Imported Bridegroom by Abraham Cahan
Flora was alone in the back parlor, which
she had appropriated for a sort of boudoir.
She sat in her rocker, in front of the parlor
stove, absorbed in "Little Dorrit." Her
well-groomed girlish form was enveloped in
a kindly warmth whose tender embrace
tinged her interest in the narrative with a
triumphant consciousness of the snowstorm
Little by little the rigid afternoon light
began to fade into a melancholy gray. Dusk
was creeping into the room in almost visible
waves. Flora let the book rest on her lap
and fixed her gaze on the twinkling scarlet
of the stove-glass. The thickening twilight,
the warmth of the apartment, and the atmosphere
of the novel blended together, and for
some moments Flora felt far away from herself.
She was the only girl of her circle who
would read Dickens, Scott, or Thackeray in
addition to the "Family Story Paper" and
the "Fireside Companion," which were the
exclusive literary purveyors to her former
classmates at the Chrystie Street Grammar
School. There were a piano and a neat little
library in her room.
She was rather tall and well formed. Her
oblong ivory face, accentuated by a mass of
unruly hair of a lustreless black, was never
deserted by a faint glimmer of a smile, at
once pensive and arch. When she broke
into one of her hearty, good-natured laughs,
her deep, dark, appealing eyes would seem
filled with grief. Her nose, a trifle too
precipitous, gave an unexpected tone to the
extreme picturesqueness of the whole effect,
and, when she walked, partook of the dignity
of her gait.
A month or two before we make Flora's
acquaintance she had celebrated her twentieth
birthday, having been born in this little
private house on Mott Street, which was
her father's property.
A matchmaker had recently called, and he
had launched into a eulogy of a young Jewish
physician; but old Stroon had cut him
short, in his blunt way: his only child was
to marry a God-fearing business man, and no
fellow deep in Gentile lore and shaving his
beard need apply. As to Flora, she was burning
to be a doctor's wife. A rising young
merchant, a few years in the country, was
the staple matrimonial commodity in her set.
Most of her married girl friends, American-born
themselves, like Flora, had husbands
of this class—queer fellows, whose broken
English had kept their own sweethearts
chuckling. Flora hated the notion of marrying
as the other Mott or Bayard Street
girls did. She was accustomed to use her
surroundings for a background, throwing her
own personality into high relief. But apart
from this, she craved a more refined atmosphere
than her own, and the vague ideal
she had was an educated American gentleman,
like those who lived up-town.
Accordingly, when the word "doctor" had
left the matchmaker's lips, she seized upon
it as a great discovery. In those days—the
early eighties—a match of this kind was
an uncommon occurrence in the New York
Flora pictured a clean-shaven, high-hatted,
spectacled gentleman jumping out of a
buggy, and the image became a fixture in
her mind. "I won't marry anybody except
a doctor," she would declare, with conscious
avoidance of bad grammar, as it behooved a
But what was to be done with father's
opposition? Asriel Stroon had never been
the man to yield, and now that he grew more
devout every day, her case seemed hopeless.
But then Flora was her father's daughter,
and when she took a resolve she could not
imagine herself otherwise than carrying it
out, sooner or later.
Flora's thoughts were flowing in this direction
when her father's gruff voice made
itself heard from the dining-room below.
It was the anniversary of his father's death.
In former years he would have contented
himself with obit services, at the synagogue;
this time, however, he had passed the day in
fasting and chanting psalms at home, in addition
to lighting his own candle in front of
the cantor's desk and reciting Kaddish for
the departed soul, at the house of prayer.
It touched Flora's heart to think of him
fasting and praying all day, and, with her
book in her hand, she ran down to meet him.
"Just comin' from the synagogue, papa?"
she greeted him affectionately, in English.
"This settles your fast, don't it?"
"It is not so easy to settle with Him, my
daughter," he returned, in Yiddish, pointing
to the ceiling. "You can never be through
serving the Uppermost. Hurry up, Tamara!"
he added, in the direction of the adjoining
"You ain' goin' to say more Thilim to-night,
are you, pa?"
"Why, does it cost you too much?" he
snarled good humoredly.
"Yes it does—your health. I won't let
you sing again. You are weak and you got
"Hush! It is not potato-soup; you can
never have enough of it." He fell to tugging
nervously at his white beard, which
grew in a pair of tiny imperials. "Tamara!
It's time to break the fast, isn't it?"
"You can wash your hands. Supper is
ready," came the housekeeper's pleasant
He took off his brown derby, and covered
his steel-gray hair with a velvet skull-cap;
and as he carried his robust, middle-sized
body into the kitchen, to perform his ablutions,
his ruddy, gnarled face took on an air
When supper was over and Asriel and
Tamara were about to say grace, Flora resumed
the reading of her novel.
"Off with that lump of Gentile nastiness
while holy words are being said!" the old
Flora obeyed, in amazement. Only a few
months before she had seldom seen him intone
grace at all. She was getting used to
his new habits, but such rigor as he now
displayed was unintelligible to her, and she
thought it unbearable.
"You can read your book a little after.
The wisdom of it will not run away," chimed
in Tamara, with good-natured irony. She
was a poor widow of forty. Asriel had engaged
her for her piety and for the rabbinical
learning of her late husband, as much
as for her culinary fame in the Ghetto.
Asriel intoned grace in indistinct droning
accents. By degrees, however, as he warmed
up to the Hebrew prayer, whose words were
a conglomeration of incomprehensible sounds
to him, he fell to swaying to and fro, and
his voice broke into an exalted, heartrending
sing-song, Tamara accompanying him
in whispers, and dolefully nodding her bewigged
head all the while.
Flora was moved. The scene was novel to
her, and she looked on with the sympathetic
reverence of a Christian visiting a Jewish
synagogue on the Day of Atonement.
At last the fervent tones died away in a
solemn murmur. Silence fell over the cosy
little room. Asriel sat tugging at his scanty
beard as if in an effort to draw it into a
more venerable growth.
"Flora!" he presently growled. "I am
going to Europe."
When Asriel Stroon thought he spoke,
and when he spoke he acted.
"Goin' to Europe! Are you crazy, papa?
What are you talkin' about?"
"Just what you hear. After Passover I
am going to Europe. I must take a look
"But you ain't been there over thirty-five
years. You don't remember not'in' at all."
"I don't remember Pravly? Better than
Mott Street; better than my nose. I was
born there, my daughter," he added, as he
drew closer to her and began to stroke her
glossless black hair. This he did so seldom
that the girl felt her heart swelling in her
throat. She was yearning after him in advance.
Tamara stared in beaming amazement at
the grandeur of the enterprise. "Are you
really going?" she queried, with a touch of
"What will you do there?—It's so far
away!" Flora resumed, for want of a weightier
argument at hand.
"Never mind, my child; I won't have to
walk all the way."
"But the Russian police will arrest you
for stayin' away so long. Didn't you say
"The kernel of a hollow nut!" he replied,
extemporizing an equivalent of "Fiddlesticks!"
Flora was used to his metaphors,
although they were at times rather
vague, and set one wondering how they came
into his head at all. "The kernel of a hollow
nut! Show a treif gendarme a kosher
coin, and he will be shivering with
ague. Long live the American dollar!"
The opposite of treif.
Food not prepared according to the laws of
She gave him a prolonged, far-away look,
and said, peremptorily:—
"Mister, you ain' goin' nowheres."
"Tamara, hand me my Psalter, will you?"
the old man grumbled.
When the girl was gone, the housekeeper
"And Flora—will you take her along?"
"What for? That she might make fun
of our ways there, or that the pious people
should point their fingers at her and call
her Gentile girl, hey? She will stay with
you and collect rent. I did not have her in
Pravly, and I want to be there as I used to.
I feel like taking a peep at the graves of my
folks. It is pulling me by the heart, Tamara,"
he added, in a grave undertone, as he
fell to turning over the leaves of his Psalter.
When Asriel Stroon had retired from
business, he suddenly grew fearful of death.
Previously he had had no time for that.
What with his flour store, two bakeries, and
some real estate, he had been too busy to
live, much less to think of death. He had
never been seen at the synagogue on week-days;
and on the Sabbath, when, enveloped
in his praying-shawl, he occupied a seat at
the East Wall, he would pass the time
drowsing serenely and nodding unconscious
approval of the cantor's florid improvisations,
or struggling to keep flour out of his
mind, where it clung as pertinaciously as it
did to his long Sabbath coat.
