hebrew quotations from the most varying, the most irrelevant and the
most mutually incongruous sources and peppered with the dates of birth
and death of every Rabbi mentioned.
No one had ever been known to follow one of these argumentations to the
bitter end. They were written in good English modified by a few peculiar
terms used in senses unsuspected by dictionary-makers; in a beautiful
hand, with the t's uncrossed, but crowned with the side-stroke, so as to
avoid the appearance of the symbol of Christianity, and with the dates
expressed according to the Hebrew Calendar, for Karlkammer refused to
recognize the chronology of the Christian. He made three copies of every
letter, and each was exactly like the others in every word and every
line. His bill for midnight oil must have been extraordinary, for he was
a business man and had to earn his living by day. Kept within the limits
of sanity by a religion without apocalyptic visions, he was saved from
predicting the end of the world by mystic calculations, but he used them
to prove everything else and fervently believed that endless meanings
were deducible from the numerical value of Biblical words, that not a
curl at the tail of a letter of any word in any sentence but had its
supersubtle significance. The elaborate cipher with which Bacon is
alleged to have written Shakspeare's plays was mere child's play
compared with the infinite revelations which in Karlkammer's belief the
Deity left latent in writing the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi,
and in inspiring the Talmud and the holier treasures of Hebrew
literature. Nor were these ideas of his own origination. His was an
eclectic philosophy and religionism, of which all the elements were
discoverable in old Hebrew books: scraps of Alexandrian philosophy
inextricably blent with Aristotelian, Platonic, mystic.
He kept up a copious correspondence with scholars in other countries and
was universally esteemed and pitied.
"We haven't come to discuss the figures of the _Maggid's_ name, but of
his salary." said Mr. Belcovitch, who prided himself on his capacity for
conducting public business.
"I have examined the finances," said Karlkammer, "and I don't see how
we can possibly put aside more for our preacher than the pound a week."
"But he is not satisfied," said Mr. Belcovitch.
"I don't see why he shouldn't be," said the Shalotten _Shammos_. "A
pound a week is luxury for a single man."
The Sons of the Covenant did not know that the poor consumptive _Maggid_
sent half his salary to his sisters in Poland to enable them to buy back
their husbands from military service; also they had vague unexpressed
ideas that he was not mortal, that Heaven would look after his larder,
that if the worst came to the worst he could fall back on Cabalah and
engage himself with the mysteries of food-creation.
"I have a wife and family to keep on a pound a week," grumbled Greenberg
Besides being Reader, Greenberg blew the horn and killed cattle and
circumcised male infants and educated children and discharged the
functions of beadle and collector. He spent a great deal of his time in
avoiding being drawn into the contending factions of the congregation
and in steering equally between Belcovitch and the Shalotten _Shammos_.
The Sons only gave him fifty a year for all his trouble, but they eked
it out by allowing him to be on the Committee, where on the question of
a rise in the Reader's salary he was always an ineffective minority of
one. His other grievance was that for the High Festivals the Sons
temporarily engaged a finer voiced Reader and advertised him at raised
prices to repay themselves out of the surplus congregation. Not only had
Greenberg to play second fiddle on these grand occasions, but he had to
iterate "Pom" as a sort of musical accompaniment in the pauses of his
"You can't compare yourself with the _Maggid_" the Shalotten _Shammos_
reminded him consolingly. "There are hundreds of you in the market.
There are several _morceaux_ of the service which you do not sing half
so well as your predecessor; your horn-blowing cannot compete with
Freedman's of the Fashion Street _Chevrah_, nor can you read the Law as
quickly and accurately as Prochintski. I have told you over and over
again you confound the air of the Passover _Yigdal_ with the New Year
ditto. And then your preliminary flourish to the Confession of Sin--it
goes 'Ei, Ei, Ei, Ei, Ei, Ei, Ei'" (he mimicked Greenberg's melody)
"whereas it should be 'Oi, Oi, Oi, Oi, Oi, Oi.'"
"Oh no," interrupted Belcovitch. "All the _Chazanim_ I've ever heard do
it 'Ei, Ei, Ei.'"
"You are not entitled to speak on this subject, Belcovitch," said the
Shalotten _Shammos_ warmly. "You are a Man-of-the-Earth. I have heard
every great _Chazan_ in Europe."
"What was good enough for my father is good enough for me," retorted
Belcovitch. "The _Shool_ he took me to at home had a beautiful _Chazan_,
and he always sang it 'Ei, Ei, Ei.'"
"I don't care what you heard at home. In England every _Chazan_ sings
'Oi, Oi, Oi.'"
"We can't take our tune from England," said Karlkammer reprovingly.
"England is a polluted country by reason of the Reformers whom we were
compelled to excommunicate."
"Do you mean to say that my father was an Epicurean?" asked Belcovitch
indignantly. "The tune was as Greenberg sings it. That there are impious
Jews who pray bareheaded and sit in the synagogue side by side with the
women has nothing to do with it."
The Reformers did neither of these things, but the Ghetto to a man
believed they did, and it would have been countenancing their
blasphemies to pay a visit to their synagogues and see. It was an
extraordinary example of a myth flourishing in the teeth of the facts,
and as such should be useful to historians sifting "the evidence of
The dispute thickened; the synagogue hummed with "Eis" and "Ois" not in
"Shah!" said the President at last. "Make an end, make an end!"
"You see he knows I'm right," murmured the Shalotten _Shammos_ to his
"And if you are!" burst forth the impeached Greenberg, who had by this
time thought of a retort. "And if I do sing the Passover _Yigdal_
instead of the New Year, have I not reason, seeing I have _no bread in
the house_? With my salary I have Passover all the year round."
The _Chazan's_ sally made a good impression on his audience if not on
his salary. It was felt that he had a just grievance, and the
conversation was hastily shifted to the original topic.
"We mustn't forget the _Maggid_ draws crowds here every Saturday and
Sunday afternoon," said Mendel Hyams. "Suppose he goes over to a
_Chevrah_ that will pay him more!"
"No, he won't do that," said another of the Committee. "He will remember
that we brought him out of Poland."
"Yes, but we shan't have room for the audiences soon," said Belcovitch.
"There are so many outsiders turned away every time that I think we
ought to let half the applicants enjoy the first two hours of the sermon
and the other half the second two hours."
"No, no, that would be cruel," said Karlkammer. "He will have to give
the Sunday sermons at least in a larger synagogue. My own _Shool_, the
German, will be glad to give him facilities."
"But what if they want to take him altogether at a higher salary?" said
"No, I'm on the Committee, I'll see to that," said Karlkammer
"Then do you think we shall tell him we can't afford to give him more?"
There was a murmur of assent with a fainter mingling of dissent. The
motion that the _Maggid's_ application be refused was put to the vote
and carried by a large majority.
It was the fate of the _Maggid_ to be the one subject on which
Belcovitch and the Shalotten _Shammos_ agreed. They agreed as to his
transcendent merits and they agreed as to the adequacy of his salary.
"But he's so weakly," protested Mendel Hyams, who was in the minority.
"He coughs blood."
"He ought to go to a sunny place for a week," said Belcovitch
"Yes, he must certainly have that," said Karlkammer. "Let us add as a
rider that although we cannot pay him more per week, he must have a
week's holiday in the country. The Shalotten _Shammos_ shall write the
letter to Rothschild."
Rothschild was a magic name in the Ghetto; it stood next to the
Almighty's as a redresser of grievances and a friend of the poor, and
the Shalotten _Shammos_ made a large part of his income by writing
letters to it. He charged twopence halfpenny per letter, for his English
vocabulary was larger than any other scribe's in the Ghetto, and his
words were as much longer than theirs as his body. He also filled up
printed application forms for Soup or Passover cakes, and had a most
artistic sense of the proportion of orphans permissible to widows and a
correct instinct for the plausible duration of sicknesses.
The Committee agreed _nem. con._ to the grant of a seaside holiday, and
the Shalotten _Shammos_ with a gratified feeling of importance waived
his twopence halfpenny. He drew up a letter forthwith, not of course in
the name of the Sons of the Covenant, but in the _Maggid's_ own.
He took the magniloquent sentences to the _Maggid_ for signature. He
found the _Maggid_ walking up and down Royal Street waiting for the
verdict. The _Maggid_ walked with a stoop that was almost a permanent
bow, so that his long black beard reached well towards his baggy knees.
His curved eagle nose was grown thinner, his long coat shinier, his look
more haggard, his corkscrew earlocks were more matted, and when he spoke
his voice was a tone more raucous. He wore his high hat--a tall cylinder
that reminded one of a weather-beaten turret.
The Shalotten _Shammos_ explained briefly what he had done.
"May thy strength increase!" said the _Maggid_ in the Hebrew formula of
"Nay, thine is more important," replied the Shalotten _Shammos_ with
hilarious heartiness, and he proceeded to read the letter as they walked
along together, giant and doubled-up wizard.
"But I haven't got a wife and six children," said the _Maggid_, for whom
one or two phrases stood out intelligible. "My wife is dead and I never
was blessed with a _Kaddish_."