The first sermon that failed to lull him
to sleep was delivered by a newly landed
preacher, just after Asriel had found it
more profitable to convert his entire property
into real estate. The newcomer dwelt,
among other things, upon the fate of the
wicked after death and upon their forfeited
share in the World to Come. As Asriel
listened to the fiery exhortation it suddenly
burst upon him that he was very old and
very wicked. "I am as full of sins as a
watermelon is of seeds," he said to himself,
on coming out of the synagogue. "You may
receive notice to move at any time, Asriel.
And where is your baggage? Got anything
to take along to the other world, as the
preacher said, hey?"
Alas! he had been so taken up with
earthly title deeds that he had given but
little thought to such deeds as would entitle
him to a "share in the World to Come;"
and while his valuable papers lay secure
between the fireproof walls of his iron safe,
his soul was left utterly exposed to the
flames of Sheol.
Then it was that he grew a pair of bushy
sidelocks, ceased trimming his twin goatees,
and, with his heart divided between yearning
after the business he had sold and worrying
over his sins, spent a considerable
part of his unlimited leisure reading psalms.
What a delight it was to wind off chapter
after chapter! And how smoothly it now
came off, in his father's (peace upon him!)
sing-song, of which he had not even thought
for more than thirty years, but which suddenly
came pouring out of his throat, together
with the first verse he chanted! Not
that Asriel Stroon could have told you the
meaning of what he was so zestfully intoning,
for in his boyhood he had scarcely gone
through the Pentateuch when he was set to
work by his father's side, at flax heckling.
But then the very sounds of the words and
the hereditary intonation, added to the consciousness
that it was psalms he was reciting,
"made every line melt like sugar in his
mouth," as he once described it to the devout
He grew more pious and exalted every
day, and by degrees fell prey to a feeling
to which he had been a stranger for more
than three decades.
Asriel Stroon grew homesick.
It was thirty-five years since he had left
his birthplace; thirty years or more since,
in the whirl of his American successes, he
had lost all interest in it. Yet now, in the
fifty-eighth year of his life, he suddenly
began to yearn and pine for it.
Was it the fervor of his religious awakening
which resoldered the long-broken link?
At all events, numerous as were the examples
of piety within the range of his American
acquaintance, his notion of genuine Judaism
was somehow inseparably associated
with Pravly. During all the years of his
life in New York he had retained a vague
but deep-rooted feeling that American piety
was as tasteless an article as American
cucumbers and American fish—the only
things in which his ecstasy over the adopted
country admitted its hopeless inferiority to
his native town.
On a serene afternoon in May, Asriel drove
up to Pravly in a peasant's wagon. He
sat listlessly gazing at the unbroken line of
wattle-fences and running an imaginary stick
along the endless zigzag of their tops. The
activity of his senses seemed suspended.
Presently a whiff of May aroma awakened
his eye to a many-colored waving expanse,
and his ear to the languorous whisper of
birds. He recognized the plushy clover
knobs in the vast array of placid magnificence,
and the dandelions and the golden
buttercups, although his poor mother-tongue
could not afford a special name for each
flower, and he now addressed them collectively
as tzatzkes—a word he had not used
for thirty-five years. He looked at the
tzatzkes, as they were swaying thoughtfully
hither and thither, and it somehow seemed
to him that it was not the birds but the
clover blossoms which did the chirping. The
whole scene appealed to his soul as a nodding,
murmuring congregation engrossed in
the solemnity of worship. He felt as though
there were no such flowers in America, and
that he had not seen any since he had left
his native place.
Echoes of many, many years ago called to
Asriel from amid the whispering host. His
soul burst into song. He felt like shutting
his eyes and trusting himself to the caressing
breath of the air, that it might waft him
whithersoever it chose. His senses were in
confusion: he beheld a sea of fragrance; he
inhaled heavenly music; he listened to a
symphony of hues.
"What a treat to breathe! What a paradise!"
he exclaimed in his heart. "The
cholera take it, how delicious! Do you
deserve it, old sinner you? Ten plagues
you do! But hush! the field is praying"—
With a wistful babyish look he became
absorbed in a gigantic well-sweep suspended
from the clear sky, and then in the landscape
it overhung. The woody mass darkling
in the distance was at once racing about
and standing still. Fleecy clouds crawled
over a hazy hill-top. And yonder—behold!
a long, broad streak of silver gleaming on
the horizon! Is it a lake? Asriel's eyes
are riveted and memories stir in his breast.
He recalls not the place itself, but he can
remember his reminiscences of it. During
his first years in America, at times when he
would surrender himself to the sweet pangs
of homesickness and dwell, among other
things, on the view that had seen him off to
the unknown land, his mind would conjure
up something like the effect now before his
eyes. As a dream does it come back to him
now. The very shadows of thirty-five years
ago are veiled.
Asriel gazes before him in deep reverence.
The sky is letting itself down with benign
solemnity, its measureless trough filled with
melody, the peasant's wagon creaking an
accompaniment to it all—to every speck of
color, as well as to every sound of the scene.
At one moment he felt as though he had
strayed into the other world; at another, he
was seized with doubt as to his own identity.
"Who are you?" he almost asked himself,
closing and reopening his hand experimentally.
"Who or what is that business which
you call life? Are you alive, Asriel?"
Whereupon he somehow remembered Flora's
photograph, and, taking it out of his bosom
pocket, fell to contemplating it.
The wagon turned into a side-road, and
the Polish peasant, leaning forward, cursed
and whipped the animal into a peevish trot.
Presently something gray hove in sight.
Far away, below, hazy blotches came creeping
from behind the sky. The wagon rolls
downhill. Asriel is in a flurry. He feels
like one on the eve of a great event, he
knows not exactly what.
The wagon dashes on. Asriel's heart is
all of a flutter. Suddenly—O Lord of the
Universe! Why, there glistens the brook—what
do you call it? 'Repka?'" he asks
"Repka!" the other replies, without facing
"Repka, a disease into her heart! Repka,
dear, may she live long! Who could beat
Asriel in swimming?" Over there, on the
other side, it was where Asriel's father once
chased him for bathing during Nine Days.
He bumped his head against the angle of a
rock, did the little scamp, and got up with a
deep, streaming gash in his lower lip. The
mark is still there, and Asriel delights to feel
it with his finger now. As he does so the
faces of some of his playmates rise before
him. Pshaw! he could whip every one of
them! Was he not a dare-devil of a loafer!
But how many of those fellow truants of his
will he find alive? he asks himself, and the
question wrings his heart.
Asriel strains his eyes at the far distance
till, behold! smoke is spinning upward
against the blue sky. He can make out the
chimney-pots. His soul overflows. Sobs
choke his breath. "Say!" he begins, addressing
himself to the driver. But "Say"
is English. "Sloukhai!" he shouts, with
delight in the Polish word. He utters the
names of the surrounding places, and the
dull peasant's nods of assent thrill him to
the core. He turns this way and that, and
in his paroxysm of impatience all but leaps
out of the wagon.
The rambling groups of houses define their
outlines. Asriel recognizes the Catholic
church. His heart bounds with joy. "Hush,
wicked thing! It's a church of Gentiles."
But the wicked thing surreptitiously resumes
its greeting. And over there, whitening at
some distance from the other dwellings—what
is it? "The nobleman's palace, as
sure as I am a Jew!" He had forgotten all
about it, as sure as he was a Jew! But what
is the nobleman's name? Is he alive?—And
there is the mill—the same mill!
"I'll swoon away!" he says to himself
Asriel regains some composure.
Half an hour later he made his entry into
his native town. Here he had expected his
agitation to pass the bounds of his physical
strength; but it did not. At this moment
he was solemnly serene.
The town had changed little, and he recognized
it at once. Every spot greeted him,
and his return of the salutation was a
speechless devotional pathos. He found
several things which had faded out of his
enshrined picture of the place, and the sight
of these moved his soul even more powerfully
than those he had looked forward to. Only
in one instance was he taken aback. Sure
enough, this is Synagogue Lane, as full of
puddles as ever; but what has come over
him? He well remembers that little alley in
the rear; and yet it runs quite the other
way. Length has turned into width.
And here is Leizer Poisner's inn. "But
how rickety it has become!" Asriel's heart
exclaims with a pang, as though at sight of
a friend prematurely aged and run to seed.
He can almost smell the stable occupying the
entire length of the little building, and he
remembers every room—Hello! The same
market place, the same church with the bailiff's
office by its side! The sparse row of
huts on the river-bank, the raft bridge, the
tannery,—everything was the same as he
had left it; and yet it all had an odd, mysterious,
far-away air—like things seen in a
cyclorama. It was Pravly and at the same
time it was not; or, rather, it certainly was
the same dear old Pravly, but added to it
was something else, through which it now
gazed at Asriel. Thirty-five years lay
wrapped about the town.
Still, Stroon feels like Asrielke Thirteen
Hairs, as his nickname had been here. Then
he relapses into the Mott Street landlord,
and for a moment he is an utter stranger
in his birthplace. Why, he could buy it all
up now! He could discount all the rich
men in town put together; and yet there
was a time when he was of the meanest hereabout.
An overpowering sense of triumph
surged into his breast. Hey, there! Where
are your bigbugs—Zorach Latozky, Reb
Lippe, Reb Nochum? Are they alive?
Thirty-five years ago Asrielke considered it
an honor to shake their palm branch on the
Feast of Tabernacles, while now—out with
your purses, you proud magnates, measure
fortunes with Asrielke the heckler, if you
dare! His heart swells with exultation.
And yet—the black year take it!—it
yearns and aches, does Asriel's heart. He
looks at Pravly, and his soul is pining for
Pravly—for the one of thirty-five years ago,
of which this is only a reflection,—for the
one in which he was known as a crackbrained
rowdy of a mechanic, a poor devil
living on oatmeal and herring.
With the townspeople of his time Asriel's
experience was somewhat different from
what he felt in the case of inanimate Pravly.
As he confronted them some faces lighted
up with their identity at once; and there
were even some younger people in whom he
instantly recognized the transcribed images
of their deceased parents. But many a countenance
was slow to catch the reflection of
the past which shone out of his eyes; and
in a few instances it was not until the name
was revealed to Asriel that the retrospective
likeness would begin to struggle through
the unfamiliar features before him.
"Shmulke!" he shrieked, the moment he
caught sight of an old crony, as though they
had been parted for no move than a month.
Shmulke is not the blooming, sprightly young
fellow of yore. He has a white beard and
looks somewhat decrepit. Asriel, however,
feels as if the beard were only glued to the
smooth face he had known. But how Asriel's
heart does shrink in his bosom! The
fever of activity in which he had passed
the thirty-five years had kept him deaf to
the departing footsteps of Time. Not until
recently had he realized that the words "old
man" applied to him; but even then the
fact never came home to him with such convincing,
with such terrible force, as it did
now that he stood face to face with Shmulke.
Shmulke was his mirror.
"Shmulke, Angel of Death, an inflammation
into your bones!" he shouted, as he
suddenly remembered his playmate's by-name
and fell on his shoulder.
Shmulke feels awkward. He is ashamed
of the long-forgotten nickname, and is struggling
to free himself from the unwelcome
embrace; but Asriel is much the stronger
of the two, and he continues to squeeze him
and pat him, grunting and puffing for emotion
as he does so.
Aunt Sarah-Rachel, whom Asriel had left
an elderly but exceedingly active and clever
tradeswoman, he found a bag of bones and
in her dotage.
"Don't you know me, auntie?" he implored
her. She made no reply, and went
on munching her lips. "Can it be that you
don't know Asrielke, who used to steal raisins
from your grocery?"
"She does not understand anything!"
Asriel whispered, in consternation.
Asriel's first Sabbath in the native place
he was revisiting was destined to be a
memorable day in the annals of that peaceful
At the synagogue, during the morning
service, he was not the only object of interest.
So far as the furtive glances that
came through the peepholes of the women's
compartment were concerned, a much
younger guest, from a hamlet near by, had
even greater magnetism than he. Reb Lippe,
for forty years the "finest householder"
of the community, expected to marry his
youngest daughter to an Illoui (a prodigy
of Talmudic lore), and he now came to
flaunt him, and the five-thousand rouble
dowry he represented, before the congregation.
Only nineteen and a poor orphan, the
fame of the prospective bridegroom, as a
marvel of acumen and memory, reached far
and wide. Few of the subtlest rabbinical
minds in the district were accounted his
match in debate, and he was said to have
some two thousand Talmudical folios literally
at his finger's ends. This means that
if you had placed the tip of your finger on
some word of a volume, he could have told
you the word which came under your pressure
on any other page you might name. As we
shall have to cultivate the young man's acquaintance,
let it be added that he was quite
boyish of figure, and that had it not been
for an excess of smiling frankness, his pale,
blue-eyed face would have formed the nearest
Semitic approach to the current portraits
of Lord Byron. His admirers deplored
his lack of staidness. While visiting
at Pravly, in a manner, as the guest of the
town, he was detected giving snuff to a pig,
and then participating with much younger
boys in a race over the bridge.
His betrothment to Reb Lippe's daughter
was still the subject of negotiation, and
there were said to be serious obstacles in
the way. The prodigy's relatives were
pleased with Reb Lippe's pedigree and social
rank, but thought that the boy could
marry into a wealthier family and get a
prettier girl into the bargain. Nevertheless
Reb Lippe's manner at the synagogue
was as though the engagement were an accomplished
fact, and he kept the young man
by his side, his own seat being next the rabbi's,
which was by the Holy Ark.
Asriel, as a newcomer, and out of respect
for his fabulous wealth, was also accorded a
seat of honor on the other side of the Ark.
Before he had expatriated himself his place
used to be near the door—a circumstance
which was fresh in the mind of Reb Lippe,
who chafed to see him divert attention from
the prodigy and his purchaser. Now Reb
Lippe was a proud old gentleman, too jealous
of the memory of his rabbinical ancestry
and of his own time-honored dignity to give
way to a mere boor of a heckler, no matter
how much American gold he had to atone
for his antecedents. Accordingly, when his
fellow trustee suggested that the American
ought to be summoned to the reading of the
Third Section in the week's portion of the
Pentateuch,—the highest honor connected
with the reading of the Law, and one for
which the visiting nabob was sure to pay
a liberal donation,—the venerable countenance
"Let the sections be auctioned off!" he
The proceeding was seldom practiced on
an ordinary Sabbath; but Reb Lippe's will
was law, as peremptory and irresistible as
the Law of Moses, with which it was now
concerned. And so the worshipers presently
found themselves converted into so
many eye-witnesses of a battle of purses.
"Five gildens for the Third!" called out
the weazen-faced little sexton from the
reading-platform, in the traditional sing-song
that became his draggling black beard
so well. As a bona-fide business transaction
is not allowed on the holy day, even though
the house of God be the sole gainer by it,
the sexton's figures were fictitious—in so
far, at least, as they were understood to
represent double the actual amount to be
paid to the synagogue by the purchaser of
the good deed.
"Six gildens for the Third!" he went on
in interpretation of a frowning nod from
A contemptuous toss of Asriel's head
threw another gilden on top of the sum.
Two other members signaled to the auctioneer,
and, warming up to his task, he
sang out with gusto, "Eight gildens for the
Then came in rapid succession: "Nine
gildens for the Third! Ten gildens for the
Third! Eleven gildens, twelve, thirteen,
fourteen gildens for the Third!"
The other bidders, one by one, dropped
out of the race, and when the sum reached
sixty gildens the field was left to Reb Lippe
The congregation was spellbound. Some
with gaping mouths, others with absorbed
simpers on their faces, but all with sportsman-like
fire in their eyes, the worshipers
craned their necks in the direction of the
two contestants alternately.
The prodigy had edged away from his
seat to a coign of vantage. He was repeatedly
called back by winks from his uncle,
but was too deeply interested in the progress
of the auction to heed them.
"Seventy gildens for the Third! Seventy-one,
seventy-two, three, four, five, seventy-six,
seventy-seven, eight, nine, eighty gildens
for the Third!"
The skirmish waxed so hot, shots flew so
thick and so fast, that the perspiring sexton,
and with him some of the spectators, was
swiveling his head from right to left and
from left to right with the swift regularity
of gymnastic exercise.
It must be owned that so far as mute
partisanship was concerned, Asriel had the
advantage of his adversary, for even some
of Reb Lippe's stanchest friends and admirers
had a lurking relish for seeing it
brought home to their leading citizen that
there were wealthier people than he in the
The women, too, shared in the excitement
of the morning. Their windows were glistening
with eyes, and the reports of their
lucky occupants to the anxious knots in the
rear evoked hubbubs of conflicting interjections
which came near involving the matronly
assemblage in civil war.
The Third Section brought some twenty-eight
rubles, net. Asriel was certain that
the last bid had been made by him, and that
the honor and the good deed were accordingly
his. When it came to the reading,
however, and the Third Section was reached,
the reader called out Reb Lippe's name.