"It sounds better so," said the Shalotten _Shammos_ authoritatively.
"Preachers are expected to have heavy families dependent upon them. It
would sound lies if I told the truth."
This was an argument after the _Maggid's_ own heart, but it did not
quite convince him.
"But they will send and make inquiries," he murmured.
"Then your family are in Poland; you send your money over there."
"That is true," said the _Maggid_ feebly. "But still it likes me not."
"You leave it to me," said the Shalotten _Shammos_ impressively. "A
shamefaced man cannot learn, and a passionate man cannot teach. So said
Hillel. When you are in the pulpit I listen to you; when I have my pen
in hand, do you listen to me. As the proverb says, if I were a Rabbi the
town would burn. But if you were a scribe the letter would burn. I don't
pretend to be a _Maggid_, don't you set up to be a letter writer."
"Well, but do you think it's honorable?"
"Hear, O Israel!" cried the Shalotten _Shammos_, spreading out his palms
impatiently. "Haven't I written letters for twenty years?"
The _Maggid_ was silenced. He walked on brooding. "And what is this
place, Burnmud, I ask to go to?" he inquired.
"Bournemouth," corrected the other. "It is a place on the South coast
where all the most aristocratic consumptives go."
"But it must be very dear," said the poor _Maggid_, affrighted.
"Dear? Of course it's dear," said the Shalotten _Shammos_ pompously.
"But shall we consider expense where your health is concerned?"
The _Maggid_ felt so grateful he was almost ashamed to ask whether he
could eat _kosher_ there, but the Shalotten _Shammos_, who had the air
of a tall encyclopaedia, set his soul at rest on all points.
SUGARMAN'S BAR-MITZVAH PARTY.
The day of Ebenezer Sugarman's _Bar-mitzvah_ duly arrived. All his sins
would henceforth be on his own head and everybody rejoiced. By the
Friday evening so many presents had arrived--four breastpins, two rings,
six pocket-knives, three sets of _Machzorim_ or Festival Prayer-books,
and the like--that his father barred up the door very carefully and in
the middle of the night, hearing a mouse scampering across the floor,
woke up in a cold sweat and threw open the bedroom window and cried "Ho!
Buglers!" But the "Buglers" made no sign of being scared, everything was
still and nothing purloined, so Jonathan took a reprimand from his
disturbed wife and curled himself up again in bed.
Sugarman did things in style and through the influence of a client the
confirmation ceremony was celebrated in "Duke's Plaizer Shool."
Ebenezer, who was tall and weak-eyed, with lank black hair, had a fine
new black cloth suit and a beautiful silk praying-shawl with blue
stripes, and a glittering watch-chain and a gold ring and a nice new
Prayer-book with gilt edges, and all the boys under thirteen made up
their minds to grow up and be responsible for their sins as quick as
possible. Ebenezer walked up to the Reading Desk with a dauntless stride
and intoned his Portion of the Law with no more tremor than was
necessitated by the musical roulades, and then marched upstairs, as bold
as brass, to his mother, who was sitting up in the gallery, and who gave
him a loud smacking kiss that could be heard in the four corners of the
synagogue, just as if she were a real lady.
Then there was the _Bar-mitzvah_ breakfast, at which Ebenezer delivered
an English sermon and a speech, both openly written by the Shalotten
_Shammos_, and everybody commended the boy's beautiful sentiments and
the beautiful language in which they were couched. Mrs. Sugarman forgot
all the trouble Ebenezer had given her in the face of his assurances of
respect and affection and she wept copiously. Having only one eye she
could not see what her Jonathan saw, and what was spoiling his enjoyment
of Ebenezer's effusive gratitude to his dear parents for having trained
him up in lofty principles.
It was chiefly male cronies who had been invited to breakfast, and the
table had been decorated with biscuits and fruit and sweets not
appertaining to the meal, but provided for the refreshment of the
less-favored visitors--such as Mr. and Mrs. Hyams--who would be dropping
in during the day. Now, nearly every one of the guests had brought a
little boy with him, each of whom stood like a page behind his father's
Before starting on their prandial fried fish, these trencher-men took
from the dainties wherewith the ornamental plates were laden and gave
thereof to their offspring. Now this was only right and proper, because
it is the prerogative of children to "_nash_" on these occasions. But as
the meal progressed, each father from time to time, while talking
briskly to his neighbor, allowed his hand to stray mechanically into the
plates and thence negligently backwards into the hand of his infant, who
stuffed the treasure into his pockets. Sugarman fidgeted about uneasily;
not one surreptitious seizure escaped him, and every one pricked him
like a needle. Soon his soul grew punctured like a pin-cushion. The
Shalotten _Shammos_ was among the worst offenders, and he covered his
back-handed proceedings with a ceaseless flow of complimentary
"Excellent fish, Mrs. Sugarman," he said, dexterously slipping some
almonds behind his chair.
"What?" said Mrs. Sugarman, who was hard of hearing.
"First-class plaice!" shouted the Shalotten _Shammos_, negligently
conveying a bunch of raisins.
"So they ought to be," said Mrs. Sugarman in her thin tinkling accents,
"they were all alive in the pan."
"Ah, did they twitter?" said Mr. Belcovitch, pricking up his ears.
"No," Bessie interposed. "What do you mean?"
"At home in my town," said Mr. Belcovitch impressively, "a fish made a
noise in the pan one Friday."
"Well? and suppose?" said the Shalotten _Shammos_, passing a fig to the
rear, "the oil frizzles."
"Nothing of the kind," said Belcovitch angrily, "A real living noise.
The woman snatched it out of the pan and ran with it to the Rabbi. But
he did not know what to do. Fortunately there was staying with him for
the Sabbath a travelling Saint from the far city of Ridnik, a _Chasid_,
very skilful in plagues and purifications, and able to make clean a
creeping thing by a hundred and fifty reasons. He directed the woman to
wrap the fish in a shroud and give it honorable burial as quickly as
possible. The funeral took place the same afternoon and a lot of people
went in solemn procession to the woman's back garden and buried it with
all seemly rites, and the knife with which it had been cut was buried in
the same grave, having been defiled by contact with the demon. One man
said it should be burned, but that was absurd because the demon would be
only too glad to find itself in its native element, but to prevent Satan
from rebuking the woman any more its mouth was stopped with furnace
ashes. There was no time to obtain Palestine earth, which would have
completely crushed the demon."
"The woman must have committed some _Avirah_" said Karlkammer.
"A true story!" said the Shalotten _Shammos_, ironically. "That tale has
been over Warsaw this twelvemonth."
"It occurred when I was a boy," affirmed Belcovitch indignantly. "I
remember it quite well. Some people explained it favorably. Others were
of opinion that the soul of the fishmonger had transmigrated into the
fish, an opinion borne out by the death of the fishmonger a few days
before. And the Rabbi is still alive to prove it--may his light continue
to shine--though they write that he has lost his memory."
The Shalotten _Shammos_ sceptically passed a pear to his son. Old
Gabriel Hamburg, the scholar, came compassionately to the raconteur's
"Rabbi Solomon Maimon," he said, "has left it on record that he
witnessed a similar funeral in Posen."
"It was well she buried it," said Karlkammer. "It was an atonement for a
child, and saved its life."
The Shalotten _Shammos_ laughed outright.
"Ah, laugh not," said Mrs. Belcovitch. "Or you might laugh with blood.
It isn't for my own sins that I was born with ill-matched legs."
"I must laugh when I hear of God's fools burying fish anywhere but in
their stomach," said the Shalotten _Shammos_, transporting a Brazil nut
to the rear, where it was quickly annexed by Solomon Ansell, who had
sneaked in uninvited and ousted the other boy from his coign of vantage.
The conversation was becoming heated; Breckeloff turned the topic.
"My sister has married a man who can't play cards," he said
"How lucky for her," answered several voices.
"No, it's just her black luck," he rejoined. "For he _will_ play."
There was a burst of laughter and then the company remembered that
Breckeloff was a _Badchan_ or jester.
"Why, your sister's husband is a splendid player," said Sugarman with a
flash of memory, and the company laughed afresh.
"Yes," said Breckeloff. "But he doesn't give me the chance of losing to
him now, he's got such a stuck-up _Kotzon_. He belongs to Duke's Plaizer
_Shool_ and comes there very late, and when you ask him his birthplace
he forgets he was a _Pullack_ and says becomes from 'behind Berlin.'"
These strokes of true satire occasioned more merriment and were worth a
biscuit to Solomon Ansell _vice_ the son of the Shalotten _Shammos_.
Among the inoffensive guests were old Gabriel Hamburg, the scholar, and
young Joseph Strelitski, the student, who sat together. On the left of
the somewhat seedy Strelitski pretty Bessie in blue silk presided over
the coffee-pot. Nobody knew whence Bessie had stolen her good looks:
probably some remote ancestress! Bessie was in every way the most
agreeable member of the family, inheriting some of her father's brains,
but wisely going for the rest of herself to that remote ancestress.