Asriel was stupefied.
"Hold on! That won't do!" he thundered,
suddenly feeling himself an American
citizen. "I have bought it and I mean to
have it." His face was fire; his eyes looked
A wave of deprecation swept over the
room. Dozens of reading-desks were slapped
for order. Reb Lippe strode up to the platform,
pompous, devout, resplendent in the
gold lace of his praying-shawl and the flowing
silver of his beard, as though the outburst
of indignation against Asriel were
only an ovation to himself. He had the
cunning of a fox, the vanity of a peacock,
and the sentimentality of a woman during
the Ten Days of Penance. There were
many skeptics as to the fairness of the transaction,
but these were too deeply impressed
by the grandeur of his triumphal march to
whisper an opinion. The prodigy alone
spoke his mind.
"Why, I do think the other man was the
last to nod—may I be ill if he was not,"
the enfant terrible said quite audibly, and
was hushed by his uncle.
"Is he really going to get it?" Asriel
resumed, drowning all opposition with his
voice. "Milk a billy-goat! You can't play
that trick on me! Mine was the last bid.
Twenty-eight scurvy rubles! Pshaw! I
am willing to pay a hundred, two hundred,
five hundred. I can buy up all Pravly, Reb
Lippe, his gold lace and all, and sell him
at a loss, too!" He made a dash at the
reading-platform, as if to take the Third
Section by force, but the bedlam which his
sally called forth checked him.
"Is this a market-place?" cried the
second trustee, with conscious indignation.
"Shut the mouth of that boor!" screamed
a member, in sincere disgust.
"Put him out!" yelled another, with
relish in the scene.
"If he can't behave in a holy place let
him go back to his America!" exclaimed a
third, merely to be in the running. But his
words had the best effect: they reminded
Asriel that he was a stranger and that the
noise might attract the police.
At the same moment he saw the peaked
face of the aged rabbi by his side. Taking
him by the arm, the old man begged him
not to disturb the Sabbath.
Whether the mistake was on Asriel's side
or on the sexton's, or whether there was any
foul play in the matter, is not known; but
Asriel relented and settled down at his desk
to follow the remainder of the reading in
his Pentateuch, although the storm of revenge
which was raging in his breast soon
carried off his attention, and he lost track.
The easy success of his first exhortation
brought the rabbi to Asriel's side once
"I knew your father,—peace upon him!
He was a righteous Jew," he addressed him
in a voice trembling and funereal with old
age. "Obey me, my son, ascend the platform,
and offer the congregation a public
apology. The Holy One—blessed be He—will
The rabbi's appeal moved Asriel to tears,
and tingling with devout humility he was
presently on the platform, speaking in his
blunt, gruff way.
"Do not take it hard, my rabbis! I
meant no offense to any one, though there
was a trick—as big as a fat bull. Still, I
donate two hundred rubles, and let the
cantor recite 'God full of Mercy' for the
souls of my father and mother,—peace upon
It was quite a novel way of announcing
one's contribution, and the manner of his
apology, too, had at once an amusing and a
scandalizing effect upon the worshipers,
but the sum took their breath away and
silenced all hostile sentiment.
The reading over, and the scrolls restored,
amid a tumultuous acclaim, to the
Holy Ark, the cantor resumed his place at
the Omud, chanting a hurried Half-Kaddish.
"And say ye Amen!" he concluded
abruptly, as if startled, together with his
listeners, into sudden silence.
Nodding or shaking their heads, or swaying
their forms to and fro, some, perhaps
mechanically, others with composed reverence,
still others in a convulsion of religious
fervor, the two or three hundred men were
joined in whispering chorus, offering the
solemn prayer of Mussaff. Here and there
a sigh made itself heard amid the monotony
of speechless, gesticulating ardor; a pair of
fingers snapped in an outburst of ecstasy, a
sob broke from some corner, or a lugubrious
murmur from the women's room. The prodigy,
his eyes shut, and his countenance
stern with unfeigned rapture, was violently
working his lips as if to make up for the
sounds of the words which they dared not
utter. Asriel was shaking and tossing about.
His face was distorted with the piteous,
reproachful mien of a neglected child about
to burst into tears, his twin imperials dancing
plaintively to his whispered intonations. He
knew not what his lips said, but he did
know that his soul was pouring itself forth
before Heaven, and that his heart might
break unless he gave way to his restrained
At last the silent devotions were at an
end. One after another the worshipers
retreated, each three paces from his post.
Only three men were still absorbed in the
sanctity of the great prayer: the rabbi, for
whom the cantor was respectfully waiting
with the next chant, Reb Lippe, who would
not "retreat" sooner than the rabbi, and
Asriel, who, in his frenzy of zeal, was repeating
the same benediction for the fifth
When Asriel issued forth from the synagogue
he found Pravly completely changed.
It was as if, while he was praying and battling,
the little town had undergone a trivializing
process. All the poetry of thirty-five
years' separation had fled from it, leaving a
heap of beggarly squalor. He felt as though
he had never been away from the place, and
were tired to death of it, and at the same
time his heart was contracted with homesickness
for America. The only interest the
town now had for him was that of a medium
to be filled with the rays of his financial
triumph. "I'll show them who they are
and who Asriel is," he comforted himself.
The afternoon service was preceded by
a sermon. The "town preacher" took his
text, as usual, from the passage in the "Five
Books" which had been read in the morning.
But he contrived to make it the basis
of an allusion to the all-absorbing topic of
gossip. Citing the Talmud and the commentaries
with ostentatious profuseness, he
laid particular stress on the good deed of
procuring a scholar of sacred lore for one's
"It is a well-known saying in tractate
Psohim," he said, "that 'one should be ready
to sell his all in order to marry his daughter
to a scholar.' On the other hand, 'to give
your daughter in marriage to a boor is like
giving her to a lion.' Again, in tractate
Berochath we learn that 'to give shelter to
a scholar bent upon sacred studies, and to
sustain him from your estates, is like offering
sacrifices to God;' and 'to give wine
to such a student is,' according to a passage
in tractate Sota, 'tantamount to pouring it
out on an altar.'"
Glances converged on Reb Lippe and the
prodigy by his side.
Proceeding with his argument, the learned
preacher, by an ingenious chain of quotations
and arithmetical operations upon the
numerical value of letters, arrived at the
inference that compliance with the above
teachings was one of the necessary conditions
of securing a place in the Garden of
All of which filled Asriel's heart with a
new dread of the world to come and with a
rankling grudge against Reb Lippe. He
came away from the synagogue utterly
crushed, and when he reached his inn the
prodigy was the prevailing subject of his
chat with the landlord.
In the evening of the same day, at the
conclusion of the Sabbath, the auction of
another good deed took place, and once more
the purses of Reb Lippe and Asriel clashed
in desperate combat.
This time the good deed assumed the form
of a prodigy of Talmudic learning in the
character of a prospective son-in-law.
The room (at the residence of one of the
young man's uncles) was full of bearded
Jews, tobacco smoke, and noise. There were
Shaya, the prodigy himself, his two uncles,
Reb Lippe, his eldest son, and two of his
lieutenants, Asriel, his landlord, and a matchmaker.
A live broad-shouldered samovar,
its air-holes like so many glowing eyes, stood
in the centre of the table. Near it lay Flora's
photograph, representing her in all the
splendor of Grand Street millinery.
The youthful hero of the day eyed the
portrait with undisguised, open-mouthed curiosity,
till, looked out of countenance by the
young lady's doleful, penetrating eyes, he
turned from it, but went on viewing it with
His own formula of a bride was a hatless
image. The notion, therefore, of this princess
becoming his wife both awed him and
staggered his sense of decorum. Then the
smiling melancholy of the Semitic face upset
his image of himself in his mind and set it
afloat in a haze of phantasy. "I say you
need not look at me like that," he seemed to
say to the picture. "Pshaw! you are a Jewish
girl after all, and I am not afraid of you a
bit. But what makes you so sad? Can I
do anything for you? Why don't you answer?
Do take off that hat, will you?"
Reb Lippe's daughter did not wear a hat,
but she was not to his liking, and he now
became aware of it. On the other hand, the
word "America" had a fascinating ring,
and the picture it conjured was a blend of
Talmudic and modern glory.
Reb Lippe's venerable beard was rippled
with a nervous smile.
"Yes, I am only a boor!" roared Asriel,
with a touch of Bounderby ostentation.
"But you know it is not myself I want the
boy to marry. Twenty thousand rubles,
spot cash, then, and when the old boor takes
himself off, Shaya will inherit ten times as
much. She is my only child, and when I
die—may I be choked if I take any of my
houses into the grave. Worms don't eat
houses, you know."
The quality of his unhackneyed phrase
vexed the sedate old talmudists, and one of
them remarked, as he pointed a sarcastic
finger at the photograph:—
"Your girl looks like the daughter of some
titled Gentile. Shaya is a Jewish boy."
"You don't like my girl, don't you?"
Asriel darted back. "And why, pray? Is
it because she is not a lump of ugliness and
wears a hat? The grand rabbi of Wilna is
as pious as any of you, isn't he? Well,
when I was there, on my way here, I saw his
daughter, and she also wore a hat and was
also pretty. Twenty thousand rubles!"
By this time the prodigy was so absorbed
in the proceedings that he forgot the American
photograph, as well as the bearing which
the auction in progress had upon himself.
Leaning over the table as far as the samovar
would allow, and propping up his face with
both arms, he watched the scene with thrilling
but absolutely disinterested relish.
After a great deal of whispering and suppressed
excitement in the camp of Asriel's
foe, Reb Lippe's son announced:—
"Ten thousand rubles and five years'
board." This, added to Reb Lippe's advantages
over his opponent by virtue of his
birth, social station, and learning, as well as
of his residing in Russia, was supposed to
exceed the figure named by Asriel. In point
of fact, everybody in the room knew that the
old talmudist's bid was much beyond his
depth; but the assemblage had no time to
be surprised by his sum, for no sooner had
it been uttered than Asriel yelled out, with
"Thirty thousand rubles, and life-long
board, and lodging, and bath money, and
stocking darning, and cigarettes, and matches,
and mustard, and soap—and what else?"
The prodigy burst into a chuckle, and was
forthwith pulled down to his chair. He took
a liking to the rough-and-ready straightforwardness
of the American.
There was a pause. Shaya and his uncles
were obviously leaning toward the "boor."
Asriel was clearly the master of the situation.
At last Reb Lippe and his suite rose from
"You can keep the bargain!" he said to
Asriel, with a sardonic smile.
"And be choked with it!" added his son.
"What is your hurry, Reb Lippe?" said
one of the uncles, rushing to the old man's
side with obsequious solicitude. "Why, the
thing is not settled yet. We don't know
"You don't, but I do. I won't take that
boy if he brings twenty thousand roubles to
his marriage portion. Good-night!"
"Good-night and good-year!" Asriel returned.
"Why does the cat hate the cream?
Because it is locked up."
An hour afterward the remainder of the
gathering were touching glasses and interchanging
mazol-tovs (congratulations) upon
the engagement of Flora Stroon to Shaya
"And now receive my mazol-tov!" said
Asriel, pouncing upon the prodigy and nearly
crushing him in his mighty embrace. "Mazol-tov
to you, Flora's bridegroom! Mazol-tov
to you, Flora's predestinated one! My
child's dear little bridegroom!" he went on,
hiding his face on the young man's shoulder.
"I am only a boor, but you shall be my son-in-law.
I'll dine you and wine you, as the
preacher commanded, pearls will I strew on
your righteous path, a crown will I place on
your head—I am only a boor!"
Sobs rang in the old man's voice. The
bystanders looked on in smiling, pathetic
"A boor, but an honest man," some one
whispered to the uncles.
"A heart of gold!" put in the innkeeper.
"And what will Flora say?" something
whispered to Asriel, from a corner of his
overflowing heart. "Do you mean to tell
me that the American young lady will marry
this old-fashioned, pious fellow?" "Hold
your tongue, fool you!" Asriel snarled
inwardly. "She will have to marry him,
and that settles it, and don't you disturb my
joy. It's for her good as well as for mine."
With a sudden movement he disengaged
his arms, and, taking off his enormous gold
watch and chain, he put it on Shaya, saying:—
"Wear it in good health, my child. This
is your first present from your sweetheart.
But wait till we come to America!"
The next morning Asriel visited the cemetery,
and was overawed by its size. While
living Pravly had increased by scarcely a
dozen houses, the number of dwellings in
silent Pravly had nearly doubled.
The headstones, mostly of humble size
and weatherworn, were a solemn minority in
a forest of plain wooden monuments, from
which hung, for identification, all sorts of
unceremonious tokens, such as old tin cans,
bottomless pots, cast-off hats, shoes, and
what not. But all this, far from marring
the impressiveness of the place, accentuated
and heightened the inarticulate tragedy of
its aspect. The discarded utensils or wearing
apparel seemed to be brooding upon the
days of their own prime, when they had
participated in the activities of the living
town yonder. They had an effect of mysterious
muteness, as of erstwhile animated
beings,—comrades of the inmates of the
overgrown little mounds underneath, come
to join them in the eternal rest of the city
"Father! Father!" Asriel began, in a
loud synagogue intonation, as he prostrated
himself upon an old grave, immediately after
the cantor had concluded his prayer and
withdrawn from his side. "It is I, Asriel,
your son—do you remember? I have come
all the way from America to ask you to
pray for me and my child. She is a good
girl, father, and I am trying to lead her on
the path of righteousness. She is about to
marry the greatest scholar of God's Law
hereabouts. Do pray that the boy may find
favor in her eyes, father! You know, father
dear, that I am only a boor, and woe is me!
I am stuffed full of sins. But now I am
trying to make up and to be a good Jew.
Will you pray the Uppermost to accept my
penance?" he besought, with growing pathos
in his voice. "You are near Him, father,
so do take pity upon your son and see to it
that his sins are forgiven. Will you pray
for me? Will you? But, anyhow, I care
more for Flora—Bloome, her Yiddish name
is. What am I? A rusty lump of nothing.
But Flora—she is a flower. Do stand
forth before the High Tribunal and pray
that no ill wind blow her away from me,
that no evil eye injure my treasure. She
lost her mother when she was a baby, poor
child, and she is the only consolation I have
in the world. But you are her grandfather—do
pray for her!"
Asriel's face shone, his heavy voice rang
in a dismal, rapturous, devotional sing-song.
His eyes were dry, but his soul was full of
tears and poetry, and he poured it forth in
passionate, heart-breaking cadences.
"What is the difference between this
grass blade and myself?" he asked, a little
after. "Why should you give yourself airs,
Asriel? Don't kick, be good, be pious, carry
God in your heart, and make no fuss! Be
as quiet as this grass, for hark! the hearse
is coming after you, the contribution boxes
are jingling, the Angel of Death stands
ready with his knife—Oh, do pray for
your son, father!" he shrieked, in terror.
He paused. A bee, droning near by,
seemed to be praying like himself, and its
company stirred Asriel's heart.
"Oh, father! I have not seen you for
thirty-five years. Thirty-five years!" he
repeated in deliberate tones and listening to
his own voice.
"We are the thirty-five!" some distant
tombstones responded, and Asriel could not
help pausing to look about, and then he
again repeated, "Thirty-five years! Can I
never see you again, father? Can't I see
your dear face and talk to you, as of old,
and throw myself into fire or water for you?
Can't I? Can't I? Do you remember how
you used to keep me on your knees or say
prayers with me at the synagogue, and box
my ears so that the black year took me when
you caught me skipping in the prayer-book?
Has it all flown away? Has it really?"
He paused as though for an answer, and
then resumed, with a bitter, malicious laugh
at his own expense: "Your father is silent,
Asriel! Not a word, even if you tear yourself
to pieces. All is gone, Asrielke! All,
all, all is lost forever!"
His harsh voice collapsed. His speech
died away in a convulsion of subdued sobbing.
His soul went on beseeching his
father to admit him to the restful sanctity
of his company.
When Asriel rose to his feet and his eye
fell upon a tombstone precisely like his
father's, he frowned upon it, with a sense of
jealousy. On his way to his mother's grave,
in the older part of the cemetery, he ever
and anon turned to look back. His father's
tombstone was rapidly becoming merged in
a forest of other monuments. His dead
father, his poor father, was losing his individuality,
till he was a mere speck in this
piebald medley of mounds, stones, boards,
and all sorts of waste. Asriel felt deeply
hurt. He retraced his steps till his father's
resting-place once more became the centre
of the world.
Then he went to pay his respects and tears
to the graves of his mother, sisters, brothers,
uncles. At last, completely exhausted, he
took to walking among the other headstones.