Gabriel Hamburg and Joseph Strelitski had both had relations with No. 1
Royal Street for some time, yet they had hardly exchanged a word and
their meeting at this breakfast table found them as great strangers as
though they had never seen each other. Strelitski came because he
boarded with the Sugarmans, and Hamburg came because he sometimes
consulted Jonathan Sugarman about a Talmudical passage. Sugarman was
charged with the oral traditions of a chain of Rabbis, like an actor who
knows all the "business" elaborated by his predecessors, and even a
scientific scholar like Hamburg found him occasionally and fortuitously
illuminating. Even so Karlkammer's red hair was a pillar of fire in the
trackless wilderness of Hebrew literature. Gabriel Hamburg was a mighty
savant who endured all things for the love of knowledge and the sake of
six men in Europe who followed his work and profited by its results.
Verily, fit audience though few. But such is the fate of great scholars
whose readers are sown throughout the lands more sparsely than monarchs.
One by one Hamburg grappled with the countless problems of Jewish
literary history, settling dates and authors, disintegrating the Books
of the Bible into their constituent parts, now inserting a gap of
centuries between two halves of the same chapter, now flashing the light
of new theories upon the development of Jewish theology. He lived at
Royal Street and the British Museum, for he spent most of his time
groping among the folios and manuscripts, and had no need for more than
the little back bedroom, behind the Ansells, stuffed with mouldy books.
Nobody (who was anybody) had heard of him in England, and he worked on,
unencumbered by patronage or a full stomach. The Ghetto, itself, knew
little of him, for there were but few with whom he found intercourse
satisfying. He was not "orthodox" in belief though eminently so in
practice--which is all the Ghetto demands--not from hypocrisy but from
ancient prejudice. Scholarship had not shrivelled up his humanity, for
he had a genial fund of humor and a gentle play of satire and loved his
neighbors for their folly and narrowmindedness. Unlike Spinoza, too, he
did not go out of his way to inform them of his heterodox views, content
to comprehend the crowd rather than be misunderstood by it. He knew that
the bigger soul includes the smaller and that the smaller can never
circumscribe the bigger. Such money as was indispensable for the
endowment of research he earned by copying texts and hunting out
references for the numerous scholars and clergymen who infest the Museum
and prevent the general reader from having elbow room. In person he was
small and bent and snuffy. Superficially more intelligible, Joseph
Strelitski was really a deeper mystery than Gabriel Hamburg. He was
known to be a recent arrival on English soil, yet he spoke English
fluently. He studied at Jews' College by day and was preparing for the
examinations at the London University. None of the other students knew
where he lived nor a bit of his past history. There was a vague idea
afloat that he was an only child whose parents had been hounded to
penury and death by Russian persecution, but who launched it nobody
knew. His eyes were sad and earnest, a curl of raven hair fell forwards
on his high brow; his clothing was shabby and darned in places by his
own hand. Beyond accepting the gift of education at the hands of dead
men he would take no help. On several distinct occasions, the magic
name, Rothschild, was appealed to on his behalf by well-wishers, and
through its avenue of almoners it responded with its eternal quenchless
unquestioning generosity to students. But Joseph Strelitski always
quietly sent back these bounties. He made enough to exist upon by
touting for a cigar-firm in the evenings. In the streets he walked with
tight-pursed lips, dreaming no one knew what.
And yet there were times when his tight-pursed lips unclenched
themselves and he drew in great breaths even of Ghetto air with the huge
contentment of one who has known suffocation. "One can breathe here,"
he seemed to be saying. The atmosphere, untainted by spies, venal
officials, and jeering soldiery, seemed fresh and sweet. Here the ground
was stable, not mined in all directions; no arbitrary ukase--veritable
sword of Damocles--hung over the head and darkened the sunshine. In such
a country, where faith was free and action untrammelled, mere living was
an ecstasy when remembrance came over one, and so Joseph Strelitski
sometimes threw back his head and breathed in liberty. The
voluptuousness of the sensation cannot be known by born freemen.
When Joseph Strelitski's father was sent to Siberia, he took his
nine-year old boy with him in infringement of the law which prohibits
exiles from taking children above five years of age. The police
authorities, however, raised no objection, and they permitted Joseph to
attend the public school at Kansk, Yeniseisk province, where the
Strelitski family resided. A year or so afterwards the Yeniseisk
authorities accorded the family permission to reside in Yeniseisk, and
Joseph, having given proof of brilliant abilities, was placed in the
Yeniseisk gymnasium. For nigh three years the boy studied here,
astonishing the gymnasium with his extraordinary ability, when suddenly
the Government authorities ordered the boy to return at once "to the
place where he was born." In vain the directors of the gymnasium, won
over by the poor boy's talent and enthusiasm for study, petitioned the
Government. The Yeniseisk authorities were again ordered to expel him.
No respite was granted and the thirteen-year old lad was sent to Sokolk
in the Government of Grodno at the other extreme of European Russia,
where he was quite alone in the world. Before he was sixteen, he escaped
to England, his soul branded by terrible memories, and steeled by
solitude to a stern strength.
At Sugarman's he spoke little and then mainly with the father on
scholastic points. After meals he retired quickly to his business or his
sleeping-den, which was across the road. Bessie loved Daniel Hyams, but
she was a woman and Strelitski's neutrality piqued her. Even to-day it
is possible he might not have spoken to Gabriel Hamburg if his other
neighbor had not been Bessie. Gabriel Hamburg was glad to talk to the
youth, the outlines of whose English history were known to him.
Strelitski seemed to expand under the sunshine of a congenial spirit; he
answered Hamburg's sympathetic inquiries about his work without
reluctance and even made some remarks on his own initiative.
And as they spoke, an undercurrent of pensive thought was flowing in the
old scholar's soul and his tones grew tenderer and tenderer. The echoes
of Ebenezer's effusive speech were in his ears and the artificial notes
rang strangely genuine. All round him sat happy fathers of happy
children, men who warmed their hands at the home-fire of life, men who
lived while he was thinking. Yet he, too, had had his chance far back in
the dim and dusty years, his chance of love and money with it. He had
let it slip away for poverty and learning, and only six men in Europe
cared whether he lived or died. The sense of his own loneliness smote
him with a sudden aching desolation. His gaze grew humid; the face of
the young student was covered with a veil of mist and seemed to shine
with the radiance of an unstained soul. If he had been as other men he
might have had such a son. At this moment Gabriel Hamburg was speaking
of paragoge in Hebrew grammar, but his voice faltered and in imagination
he was laying hands of paternal benediction on Joseph Strelitski's head.
Swayed by an overmastering impulse he burst out at last.
"An idea strikes me!"
Strelitski looked up in silent interrogation at the old man's agitated
"You live by yourself. I live by myself. We are both students. Why
should we not live together as students, too?"
A swift wave of surprise traversed Strelitski's face, and his eyes grew
soft. For an instant the one solitary soul visibly yearned towards the
other; he hesitated.
"Do not think I am too old," said the great scholar, trembling all over.
"I know it is the young who chum together, but still I am a student. And
you shall see how lively and cheerful I will be." He forced a smile that
hovered on tears. "We shall be two rackety young students, every night
raising a thousand devils. _Gaudeamus igitur_." He began to hum in his
cracked hoarse voice the _Burschen-lied_ of his early days at the Berlin
But Strelitski's face had grown dusky with a gradual flush and a
deepening gloom; his black eyebrows were knit and his lips set together
and his eyes full of sullen ire. He suspected a snare to assist him.
He shook his head. "Thank you," he said slowly. "But I prefer to live
And he turned and spoke to the astonished Bessie, and so the two strange
lonely vessels that had hailed each other across the darkness drifted
away and apart for ever in the waste of waters.
But Jonathan Sugarman's eye was on more tragic episodes. Gradually the
plates emptied, for the guests openly followed up the more substantial
elements of the repast by dessert, more devastating even than the rear
manoeuvres. At last there was nothing but an aching china blank. The men
looked round the table for something else to "_nash_," but everywhere
was the same depressing desolation. Only in the centre of the table
towered in awful intact majesty the great _Bar-mitzvah_ cake, like some
mighty sphinx of stone surveying the ruins of empires, and the least
reverent shrank before its austere gaze. But at last the Shalotten
_Shammos_ shook off his awe and stretched out his hand leisurely towards
the cake, as became the master of ceremonies. But when Sugarman the
_Shadchan_ beheld his hand moving like a creeping flame forward, he
sprang towards him, as the tigress springs when the hunter threatens her
cub. And speaking no word he snatched the great cake from under the hand
of the spoiler and tucked it under his arm, in the place where he
carried Nehemiah, and sped therewith from the room. Then consternation
fell upon the scene till Solomon Ansell, crawling on hands and knees in
search of windfalls, discovered a basket of apples stored under the
centre of the table, and the Shalotten _Shammos's_ son told his father
thereof ere Solomon could do more than secure a few for his brother and
sisters. And the Shalotten _Shammos_ laughed joyously, "Apples," and
dived under the table, and his long form reached to the other side and
beyond, and graybearded men echoed the joyous cry and scrambled on the
ground like schoolboys.