As he stopped to make out their Hebrew
inscriptions, he would now hang his head, in
heart-wringing reminiscence, now heave a
sigh, or clap his hands, in grievous surprise.
The tombstones and tomb-boards were
bathed in the reddish gold of the late afternoon
sun. Asriel had not yet broken his
fast, but although shattered in body and
spirit he felt no hunger and was reluctant to
leave the graveyard. He found here more
of his contemporaries that he well remembered,
more of the Pravly of his time, than in
the town a verst or two away. The place
asserted a stronger claim upon him and held
him by the force of its unearthly fascination.
When he reached town at last, he felt
new-born. Pravly was again dear to his
heart, although Flora and America drew
him to them with more magnetism than
ever. He strove to speak in soft accents,
and went about the houses of his relatives
and the poor of the town, distributing various
sums and begging the recipients of his
gifts "to have pity and not to thank him,"
lest it should detract from the value of his
Then he went to make peace with Reb
"You are going to stay here, so you can
get another prodigy," he pleaded humbly.
"But one cannot get such goods in America.
Besides, you can read Talmud yourself,
while I am only a boor, and what have I
done to make sure of my share in the world
to come? Here are three hundred rubles
for charity. Do forgive me, Reb Lippe, will
you? What will you lose by it?"
There were others in the room, and the
unique pathos of the plea touched and
amused them at once. Reb Lippe was
moved to the point of tears. Moreover, the
present situation took the venom out of his
"I forgive you with all my heart," he
said impulsively, patting "the boor" as he
would a child. "Be seated. May the Uppermost
bring you home in peace and bless
the union. There is another young man
who is worthy of my daughter; and Shaya—may
the Holy One—blessed be He—grant
him the will and the power to spread
His Law in America. The Jews there want
a young man like him, and I am glad he is
going with you. You are taking a precious
stone with you, Reb Asriel. Hold it dear."
"You bet I will," Asriel replied gleefully.
The nearer Asriel, with the prodigy in
tow, came to New York, the deeper did
Pravly sink into the golden mist of romance,
and the more real did the great American
city grow in his mind. Every mile added
detail to the picture, and every new bit of
detail made it dearer to his heart.
He was going home. He felt it more
keenly, more thrillingly every day, every
hour, every minute.
Sandy Hook hove in sight.
Can there be anything more beautiful,
more sublime, and more uplifting than the
view, on a clear summer morning, of New
York harbor from an approaching ship?
Shaya saw in the enchanting effect of sea,
verdure, and sky a new version of his visions
of paradise, where, ensconced behind luxuriant
foliage, the righteous—venerable old
men with silvery beards—were nodding
and swaying over gold-bound tomes of the
Talmud. Yet, overborne with its looming
grandeur, his heart grew heavy with suspense,
and he clung close to Asriel.
All was bustle and expectation on board.
The little deck engines never ceased rumbling
and the passengers, spruced up as if
for church, were busy about their baggage,
or promenading with a festive, nervous air.
Asriel twitched and bit his lip in rapture.
"Oh, how blue the water is!" said Shaya
"America is a fine country, is it not?"
the old man rejoined. "But it can't hold
a candle to Flora. Wait till you see her.
You just try to be a good boy," he kept murmuring;
"stick to your Talmud, and don't
give a peper for anything else, and all God
has given me shall be yours. I have no son
to say Kaddish for my soul when I am
dead. Will you be my Kaddish, Shaya?
Will you observe the anniversary of my
death?" he queried, in a beseeching tone
which the young man had never heard from
"Of course I will," Shaya returned, like
a dutiful child.
"Will you? May you live long for it.
In palaces will I house you, like the eye in
my head will I cherish you. I am only a
boor, but she is my daughter, my only child,
and my whole life in this world."
Asriel kept Flora unadvised as to the
name of the steamer or the date of his arrival.
Upon landing he did not go directly
to his residence, but first took his importation
into a large "clothing and gents' furnishing
store" on Broadway, from which
the illoui emerged completely transformed.
Instead of his uncouth cap and the draggling
coat which had hidden his top-boots
from view, he was now arrayed in the costliest
"Prince Albert," the finest summer
derby, and the most elegant button-shoes
the store contained. This and a starched
shirt-front, a turned-down collar, and a
gaudy puff-tie set into higher relief the
Byronic effect of his intellectual, winsome
Asriel snapped his fingers for delight.
He thought him easily the handsomest and
best-dressed man on Broadway. "It is the
Divine Presence shining upon him!" he
murmured to himself, dragging the young
man by the hand, as if he were a truant
schoolboy. Barring the prodigy's sidelocks
(badges of divine learning and piety), which
were tightly curled into two little cushions
in front of his ears, he now thought him
The prodigy, however, felt tied and fettered
in the garb of Gentile civilization, and
as he trudged along by his convoy's side, he
viewed his transformed self in the store
windows, or stared, rabbit-like, at the lumbering
stage-coaches and the hurrying noblemen.
Asriel let himself and his charge in noiselessly
with the latchkey, which had accompanied
him, together with a bunch of other
keys, on his tour. They entered the hallway
The little house rang with the voluminous
tones of Flora's piano, through which
trickled the doleful tremolo of her subdued
contralto. Since her father had left her
pining for his return, "Home, Sweet Home"
had become her favorite tune.
Flora was alone in the house, and her
unconscious welcome was all the sweeter to
Asriel's soul for the grieving note which
ran through it. His heart throbbed with
violence. Shaya's sank in awe. He had
never heard a piano except through the
window of some nobleman's house.
"Hush! Do you hear?" the old man whispered.
"That's your predestined bride."
With that he led the way downstairs.
There they paused to kiss the divine name
on the Mezuzah of the door-post.
"Tamara!" Asriel called, under his
breath, looking for the pious housekeeper in
the dining-room and in the kitchen. "She
is not in. Must be out marketing or about
her good deeds. A dear soul she! Oh, it's
her fast day; she fasts Mondays and Thursdays."
Then he stepped up in front of a tin box
that was nailed to one of the kitchen doors
and took out his pocket-book. It was one
of the contribution-boxes of the "Meyer-the-Wonder-worker
Fund," which is devoted
to the support of pious old European Jews
who go to end their days in the Land of
Israel. Every orthodox Jew in the world
keeps a similar box in his house and drops
a coin into it whenever he escapes some
danger. Asriel had safely crossed the wide
ocean, and his offering was a handful of
"Well, you stay here, Shaya, and don't
budge till you are called," he said; and
leaving the young man to his perplexity
he betook himself upstairs, to surprise his
Flora burst into tears of joy, and hugged
him again and again, while he stroked her
black hair or stood scowling and grinning
"Ah, you dear, cranky papa!" she burst
out, for the fourth time realizing that he
was actually come back to her, and for the
fourth time attacking him.
At last he thought they had had enough.
He was dying to protract the scene, but
there was that troublesome job to get rid of,
and Asriel was not the man to put such
things off. Whenever he felt somewhat
timid he would grow facetious. This was
the case at the present juncture.
"Well, Flora, guess what sort of present
your papa has brought you," he said, reddening
to his ears. "I'll bet you you won't
hit if you keep on guessing till to-morrow.
No girl has ever got such a present as long
as America is America."
Flora's eyes danced with joyous anticipation.
Her mind was ablaze with diamonds,
rubies, emeralds, sapphires, pearls.
"I have got a bridegroom for you—a
fifteen-thousand-dollar one. Handsomest and
smartest fellow on earth. He is an illoui."
"A what?" she asked, in amazement.
"Oh, a wonderful chap, you know, deep
in the Talmud and the other holy books.
He could knock all the rabbis of Europe to
smithereens. The biggest bug in Pravly
was after him, but I beat him clean out of
his boots. Shaya! Come right up!"
The girl gazed at her father in bewilderment.
Was he joking or was he in dead,
Shaya made his appearance, with his eyes
on the floor, and wringing the index finger
of his right hand, as he was wont to do
whenever he felt ill at ease, which was seldom,
Flora's brain was in a whirl.
"This is your predestined bridegroom,
my daughter. A fine present, is it not?
Did you ever expect such a raisin of a
sweetheart, hey? Well, children, I must
go around to see about the baggage. Have
a chat and be acquainted." With that
he advanced to the door.
"Papa! Papa!" Flora frantically called
to him. But he never turned his head and
went his way.
In her despair she rushed at the young
stranger, who was still wringing his finger, as
he stood in the middle of the parlor, eyeing
the carpet, and snapped out:—
"Mister, you had better go. If you think
you are going to be my bridegroom, you are
She spoke in Yiddish, but her pronunciation,
particularly of the letter "r," was so
decidedly American that to Shaya it sounded
at once like his native tongue and the language
of Gentiles. However, it was Yiddish
enough, and the fact of this imposing young
lady speaking it gave him the feeling of
being in the presence of a Jewish princess
of biblical times.
"Where shall I go? I don't know anybody
here." He said it with an air of
naïve desperation which touched the girl's
heart. "Where is my fault?" he added
She gave him a close look, and, taking
him by his clean-cut beardless chin, opened
her eyes wide at him, and broke into a hearty
"My father has really brought you over
to marry me?" she questioned, for the first
time awakening to the humorous side of the
situation, and again she burst out laughing.
Shaya blushed and took hold of his finger,
but he forthwith released it and also broke
into a giggle. Her merriment set him at his
ease, and her labored Yiddish struck him as
the prattle of a child.
Flora was amused and charmed as with a
baby. Shaya felt as if he were playing with
Of all the immigrants who had married
or were engaged to marry some of her girl
friends, none had, just after landing, been so
presentable, so sweet-faced, and so droll as
this scholarly-looking fellow. There would
have been nothing odd in her marrying him
a year or two later, after he had picked up
some broken English and some of the customs
of the country. But then her mind
was firmly made up, and she had boasted to
her friends that she was bound to marry a
doctor, and here this boy was not even going
to be a business man, but an orthodox rabbi
or something of the sort. The word "rabbi"
was associated in her mind with the image
of an unkempt, long-skirted man who knew
nothing of the world, took snuff, and made
life a nuisance to himself and to others. Is
she going to be a rabbitzen (a rabbi's wife)?
No! No! No! Come what may, none but
a refined American gentleman shall lead her
under the nuptial canopy! And in her rage
she fled from the parlor and went to nurse
her misery on the dining-room lounge.
Presently, as she lay with her hands
clasped under her head, abandoned to her
despair and fury, and yet unable to realize
that it was all in real earnest, a fretting sensation
settled somewhere in her heart. At
first it was only like a grain of sand, but it
kept growing till it lay a heavy, unbearable
lump. She could not stand the idea of that
poor, funny dear being left alone and scared
out of his wits. Still, she would not stir.
Let papa take him away or she will leave
the house and go to work in a factory.
"Tamara!" she suddenly raised herself to
say, the moment the housekeeper came into
the room. "There is a man upstairs. He
must be hungry."
"Then why don't you give him something
to eat?" Tamara responded tartly. "You
know it is Monday and I am faint. But
who is he and what is he doing upstairs?
Let him come down."
"Go and see him for yourself," snapped
Flora. "You will find him one of your set—a
Talmudical scholar, a pious soul," she
added, with a venomous laugh.
Tamara bent upon her a look full of resentment
as well as of devout reproach, and
betook herself upstairs.
When Asriel came he explained that
Shaya was not going to be a rabbi, nor
dress otherwise than as an American gentleman,
but that he would lead a life of piety
and spend his time studying the Talmud,
partly at home and partly at some synagogue.
"What, then, have I worked all my life for?"
he pleaded. "I am only a boor, my daughter,
and how long does a fellow live? Don't
darken my days, Flora."
Tamara kept nodding pious assent. "In
the old country a girl like you would be glad
to marry such a child of the Law," she expostulated
with the girl. "It is only here
that we are sinners and girls marry none but
worldly men. May every daughter of Israel
be blessed with such a match."
"Mind your own business!" Flora exploded.
She understood her father's explanation
but vaguely, and it had the opposite
of the desired effect upon her.
"Leave her alone. The storm will blow
over," Asriel whispered.
When Asriel's baggage arrived it proved
to include a huge box full of Hebrew books.
They were of various sizes, but twenty-five
of them were large, uniform, leather-bound
folio volumes, portly and resplendent in a
superabundance of gilding and varnish. Of
these, twenty contained the whole of the
Babylonian Talmud together with the various
commentaries, the remaining five comprising
the Alphos. After a little a walnut
bookcase made its appearance. It was accorded
a place of honor in the front parlor,
and Asriel, Tamara, and Shaya busied themselves
with arranging the sacred books on
Flora sat eyeing them sarcastically, till,
sobs rising to her throat, she retired to the
seclusion of her bedroom, on the top floor,
and burst out crying as if her heart would
break. The contents of all those books,
which her father had imported as accessories
of her would-be bridegroom, were Chinese
to her. She had never seen so many
of them nor given a moment's attention to
the occasional talks which she had chanced
to overhear concerning such books and the
men who spent their lives reading them.
They now frightened her, as if they were
filled with weird incantations and Shaya
were the master of some uncanny art.
The prodigy was busy arranging his
library, now and then opening a book to
examine its print. Presently, as he was
squatting down before a chair upon which
he was turning over the leaves of a bulky
volume, his attention was arrested by a celebrated
passage. Without changing his posture,
he proceeded to glance it over, until,
completely absorbed, he fell to humming
the words, in that peculiar sing-song, accompanied
by indescribable controversial
gesticulations, which seem to be as indispensable
in reading Talmud as a pair of eyes.
"Look, look!" Tamara nudged Asriel,
whom she was helping to transfer the remaining
books to the marble table. Asriel
turned his head toward the prodigy, and
for a few moments the two stood staring at
the odd, inspiring spectacle with gaping admiration.
Then the housekeeper and her
employer exchanged a glance of intelligence,
she nodding her bewigged head piously, as
much as to say: "What a find Heaven has
placed in your way!"
"The Uppermost has blessed you," she
added in whispers.
"May he enjoy long life with us!" Asriel
returned, with a sigh.
"Flora does not know what a treasure
the Lord of the Universe has sent her."
"She will," he rejoined curtly.
It was at the head of a dozen venerable
Talmudists, including the rabbi of the congregation,
that Asriel returned from the
synagogue next Saturday morning. The
learned company was entertained with wine,
cold fish, and some of the lemon pie and genuine
Yiddish pastry for which Tamara was
"Here is life, Mr. Stroon! Here is life,
Shaya!" each of the guests said, raising his
"Life and peace! Life and peace!" was
the uniform response.
"God bless the union and let them live a
hundred and twenty years," pursued Reb
Mendele, a little man with luxuriant red
sidelocks, as he reached for a piece of Sabbath
"And grant that they give birth to children
and bring them up to the Law, the
Bridal Canopy, and deeds of righteousness,"
chimed in another, whose ear-locks
were two sorry corkscrew-like appendages,
as he held up a slice of fish on the points of
"And Shaya continue a child of the Law
and study it with never-failing zeal," came
from between a dangling pair of tubes.
"That's the point!" emphasized a chorus
of munching mouths.
"But where is the bride?" somebody
demanded. "She must show herself! she
must show herself!"
"That's right," Reb Mendele seconded
heartily. "Out with the bride! 'And the
daughters of Jerusalem come out dancing,'"
he quoted; "'and what do they say? "Lift
thine eyes, young man, and behold the
maiden thou choosest. Do not set thine eye
on beauty, but"'"—He broke off abruptly,
reddening. The remainder of the
quoted passage runs as follows: "Set thine
eye (the maidens say to the young man)
on good family connections, as is written
in Proverbs: 'False is grace and vain is
beauty: a woman that feareth the Lord
shall indeed be praised.'" It would have
been anything but appropriate to the occasion,
and while the Chaldaic and the Hebrew
of the citation were Greek to Asriel, there
was the prodigy to resent it.
Another hoary-headed child of the Law
interposed: "'Go forth and look, O ye
daughters of Zion, on King Solomon, with
the crown wherewith his mother hath
crowned him on the day of his espousals,
and on the day of the joy of his heart.'
Saith the Talmud: 'By "the day of his espousals"
is meant the day of the Giving
of the Law.' Accordingly, when Shaya's
wedding takes place, if God be pleased, it
will be an espousal in the literal as well as
in the Talmudic sense, for is he not full of
Law? It will therefore be the Giving of
the Law in marriage to Reb Asriel's daughter,
will it not?"
"Never mind blushing, Shaya," said the
rabbi, although the prodigy, engrossed with
the "paradise taste" of the lemon pie,—a
viand he had never dreamed of,—and keeping
a sharp eye on the dwindling contents
of the tart-dish, was too busy to blush.
Flora was in her bedroom, the place of
her voluntary exile most of the time that
her compulsory sweetheart was in the house.