"_Leolom tikkach_--always take," quoted the _Badchan_ gleefully.
When Sugarman returned, radiant, he found his absence had been fatal.
"Piece of fool! Two-eyed lump of flesh," said Mrs. Sugarman in a loud
whisper. "Flying out of the room as if thou hadst the ague."
"Shall I sit still like thee while our home is eaten up around us?"
Sugarman whispered back. "Couldst thou not look to the apples? Plaster
image! Leaden fool! See, they have emptied the basket, too."
"Well, dost thou expect luck and blessing to crawl into it? Even five
shillings' worth of _nash_ cannot last for ever. May ten ammunition
wagons of black curses be discharged on thee!" replied Mrs. Sugarman,
her one eye shooting fire.
This was the last straw of insult added to injury. Sugarman was
exasperated beyond endurance. He forgot that he had a wider audience
than his wife; he lost all control of himself, and cried aloud in a
frenzy of rage, "What a pity thou hadst not a fourth uncle!"
Mrs. Sugarman collapsed, speechless.
"A greedy lot, marm," Sugarman reported to Mrs. Hyams on the Monday. "I
was very glad you and your people didn't come; dere was noding left
except de prospectuses of the Hamburg lotter_ee_ vich I left laying all
about for de guests to take. Being _Shabbos_ I could not give dem out."
"We were sorry not to come, but neither Mr. Hyams nor myself felt well,"
said the white-haired broken-down old woman with her painfully slow
enunciation. Her English words rarely went beyond two syllables.
"Ah!" said Sugarman. "But I've come to give you back your corkscrew."
"Why, it's broken," said Mrs. Hyams, as she took it.
"So it is, marm," he admitted readily. "But if you taink dat I ought to
pay for de damage you're mistaken. If you lend me your cat"--here he
began to make the argumentative movement with his thumb, as though
scooping out imaginary _kosher_ cheese with it; "If you lend me your cat
to kill my rat," his tones took on the strange Talmudic singsong--"and
my rat instead kills your cat, then it is the fault of your cat and not
the fault of my rat."
Poor Mrs. Hyams could not meet this argument. If Mendel had been at
home, he might have found a counter-analogy. As it was, Sugarman
re-tucked Nehemiah under his arm and departed triumphant, almost
consoled for the raid on his provisions by the thought of money saved.
In the street he met the Shalotten _Shammos_.
"Blessed art thou who comest," said the giant, in Hebrew; then relapsing
into Yiddish he cried: "I've been wanting to see you. What did you mean
by telling your wife you were sorry she had not a fourth uncle?"
"Soorka knew what I meant," said Sugarman with a little croak of
victory, "I have told her the story before. When the Almighty _Shadchan_
was making marriages in Heaven, before we were yet born, the name of my
wife was coupled with my own. The spirit of her eldest uncle hearing
this flew up to the Angel who made the proclamation and said: 'Angel!
thou art making a mistake. The man of whom thou makest mention will be
of a lower status than this future niece of mine.' Said the Angel; 'Sh!
It is all right. She will halt on one leg.' Came then the spirit of her
second uncle and said: 'Angel, what blazonest thou? A niece of mine
marry a man of such family?' Says the Angel: 'Sh! It is all right. She
will be blind in one eye.' Came the spirit of her third uncle and said:
'Angel, hast thou not erred? Surely thou canst not mean to marry my
future niece into such a humble family.' Said the Angel: 'Sh! It is all
right. She will be deaf in one ear.' Now, do you see? If she had only
had a fourth uncle, she would have been dumb into the bargain; there is
only one mouth and my life would have been a happy one. Before I told
Soorka that history she used to throw up her better breeding and finer
family to me. Even in public she would shed my blood. Now she does not
do it even in private."
Sugarman the _Shadchan_ winked, readjusted Nehemiah and went his way.
THE HOPE OF THE FAMILY.
It was a cold, bleak Sunday afternoon, and the Ansells were spending it
as usual. Little Sarah was with Mrs. Simons, Rachel had gone to Victoria
Park with a party of school-mates, the grandmother was asleep on the
bed, covered with one of her son's old coats (for there was no fire in
the grate), with her pious vade mecum in her hand; Esther had prepared
her lessons and was reading a little brown book at Dutch Debby's, not
being able to forget the _London Journal_ sufficiently; Solomon had not
prepared his and was playing "rounder" in the street, Isaac being
permitted to "feed" the strikers, in return for a prospective occupation
of his new bed; Moses Ansell was at _Shool_, listening to a _Hesped_ or
funeral oration at the German Synagogue, preached by Reb Shemuel over
one of the lights of the Ghetto, prematurely gone out--no other than the
consumptive _Maggid_, who had departed suddenly for a less fashionable
place than Bournemouth. "He has fallen," said the Reb, "not laden with
age, nor sighing for release because the grasshopper was a burden. But
He who holds the keys said: 'Thou hast done thy share of the work; it is
not thine to complete it. It was in thy heart to serve Me, from Me thou
shalt receive thy reward.'"
And all the perspiring crowd in the black-draped hall shook with grief,
and thousands of working men followed the body, weeping, to the grave,
walking all the way to the great cemetery in Bow.
A slim, black-haired, handsome lad of about twelve, dressed in a neat
black suit, with a shining white Eton collar, stumbled up the dark
stairs of No. 1 Royal Street, with an air of unfamiliarity and disgust.
At Dutch Debby's door he was delayed by a brief altercation with Bobby.
He burst open the door of the Ansell apartment without knocking, though
he took off his hat involuntarily as he entered Then he stood still with
an air of disappointment. The room seemed empty.
"What dost thou want, Esther?" murmured the grandmother rousing herself
The boy looked towards the bed with a start He could not make out what
the grandmother was saying. It was four years since he had heard Yiddish
spoken, and he had almost forgotten the existence of the dialect The
room, too, seemed chill and alien.--so unspeakably poverty-stricken.
"Oh, how are you, grandmother?" he said, going up to her and kissing her
perfunctorily. "Where's everybody?"
"Art thou Benjamin?" said the grandmother, her stern, wrinkled face
shadowed with surprise and doubt.
Benjamin guessed what she was asking and nodded.
"But how richly they have dressed thee! Alas, I suppose they have taken
away thy Judaism instead. For four whole years--is it not--thou hast
been with English folk. Woe! Woe! If thy father had married a pious
woman, she would have been living still and thou wouldst have been able
to live happily in our midst instead of being exiled among strangers,
who feed thy body and starve thy soul. If thy father had left me in
Poland, I should have died happy and my old eyes would never have seen
the sorrow. Unbutton thy waistcoat, let me see if thou wearest the
'four-corners' at least." Of this harangue, poured forth at the rate
natural to thoughts running ever in the same groove, Benjamin understood
but a word here and there. For four years he had read and read and read
English books, absorbed himself in English composition, heard nothing
but English spoken about him. Nay, he had even deliberately put the
jargon out of his mind at the commencement as something degrading and
humiliating. Now it struck vague notes of old outgrown associations but
called up no definite images.
"Where's Esther?" he said.
"Esther," grumbled the grandmother, catching the name. "Esther is with
Dutch Debby. She's always with her. Dutch Debby pretends to love her
like a mother--and why? Because she wants to _be_ her mother. She aims
at marrying my Moses. But not for us. This time we shall marry the woman
I select. No person like that who knows as much about Judaism as the cow
of Sunday, nor like Mrs. Simons, who coddles our little Sarah because
she thinks my Moses will have her. It's plain as the eye in her head
what she wants. But the Widow Finkelstein is the woman we're going to
marry. She is a true Jewess, shuts up her shop the moment _Shabbos_
comes in, not works right into the Sabbath like so many, and goes to
_Shool_ even on Friday nights. Look how she brought up her Avromkely,
who intoned the whole Portion of the Law and the Prophets in _Shool_
before he was six years old. Besides she has money and has cast eyes
The boy, seeing conversation was hopeless, murmured something
inarticulate and ran down the stairs to find some traces of the
intelligible members of his family. Happily Bobby, remembering their
former altercation, and determining to have the last word, barred
Benjamin's path with such pertinacity that Esther came out to quiet him
and leapt into her brother's arms with a great cry of joy, dropping the
book she held full on Bobby's nose.
"O Benjy--Is it really you? Oh, I am so glad. I am so glad. I knew you
would come some day. O Benjy! Bobby, you bad dog, this is Benjy, my
brother. Debby, I'm going upstairs. Benjamin's come back. Benjamin's
"All right, dear," Debby called out. "Let me have a look at him soon.
Send me in Bobby if you're going away." The words ended in a cough.
Esther hurriedly drove in Bobby, and then half led, half dragged
Benjamin upstairs. The grandmother had fallen asleep again and was
"Speak low, Benjy," said Esther. "Grandmother's asleep."
"All right, Esther. I don't want to wake her, I'm sure. I was up here
just now, and couldn't make out a word she was jabbering."
"I know. She's losing all her teeth, poor thing."
"No, it, isn't that. She speaks that beastly Yiddish--I made sure she'd
have learned English by this time. I hope _you_ don't speak it, Esther."
"I must, Benjy. You see father and grandmother never speak anything else
at home, and only know a few words of English. But I don't let the
children speak it except to them. You should hear little Sarah speak
English. It's beautiful. Only when she cries she says 'Woe is me' in
Yiddish. I have had to slap her for it--but that makes her cry 'Woe is
me' all the more. Oh, how nice you look, Benjy, with your white collar,
just like the pictures of little Lord Launceston in the Fourth Standard
Reader. I wish I could show you to the girls! Oh, my, what'll Solomon
say when he sees you! He's always wearing his corduroys away at the
"But where is everybody? And why is there no fire?" said Benjamin
impatiently. "It's beastly cold."
"Father hopes to get a bread, coal and meat ticket to-morrow, dear."
"Well, this is a pretty welcome for a fellow!" grumbled Benjamin.
"I'm so sorry, Benjy! If I'd only known you were coming I might have
borrowed some coals from Mrs. Belcovitch. But just stamp your feet a
little if they freeze. No, do it outside the door; grandmother's asleep.
Why didn't you write to me you were coming?"
"I didn't know. Old Four-Eyes--that's one of our teachers--was going up
to London this afternoon, and he wanted a boy to carry some parcels, and
as I'm the best boy in my class he let me come. He let me run up and see
you all, and I'm to meet him at London Bridge Station at seven o'clock.
You're not much altered, Esther."
"Ain't I?" she said, with a little pathetic smile. "Ain't I bigger?"
"Not four years bigger. For a moment I could fancy I'd never been away.
How the years slip by! I shall be _Barmitzvah_ soon."
"Yes, and now I've got you again I've so much to say I don't know where
to begin. That time father went to see you I couldn't get much out of
him about you, and your own letters have been so few."
"A letter costs a penny, Esther. Where am I to get pennies from?"
"I know, dear. I know you would have liked to write. But now you shall
tell me everything. Have you missed us very much?"
"No, I don't think so," said Benjamin.
"Oh, not at all?" asked Esther in disappointed tones.
"Yes, I missed _you_, Esther, at first," he said, soothingly. "But
there's such a lot to do and to think about. It's a new life."
"And have you been happy, Benjy?"
"Oh yes. Quite. Just think! Regular meals, with oranges and sweets and
entertainments every now and then, a bed all to yourself, good fires, a
mansion with a noble staircase and hall, a field to play in, with balls
"A field!" echoed Esther. "Why it must be like going to Greenwich every
"Oh, better than Greenwich where they take you girls for a measly day's
holiday once a year."
"Better than the Crystal Palace, where they take the boys?"
"Why, the Crystal Palace is quite near. We can see the fire-works every
Thursday night in the season."
Esther's eyes opened wider. "And have you been inside?"
"Lots of times."
"Do you remember the time you didn't go?" Esther said softly.
"A fellow doesn't forget that sort of thing," he grumbled. "I so wanted
to go--I had heard such a lot about it from the boys who had been. When
the day of the excursion came my _Shabbos_ coat was in pawn, wasn't it?"
"Yes," said Esther, her eyes growing humid. "I was so sorry for you,
dear. You didn't want to go in your corduroy coat and let the boys know
you didn't have a best coat. It was quite right, Benjy."
"I remember mother gave me a treat instead," said Benjamin with a comic
grimace. "She took me round to Zachariah Square and let me play there
while she was scrubbing Malka's floor. I think Milly gave me a penny,
and I remember Leah let me take a couple of licks from a glass of ice
cream she was eating on the Ruins. It was a hot day--I shall never
forget that ice cream. But fancy parents pawning a chap's only decent
coat." He smoothed his well-brushed jacket complacently.
"Yes, but don't you remember mother took it out the very next morning
before school with the money she earnt at Malka's."
"But what was the use of that? I put it on of course when I went to
school and told the teacher I was ill the day before, just to show the
boys I was telling the truth. But it was too late to take me to the
"Ah, but it came in handy--don't you remember, Benjy, how one of the
Great Ladies died suddenly the next week!"
"Oh yes! Yoicks! Tallyho!" cried Benjamin, with sudden excitement. "We
went down on hired omnibuses to the cemetery ever so far into the
country, six of the best boys in each class, and I was on the box seat
next to the driver, and I thought of the old mail-coach days and looked
out for highwaymen. We stood along the path in the cemetery and the sun
was shining and the grass was so green and there were such lovely
flowers on the coffin when it came past with the gentlemen crying behind
it and then we had lemonade and cakes on the way back. Oh, it was just
beautiful! I went to two other funerals after that, but that was the one
I enjoyed most. Yes, that coat did come in useful after all for a day in
Benjamin evidently did not think of his own mother's interment as a
funeral. Esther did and she changed the subject quickly.
"Well, tell me more about your place."
"Well, it's like going to funerals every day. It's all country all round
about, with trees and flowers and birds. Why, I've helped to make hay in
Esther drew a sigh of ecstasy. "It's like a book," she said.
"Books!" he said. "We've got hundreds and hundreds, a whole
library--Dickens, Mayne Reid, George Eliot, Captain Marryat,
Thackeray--I've read them all."
"Oh, Benjy!" said Esther, clasping her hands in admiration, both of the
library and her brother. "I wish I were you."
"Well, you could be me easily enough."
"How?" said Esther, eagerly.
"Why, we have a girls' department, too. You're an orphan as much as me.
You get father to enter you as a candidate."
"Oh, how could I, Benjy?" said Esther, her face falling. "What would
become of Solomon and Ikey and little Sarah?"
"They've got a father, haven't they? and a grandmother?"
"Father can't do washing and cooking, you silly boy! And grandmother's
"Well, I call it a beastly shame. Why can't father earn a living and
give out the washing? He never has a penny to bless himself with."
"It isn't his fault, Benjy. He tries hard. I'm sure he often grieves
that he's so poor that he can't afford the railway fare to visit you on
visiting days. That time he did go he only got the money by selling a
work-box I had for a prize. But he often speaks about you."
"Well, I don't grumble at his not coming," said Benjamin. "I forgive him
that because you know he's not very presentable, is he, Esther?"
Esther was silent. "Oh, well, everybody knows he's poor. They don't
expect father to be a gentleman."
"Yes, but he might look decent. Does he still wear those two beastly
little curls at the side of his head? Oh, I did hate it when I was at
school here, and he used to come to see the master about something. Some
of the boys had such respectable fathers, it was quite a pleasure to see
them come in and overawe the teacher. Mother used to be as bad, coming
in with a shawl over her head."
"Yes, Benjy, but she used to bring us in bread and butter when there had
been none in the house at breakfast-time. Don't you remember, Benjy?"
"Oh, yes, I remember. We've been through some beastly bad times,
haven't we, Esther? All I say is you wouldn't like father coming in
before all the girls in your class, would you, now?"
Esther blushed. "There is no occasion for him to come," she said
"Well, I know what I shall do!" said Benjamin decisively; "I'm going to
be a very rich man--"
"Are you, Benjy?" inquired Esther.
"Yes, of course. I'm going to write books--like Dickens and those
fellows. Dickens made a pile of money, just by writing down plain
every-day things going on around."
"But you can't write!"
Benjamin laughed a superior laugh, "Oh, can't I? What about _Our Own_,
"That's our journal. I edit it. Didn't I tell you about it? Yes, I'm
running a story through it, called 'The Soldier's Bride,' all about life
"Oh, where could I get a number?"
"You can't get a number. It ain't printed, stupid. It's all copied by
hand, and we've only got a few copies. If you came down, you could see
"Yes, but I can't come down," said Esther, with tears in her eyes.
"Well, never mind. You'll see it some day. Well, what was I telling you?
Oh, yes! About my prospects. You see, I'm going in for a scholarship in
a few months, and everybody says I shall get it. Then, perhaps I might
go to a higher school, perhaps to Oxford or Cambridge!"
"And row in the boat-race!" said Esther, flushing with excitement.
"No, bother the boat-race. I'm going in for Latin and Greek. I've begun
to learn French already. So I shall know three foreign languages."
"Four!" said Esther, "you forget Hebrew!"
"Oh, of course, Hebrew. I don't reckon Hebrew. Everybody knows Hebrew.
Hebrew's no good to any one. What I want is something that'll get me on
in the world and enable me to write my books."
"But Dickens--did he know Latin or Greek?" asked Esther.
"No, he didn't," said Benjamin proudly. "That's just where I shall have
the pull of him. Well, when I've got rich I shall buy father a new suit
of clothes and a high hat--it _is_ so beastly cold here, Esther, just
feel my hands, like ice!--and I shall make him live with grandmother in
a decent room, and give him an allowance so that he can study beastly
big books all day long--does he still take a week to read a page? And
Sarah and Isaac and Rachel shall go to a proper boarding school, and
Solomon--how old will he be then?"
Esther looked puzzled. "Oh, but suppose it takes you ten years getting
famous! Solomon will be nearly twenty."
"It can't take me ten years. But never mind! We shall see what is to be
done with Solomon when the time comes. As for you--"
"Well, Benjy," she said, for his imagination was breaking down.
"I'll give you a dowry and you'll get married. See!" he concluded
"Oh, but suppose I shan't want to get married?"
"Nonsense--every girl wants to get married. I overheard Old Four-Eyes
say all the teachers in the girls' department were dying to marry him.
I've got several sweethearts already, and I dare say you have." He
looked at her quizzingly.
"No, dear," she said earnestly. "There's only Levi Jacobs, Reb Shemuel's
son, who's been coming round sometimes to play with Solomon, and brings
me almond-rock. But I don't care for him--at least not in that way.
Besides, he's quite above us."
"_Oh_, is he? Wait till I write my novels!"
"I wish you'd write them now. Because then I should have something to
"What's the matter?"
"I've lost my book. What have I done with my little brown book?"
"Didn't you drop it on that beastly dog?"
"Oh, did I? People'll tread on it on the stairs. Oh dear! I'll run down
and get it. But don't call Bobby beastly, please."
"Why not? Dogs are beasts, aren't they?"
Esther puzzled over the retort as she flew downstairs, but could find no
reply. She found the book, however, and that consoled her.
"What have you got hold of?" replied Benjamin, when she returned.
"Oh, nothing! It wouldn't interest you."
"All books interest me," announced Benjamin with dignity.
Esther reluctantly gave him the book. He turned over the pages
carelessly, then his face grew serious and astonished.
"Esther!" he said, "how did you come by this?"
"One of the girls gave it me in exchange for a stick of slate pencil.
She said she got it from the missionaries--she went to their
night-school for a lark and they gave her it and a pair of boots as
"And you have been reading it?"
"Yes, Benjy," said Esther meekly.
"You naughty girl! Don't you know the New Testament is a wicked book?
Look here! There's the word 'Christ' on nearly every page, and the word
'Jesus' on every other. And you haven't even scratched them out! Oh, if
any one was to catch you reading this book!"
"I don't read it in school hours," said the little girl deprecatingly.
"But you have no business to read it at all!"
"Why not?" she said doggedly. "I like it. It seems just as interesting
as the Old Testament, and there are more miracles to the page.''
"You wicked girl!" said her brother, overwhelmed by her audacity.
"Surely you know that all these miracles were false?"
"Why were they false?" persisted Esther.
"Because miracles left off after the Old Testament! There are no
miracles now-a-days, are there?"
"No," admitted Esther.
"Well, then," he said triumphantly, "if miracles had gone overlapping
into New Testament times we might just as well expect to have them now."
"But why shouldn't we have them now?"
"Esther, I'm surprised at you. I should like to set Old Four-Eyes on to
you. He'd soon tell you why. Religion all happened in the past. God
couldn't be always talking to His creatures."
"I wish I'd lived in the past, when Religion was happening," said Esther
ruefully. "But why do Christians all reverence this book? I'm sure there
are many more millions of them than of Jews!"
"Of course there are, Esther. Good things are scarce. We are so few
because we are God's chosen people."
"But why do I feel good when I read what Jesus said?"
"Because you are so bad," he answered, in a shocked tone. "Here, give me
the book, I'll burn it."
"No, no!" said Esther. "Besides there's no fire."
"No, hang it," he said, rubbing his hands. "Well, it'll never do if you
have to fall back on this sort of thing. I'll tell you what I'll do.
I'll send you _Our Own_."
"Oh, will you, Benjy? That is good of you," she said joyfully, and was
kissing him when Solomon and Isaac came romping in and woke up the
"How are you, Solomon?" said Benjamin. "How are you, my little man," he
added, patting Isaac on his curly head. Solomon was overawed for a
moment. Then he said, "Hullo, Benjy, have you got any spare buttons?"
But Isaac was utterly ignorant who the stranger could be and hung back
with his finger in his mouth.
"That's your brother Benjamin, Ikey," said Solomon.
"Don't want no more brovers," said Ikey.
"Oh, but I was here before you," said Benjamin laughing.
"Does oor birfday come before mine, then?"
"Yes, if I remember."
Isaac looked tauntingly at the door. "See!" he cried to the absent
Sarah. Then turning graciously to Benjamin he said, "I thant kiss oo,
but I'll lat oo teep in my new bed."
"But you _must_ kiss him," said Esther, and saw that he did it before
she left the room to fetch little Sarah from Mrs. Simons.
When she came back Solomon was letting Benjamin inspect his Plevna
peep-show without charge and Moses Ansell was back, too. His eyes were
red with weeping, but that was on account of the _Maggid_. His nose was
blue with the chill of the cemetery.
"He was a great man." he was saying to the grandmother. "He could
lecture for four hours together on any text and he would always manage
to get back to the text before the end. Such exegetics, such homiletics!
He was greater than the Emperor of Russia. Woe! Woe!"
"Woe! Woe!" echoed the grandmother. "If women were allowed to go to
funerals, I would gladly have, followed him. Why did he come to England?
In Poland he would still have been alive. And why did I come to England?
Her head dropped back on the pillow and her sighs passed gently into
snores. Moses turned again to his eldest born, feeling that he was
secondary in importance only to the _Maggid_, and proud at heart of his
genteel English appearance.
"Well, you'll soon be _Bar-mitzvah_, Benjamin." he said, with clumsy
geniality blent with respect, as he patted his boy's cheeks with his
Benjamin caught the last two words and nodded his head.
"And then you'll be coming back to us. I suppose they will apprentice
you to something."
"What does he say, Esther?" asked Benjamin, impatiently.
"Apprentice me to something!" he repeated, disgusted. "Father's ideas
are so beastly humble. He would like everybody to dance on him. Why he'd
be content to see me a cigar-maker or a presser. Tell him I'm not coming
home, that I'm going to win a scholarship and to go to the University."
Moses's eyes dilated with pride. "Ah, you will become a Rav," he said,
and lifted up his boy's chin and looked lovingly into the handsome face.
"What's that about a Rav, Esther?" said Benjamin. "Does he want me to
become a Rabbi--Ugh! Tell him I'm going to write books."
"My blessed boy! A good commentary on the Song of Songs is much needed.
Perhaps you will begin by writing that."
"Oh, it's no use talking to him, Esther. Let him be. Why can't he speak
"He can--but you'd understand even less," said Esther with a sad smile.
"Well, all I say is it's a beastly disgrace. Look at the years he's been
in England--just as long as we have." Then the humor of the remark
dawned upon him and he laughed. "I suppose he's out of work, as usual,"
Moses's ears pricked up at the syllables "out-of-work," which to him was
a single word of baneful meaning.
"Yes," he said in Yiddish. "But if I only had a few pounds to start with
I could work up a splendid business."
"Wait! He shall have a business," said Benjamin when Esther interpreted.
"Don't listen to him," said Esther. "The Board of Guardians has started
him again and again. But he likes to think he is a man of business."
Meantime Isaac had been busy explaining Benjamin to Sarah, and pointing
out the remarkable confirmation of his own views as to birthdays. This
will account for Esther's next remark being, "Now, dears, no fighting
to-day. We must celebrate Benjy's return. We ought to kill a fatted
calf--like the man in the Bible."
"What are you talking about, Esther?" said Benjamin suspiciously.
"I'm so sorry, nothing, only foolishness," said Esther. "We really must
do something to make a holiday of the occasion. Oh, I know; we'll have
tea before you go, instead of waiting till supper-time. Perhaps
Rachel'll be back from the Park. You haven't seen her yet."
"No, I can't stay," said Benjy. "It'll take me three-quarters of an
hour getting to the station. And you've got no fire to make tea with
"Nonsense, Benjy. You seem to have forgotten everything; we've got a
loaf and a penn'uth of tea in the cupboard. Solomon, fetch a farthing's
worth of boiling water from the Widow Finkelstein."
At the words "widow Finkelstein," the grandmother awoke and sat up.
"No, I'm too tired," said Solomon. "Isaac can go."
"No," said Isaac. "Let Estie go."
Esther took a jug and went to the door.
"Meshe," said the grandmother. "Go thou to the Widow Finkelstein."
"But Esther can go," said Moses.
"Yes, I'm going," said Esther.
"Meshe!" repeated the Bube inexorably. "Go thou to the Widow
"Have you said the afternoon prayer, boys?" the old woman asked.
"Yes," said Solomon. "While you were asleep."
"Oh-h-h!" said Esther under her breath. And she looked reproachfully at
"Well, didn't you say we must make a holiday to-day?" he whispered back.
THE HOLY LAND LEAGUE.
"Oh, these English Jews!" said Melchitsedek Pinchas, in German.
"What have they done to you now?" said Guedalyah, the greengrocer, in
The two languages are relatives and often speak as they pass by.
"I have presented my book to every one of them, but they have paid me
scarce enough to purchase poison for them all," said the little poet
scowling. The cheekbones stood out sharply beneath the tense bronzed
skin. The black hair was tangled and unkempt and the beard untrimmed,
the eyes darted venom. "One of them--Gideon, M.P., the stockbroker,
engaged me to teach his son for his _Bar-mitzvah_, But the boy is so
stupid! So stupid! Just like his father. I have no doubt he will grow up
to be a Rabbi. I teach him his Portion--I sing the words to him with a
most beautiful voice, but he has as much ear as soul. Then I write him a
speech--a wonderful speech for him to make to his parents and the
company at the breakfast, and in it, after he thanks them for their
kindness, I make him say how, with the blessing of the Almighty, he will
grow up to be a good Jew, and munificently support Hebrew literature and
learned men like his revered teacher, Melchitsedek Pinchas. And he shows
it to his father, and his father says it is not written in good English,
and that another scholar has already written him a speech. Good English!
Gideon has as much knowledge or style as the Rev. Elkan Benjamin of
decency. Ah, I will shoot them both. I know I do not speak English like
a native--but what language under the sun is there I cannot write?
French, German, Spanish, Arabic--they flow from my pen like honey from a
rod. As for Hebrew, you know, Guedalyah, I and you are the only two men
in England who can write Holy Language grammatically. And yet these
miserable stockbrokers, Men-of-the-Earth, they dare to say I cannot
write English, and they have given me the sack. I, who was teaching the
boy true Judaism and the value of Hebrew literature."
"What! They didn't let you finish teaching the boy his Portion because
you couldn't write English?"
"No; they had another pretext--one of the servant girls said I wanted to
kiss her--lies and falsehood. I was kissing my finger after kissing the
_Mezuzah_, and the stupid abomination thought I was kissing my hand to
her. It sees itself that they don't kiss the _Mezuzahs_ often in that
house--the impious crew. And what will be now? The stupid boy will go
home to breakfast in a bazaar of costly presents, and he will make the
stupid speech written by the fool of an Englishman, and the ladies will
weep. But where will be the Judaism in all this? Who will vaccinate him
against free-thinking as I would have done? Who will infuse into him the
true patriotic fervor, the love of his race, the love of Zion, the land
of his fathers?"
"Ah, you are verily a man after my own heart!" said Guedalyah, the
greengrocer, overswept by a wave of admiration. "Why should you not come
with me to my _Beth-Hamidrash_ to-night, to the meeting for the
foundation of the Holy Land League? That cauliflower will be four-pence,
"Ah, what is that?" said Pinchas.
"I have an idea; a score of us meet to-night to discuss it."
"Ah, yes! You have always ideas. You are a sage and a saint, Guedalyah.
The _Beth-Hamidrash_ which you have established is the only centre of
real orthodoxy and Jewish literature in London. The ideas you expound in
the Jewish papers for the amelioration of the lot of our poor brethren
are most statesmanlike. But these donkey-head English rich people--what
help can you expect from them? They do not even understand your plans.
They have only sympathy with needs of the stomach."
"You are right! You are right, Pinchas!" said Guedalyah, the
greengrocer, eagerly. He was a tall, loosely-built man, with a pasty
complexion capable of shining with enthusiasm. He was dressed shabbily,
and in the intervals of selling cabbages projected the regeneration of
"That is just what is beginning to dawn upon me, Pinchas," he went on.
"Our rich people give plenty away in charity; they have good hearts but
not Jewish hearts. As the verse says,--A bundle of rhubarb and two
pounds of Brussels sprouts and threepence halfpenny change. Thank you.
Much obliged.--Now I have bethought myself why should we not work out
our own salvation? It is the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted, whose
souls pant after the Land of Israel as the hart after the water-brooks.
Let us help ourselves. Let us put our hands in our own pockets. With our
_Groschen_ let us rebuild Jerusalem and our Holy Temple. We will collect
a fund slowly but surely--from all parts of the East End and the
provinces the pious will give. With the first fruits we will send out a
little party of persecuted Jews to Palestine; and then another; and
another. The movement will grow like a sliding snow-ball that becomes an
"Yes, then the rich will come to you," said Pinchas, intensely excited.
"Ah! it is a great idea, like all yours. Yes, I will come, I will make a
mighty speech, for my lips, like Isaiah's, have been touched with the
burning coal. I will inspire all hearts to start the movement at once. I
will write its Marseillaise this very night, bedewing my couch with a
poet's tears. We shall no longer be dumb--we shall roar like the lions
of Lebanon. I shall be the trumpet to call the dispersed together from
the four corners of the earth--yea, I shall be the Messiah himself,"
said Pinchas, rising on the wings of his own eloquence, and forgetting
to puff at his cigar.
"I rejoice to see you so ardent; but mention not the word Messiah, for I
fear some of our friends will take alarm and say that these are not
Messianic times, that neither Elias, nor Gog, King of Magog, nor any of
the portents have yet appeared. Kidneys or regents, my child?"
"Stupid people! Hillel said more wisely: 'If I help not myself who will
help me?' Do they expect the Messiah to fall from heaven? Who knows but
I am the Messiah? Was I not born on the ninth of Ab?"
"Hush, hush!" said Guedalyah, the greengrocer. "Let us be practical. We
are not yet ready for Marseillaises or Messiahs. The first step is to
get funds enough to send one family to Palestine."
"Yes, yes," said Pinchas, drawing vigorously at his cigar to rekindle
it. "But we must look ahead. Already I see it all. Palestine in the
hands of the Jews--the Holy Temple rebuilt, a Jewish state, a President
who is equally accomplished with the sword and the pen,--the whole
campaign stretches before me. I see things like Napoleon, general and
"Truly we wish that," said the greengrocer cautiously. "But to-night it
is only a question of a dozen men founding a collecting society."
"Of course, of course, that I understand. You're right--people about
here say Guedalyah the greengrocer is always right. I will come
beforehand to supper with you to talk it over, and you shall see what I
will write for the _Mizpeh_ and the _Arbeiter-freund_. You know all
these papers jump at me--their readers are the class to which you
appeal--in them will I write my burning verses and leaders advocating
the cause. I shall be your Tyrtaeus, your Mazzini, your Napoleon. How
blessed that I came to England just now. I have lived in the Holy
Land--the genius of the soil is blent with mine. I can describe its
beauties as none other can. I am the very man at the very hour. And yet
I will not go rashly--slow and sure--my plan is to collect small amounts
from the poor to start by sending one family at a time to Palestine.
That is how we must do it. How does that strike you, Guedalyah. You
"Yes, yes. That is also my opinion."
"You see I am not a Napoleon only in great ideas. I understand detail,
though as a poet I abhor it. Ah, the Jew is king of the world. He alone
conceives great ideas and executes them by petty means. The heathen are
so stupid, so stupid! Yes, you shall see at supper how practically I
will draw up the scheme. And then I will show you, too, what I have
written about Gideon, M.P., the dog of a stockbroker--a satirical poem
have I written about him, in Hebrew--an acrostic, with his name for the
mockery of posterity. Stocks and shares have I translated into Hebrew,
with new words which will at once be accepted by the Hebraists of the
world and added to the vocabulary of modern Hebrew. Oh! I am terrible in
satire. I sting like the hornet; witty as Immanuel, but mordant as his
friend Dante. It will appear in the _Mizpeh_ to-morrow. I will show this
Anglo-Jewish community that I am a man to be reckoned with. I will crush
it--not it me."
"But they don't see the _Mizpeh_ and couldn't read it if they did."
"No matter. I send it abroad--I have friends, great Rabbis, great
scholars, everywhere, who send me their learned manuscripts, their
commentaries, their ideas, for revision and improvement. Let the
Anglo-Jewish community hug itself in its stupid prosperity--but I will
make it the laughing-stock of Europe and Asia. Then some day it will
find out its mistake; it will not have ministers like the Rev. Elkan
Benjamin, who keeps four mistresses, it will depose the lump of flesh
who reigns over it and it will seize the hem of my coat and beseech me
to be its Rabbi."
"We should have a more orthodox Chief Rabbi, certainly," admitted
"Orthodox? Then and only then shall we have true Judaism in London and a
burst of literary splendor far exceeding that of the much overpraised
Spanish School, none of whom had that true lyrical gift which is like
the carol of the bird in the pairing season. O why have I not the bird's
privileges as well as its gift of song? Why can I not pair at will? Oh
the stupid Rabbis who forbade polygamy. Verily as the verse says: The
Law of Moses is perfect, enlightening the eyes--marriage, divorce, all
is regulated with the height of wisdom. Why must we adopt the stupid
customs of the heathen? At present I have not even one mate--but I
love--ah Guedalyah! I love! The women are so beautiful. You love the
"I love my Rivkah," said Guedalyah. "A penny on each ginger-beer
"Yes, but why haven't _I_ got a wife? Eh?" demanded the little poet
fiercely, his black eyes glittering. "I am a fine tall well-built
good-looking man. In Palestine and on the Continent all the girls would
go about sighing and casting sheep's eyes at me, for there the Jews love
poetry and literature. But here! I can go into a room with a maiden in
it and she makes herself unconscious of my presence. There is Reb
Shemuel's daughter--a fine beautiful virgin. I kiss her hand--and it is
ice to my lips. Ah, if I only had money! And money I should have, if
these English Jews were not so stupid and if they elected me Chief
Rabbi. Then I would marry--one, two, three maidens."
"Talk not such foolishness," said Guedalyah, laughing, for he thought
the poet jested. Pinchas saw his enthusiasm had carried him too far, but
his tongue was the most reckless of organs and often slipped into the
truth. He was a real poet with an extraordinary faculty for language and
a gift of unerring rhythm. He wrote after the mediaeval model--with a
profusion of acrostics and double rhyming--not with the bald
duplications of primitive Hebrew poetry. Intellectually he divined
things like a woman--with marvellous rapidity, shrewdness and
inaccuracy. He saw into people's souls through a dark refracting
suspiciousness. The same bent of mind, the same individuality of
distorted insight made him overflow with ingenious explanations of the
Bible and the Talmud, with new views and new lights on history,
philology, medicine--anything, everything. And he believed in his ideas
because they were his and in himself because of his ideas. To himself
his stature sometimes seemed to expand till his head touched the
sun--but that was mostly after wine--and his brain retained a permanent
glow from the contact.
"Well, peace be with you!" said Pinchas. "I will leave you to your
customers, who besiege you as I have been besieged by the maidens. But
what you have just told me has gladdened my heart. I always had an
affection for you, but now I love you like a woman. We will found this
Holy Land League, you and I. You shall be President--I waive all claims
in your favor--and I will be Treasurer. Hey?"
"We shall see; we shall see," said Guedalyah the greengrocer.
"No, we cannot leave it to the mob, we must settle it beforehand. Shall
we say done?"
He laid his finger cajolingly to the side of his nose.
"We shall see," repeated Guedalyah the greengrocer, impatiently.
"No, say! I love you like a brother. Grant me this favor and I will
never ask anything of you so long as I live."
"Well, if the others--" began Guedalyah feebly.
"Ah! You are a Prince in Israel," Pinchas cried enthusiastically. "If I
could only show you my heart, how it loves you."
He capered off at a sprightly trot, his head haloed by huge volumes of
smoke. Guedalyah the greengrocer bent over a bin of potatoes. Looking up
suddenly he was startled to see the head fixed in the open front of the
shop window. It was a narrow dark bearded face distorted with an
insinuative smile. A dirty-nailed forefinger was laid on the right of
"You won't forget," said the head coaxingly.
"Of course I won't forget," cried the greengrocer querulously.
The meeting took place at ten that night at the Beth Hamidrash founded
by Guedalyah, a large unswept room rudely fitted up as a synagogue and
approached by reeking staircases, unsavory as the neighborhood. On one
of the black benches a shabby youth with very long hair and lank
fleshless limbs shook his body violently to and fro while he vociferated
the sentences of the Mishnah in the traditional argumentative singsong.
Near the central raised platform was a group of enthusiasts, among whom
Froom Karlkammer, with his thin ascetic body and the mass of red hair
that crowned his head like the light of a pharos, was a conspicuous
"Peace be to you, Karlkammer!" said Pinchas to him in Hebrew.
"To you be peace, Pinchas!" replied Karlkammer.
"Ah!" went on Pinchas. "Sweeter than honey it is to me, yea than fine
honey, to talk to a man in the Holy Tongue. Woe, the speakers are few in
these latter days. I and thou, Karlkammer, are the only two people who
can speak the Holy Tongue grammatically on this isle of the sea. Lo, it
is a great thing we are met to do this night--I see Zion laughing on her
mountains and her fig-trees skipping for joy. I will be the treasurer of
the fund, Karlkammer--do thou vote for me, for so our society shall
flourish as the green bay tree."
Karlkammer grunted vaguely, not having humor enough to recall the usual
associations of the simile, and Pinchas passed on to salute Hamburg. To
Gabriel Hamburg, Pinchas was occasion for half-respectful amusement. He
could not but reverence the poet's genius even while he laughed at his
pretensions to omniscience, and at the daring and unscientific guesses
which the poet offered as plain prose. For when in their arguments
Pinchas came upon Jewish ground, he was in presence of a man who knew
every inch of it.
"Blessed art thou who arrivest," he said when he perceived Pinchas.
Then dropping into German he continued--"I did not know you would join
in the rebuilding of Zion."
"Why not?" inquired Pinchas.
"Because you have written so many poems thereupon."
"Be not so foolish," said Pinchas, annoyed. "Did not King David fight
the Philistines as well as write the Psalms?"
"Did he write the Psalms?" said Hamburg quietly, with a smile.
"No--not so loud! Of course he didn't! The Psalms were written by Judas
Maccabaeus, as I proved in the last issue of the Stuttgard
_Zeitschrift_. But that only makes my analogy more forcible. You shall
see how I will gird on sword and armor, and I shall yet see even you in
the forefront of the battle. I will be treasurer, you shall vote for me,
Hamburg, for I and you are the only two people who know the Holy Tongue
grammatically, and we must work shoulder to shoulder and see that the
balance sheets are drawn up in the language of our fathers."
In like manner did Melchitsedek Pinchas approach Hiram Lyons and Simon
Gradkoski, the former a poverty-stricken pietist who added day by day to
a furlong of crabbed manuscript, embodying a useless commentary on the
first chapter of Genesis; the latter the portly fancy-goods dealer in
whose warehouse Daniel Hyams was employed. Gradkoski rivalled Reb
Shemuel in his knowledge of the exact _loci_ of Talmudical remarks--page
this, and line that--and secretly a tolerant latitudinarian, enjoyed the
reputation of a bulwark of orthodoxy too well to give it up. Gradkoski
passed easily from writing an invoice to writing a learned article on
Hebrew astronomy. Pinchas ignored Joseph Strelitski whose raven curl
floated wildly over his forehead like a pirate's flag, though Hamburg,
who was rather surprised to see the taciturn young man at a meeting,
strove to draw him into conversation. The man to whom Pinchas ultimately
attached himself was only a man in the sense of having attained his
religious majority. He was a Harrow boy named Raphael Leon, a scion of a
wealthy family. The boy had manifested a strange premature interest in
Jewish literature and had often seen Gabriel Hamburg's name in learned
foot-notes, and, discovering that he was in England, had just written to
him. Hamburg had replied; they had met that day for the first time and
at the lad's own request the old scholar brought him on to this strange
meeting. The boy grew to be Hamburg's one link with wealthy England, and
though he rarely saw Leon again, the lad came in a shadowy way to take
the place he had momentarily designed for Joseph Strelitski. To-night it
was Pinchas who assumed the paternal manner, but he mingled it with a
subtle obsequiousness that made the shy simple lad uncomfortable, though
when he came to read the poet's lofty sentiments which arrived (with an
acrostic dedication) by the first post next morning, he conceived an
enthusiastic admiration for the neglected genius.
The rest of the "remnant" that were met to save Israel looked more
commonplace--a furrier, a slipper-maker, a locksmith, an ex-glazier
(Mendel Hyams), a confectioner, a _Melammed_ or Hebrew teacher, a
carpenter, a presser, a cigar-maker, a small shop-keeper or two, and
last and least, Moses Ansell. They were of many birthplaces--Austria,
Holland, Poland, Russia, Germany, Italy, Spain--yet felt themselves of
no country and of one. Encircled by the splendors of modern Babylon,
their hearts turned to the East, like passion-flowers seeking the sun.
Palestine, Jerusalem, Jordan, the Holy Land were magic syllables to
them, the sight of a coin struck in one of Baron Edmund's colonies
filled their eyes with tears; in death they craved no higher boon than a
handful of Palestine earth sprinkled over their graves.
But Guedalyah the greengrocer was not the man to encourage idle hopes.
He explained his scheme lucidly--without highfalutin. They were to
rebuild Judaism as the coral insect builds its reefs--not as the prayer
went, "speedily and in our days."
They had brought themselves up to expect more and were disappointed.
Some protested against peddling little measures--like Pinchas they were
for high, heroic deeds. Joseph Strelitski, student and cigar commission
agent, jumped to his feet and cried passionately in German: "Everywhere
Israel groans and travails--must we indeed wait and wait till our hearts
are sick and strike never a decisive blow? It is nigh two thousand years
since across the ashes of our Holy Temple we were driven into the Exile,
clanking the chains of Pagan conquerors. For nigh two thousand years
have we dwelt on alien soils, a mockery and a byword for the nations,
hounded out from every worthy employ and persecuted for turning to the
unworthy, spat upon and trodden under foot, suffusing the scroll of
history with our blood and illuminating it with the lurid glare of the
fires to which our martyrs have ascended gladly for the Sanctification
of the Name. We who twenty centuries ago were a mighty nation, with a
law and a constitution and a religion which have been the key-notes of
the civilization of the world, we who sat in judgment by the gates of