Her father was kind and attentive to her, as
usual, and never mentioned Shaya's name
to her. But she knew that he was irrevocably
bent upon the marriage, and her mood
often verged on suicide. Could it really be
that after all her cherished dreams of afternoon
drives in Central Park, in a doctor's
buggy and with the doctor himself by her
side, she was doomed to be the wife of that
clumsy rustic, who did not even know how
to shake hands or to bow to a lady, and who
could not say a word without performing
some grotesque gesture or curling his horrid
sidelocks? Oh, what would the girls
say! She had twitted them on the broken
English of their otherwise worldly and comparatively
well-mannered sweethearts, and
now she herself was matched with that
wretch of a holy soul!
And yet Shaya was never in her mind invested
in the image of a "clumsy rustic"
nor of a "holy soul." Whenever she saw
him she would screw up a frown, but on
one occasion, when their eyes met across
the supper-table, they could not help smiling
to each other, like children at church.
"Flora dear, I want to speak to you,"
Asriel said, knocking at the locked door of
"Leave me alone, papa, will you? I've
got a headache," she responded.
"That's all right, but unlock the door.
I won't eat you up."
She was burning to have her father broach
the painful subject, so that she might have
it out with him. With that end in view,
she set her teeth and turned the key. But
Asriel came in so unaggressive, so meek, in
a pleading attitude so utterly unlike him,
that he took her by surprise, as it were, and
she stood completely disarmed.
"I beg you, my daughter, do not shorten
my days, and come downstairs," he entreated
with heartfelt ardor. "I have so
little to live, and the Uppermost has sent
me a piece of comfort so that I may die a
righteous Jew,—will you take it away from
me? Will you put me to shame before God
The words and the pathos with which
they were delivered so oddly contrasted with
all she knew of her father that she felt as if
he were really praying for his life. She was
deeply touched and dazed, and before she
knew what she was about, found herself in
the crowded little dining-room below.
"Good Sabbath, Flora, good Sabbath!"
the venerable assemblage greeted her.
"Good Sabbath!" she returned, bowing
gracefully, and blushing.
"May your guest be pleasing to you,"
one of the company went on in time-honored
phrase; "and, if God be pleased, we shall
live to make merry at your wedding."
Flora's face turned a deeper red.
Several of the Talmudists were itching for
some banter at the expense of the young
pair, but the American girl's dignified bearing
and her commanding figure and dress
bore down every tendency in that direction,
so that the scholarly old gentlemen turned
their overflowing spirits in other channels.
"Give us some Law, Shaya!" said Reb
Mendele, with a Talmudic wave of both
"That's right," the others concurred.
"Your prospective father-in-law is feasting
us upon fare of the earth, and it is meet
that you should regale us with Words of
Shaya, his face as red as Flora's, was eyeing
the tablecloth as he murmured,—
"'No conversing during repast.'"
"Words of Law are no converse," Reb
"The Commentary adds: 'Not so much
as to quote the precept about silence during
repast,'" Shaya rejoined reluctantly, without
raising his eyes. "Now the precept is
Words of the Law, is it not? Which means
that the prohibition does extend to Words
Apart from his embarrassment, the prodigy
was somehow loath to engage in a
spiritual discussion in the presence of the
stylish young lady.
"Why did you quote it then?" Reb
Mendele pursued aggressively. He referred
to two other passages, in support of his
position; and Shaya, with his eyes still on
the tablecloth, and refraining from all gesticulation,
could not help showing the irrelevance
of both. It was a "knock-out blow,"
but his red-bearded opponent cleverly extricated
himself from the ignominy of his defeat
by assuming an amused air, as if it had
all been mere bait to decoy the prodigy to a
display of his erudition and mental powers;
and retaining his smile against further
emergency, Reb Mendele hazarded another
assault. Some of the other Talmudists took
a hand. The battle waxed hot, though
Shaya, fighting single-handed against half a
dozen elders, remained calm, and parried
their blows with a shamefaced but contemptuous
look, never raising a finger nor his
eyes from the tablecloth. Once in the fray,
he would not have Flora see him get the
worst of it.
She, on her part, could not help a growing
interest in the debate, and finally accepted
the chair which Tamara had tenderly placed
by her side five minutes before. To be
sure, she understood not a word of the controversy.
To her it was something like a
boxing-match, with every exciting element
of the sport, but without any of its violence
(which alone kept Flora from attending
pugilistic performances), though the arms
and fingers of our venerable combatants
were even more active than are the arms
and fists of two athletes in a modern ring.
As she watched the progress of the discussion
she became conscious of a decided partisan
feeling in favor of the younger man.
"It ain't fair a bit!" she said to herself.
"Six old-timers against one boy—I declare!"
Asriel and Tamara, to both of whom the
contest was as unintelligible as it was to
Flora, were so abandoned to their admiration
of the youthful disputant that they
omitted to notice the girl's undisguised
interest in the scene and to congratulate
themselves upon it. The host followed the
controversy with a sheepish look of reverence,
as if the company were an assemblage
of kings. The housekeeper looked on with
a beaming face, and every time one of the
patriarchs made a bold attack, she would
nod her head as if she understood it all,
and conceded the strength of his contention.
Egged on by Flora's presence as well as
by the onslaughts of his adversaries, Shaya
gradually warmed up to the debate, until,
having listened, with sardonic patience, to a
lengthy and heated argument by a fleshy
child of the Law, he suddenly leaped upon
"Is this the way you understand the passage?"
he shouted, with a vicious chuckle.
Then, thrusting his curly head in his opponent's
face, and savagely gesticulating, he
poured forth a veritable cataract of the
most intricate syllogisms and quotations.
It was quite a new Shaya. His blue eyes
flashed fire, his whole countenance gleamed,
his sing-song rang with tuneful ferocity.
"But it seems to me that Rabbi Yohanon
does not say that," the portly Talmudist
objected. "I am afraid you have misquoted
It was the drowning man's straw. Even
Flora, who understood the Yiddish of the
retort, could see that; and her heart bounded
with cruel delight.
"Have I? You are sure, are you?" Shaya
demanded, with boyish virulence. "All
right. We shall see!" With which he
darted out of the room and upstairs.
"The boy is a gaon," the corpulent old
man remarked humbly. "What a head!
What a memory, what a chariff!"
"Yes, and what a bokki!" chimed in
the rabbi. "One cannot help wondering
when he had time to study up so much."
"He'll just take a peep at a book and
then he knows it all by heart," put in Asriel.
"He licked all the rabbis around Pravly."
The boorish remark disposed some of the
listeners to laugh, but they did not.
"You have got a treasure, Mr. Stroon,"
said Reb Mendele.
"You bet!" the host answered with a
blissful simper, as he took to stroking his
"You know what the Talmud says, Mr.
Stroon?" resumed the rabbi. "That he
who supports a scholar of the Law is like
unto him who offers sacrifices."
"I know," Asriel returned exultingly.
At the Pravly synagogue the preacher had
applied the same quotation to Reb Lippe.
Presently Shaya returned with a pile of
huge volumes in his arms. His citation
proved correct, and meeting with no further
opposition, but too far carried away by the
subject to quit it so soon, he volunteered an
extemporaneous discourse. His face was
now wrapped in genial, infantile ecstasy
and his intonation was a soft, impassioned
melody. The old man followed him with
When he concluded and leaned back in
his chair, he gave Flora a triumphant smile.
The color mounted to her cheeks and she
dropped her gaze. At the same moment
Asriel flung himself upon the young hero.
"Oh, you dear little sparrow!" he exclaimed,
lifting Shaya in his arms like a
baby, and passionately kissing him.
Tamara wiped her eyes with her apron.
Flora had a mind to flee for safety, but she
forthwith saw herself out of danger, for her
father seemed unmindful of her presence,
and the first thing he did as he let the prodigy
down was to invite his guests upstairs
to show them the newly imported library.
As the patriarchal company was filing out
of the dining-room, Shaya, passing by Flora,
said to her gleefully:—
"I gave it to them, didn't I?"
"Tell me now," said Tamara, when the
two women found themselves alone in the
room; "ought you not to thank God for
such a treasure of a sweetheart?"
"He is nothing of the kind to me," Flora
burst out, "and he never will be, either. I
don't care how long papa is going to keep
him in the house."
"Oh, papa!" sobbed Flora; "will you
ever put an end to it? You know I'll never
"Do I compel you to?" he replied.
"What do you care if he is in the house? He
does not take away your dinner, does he?
Imagine that he is your brother and don't
bother your head about him. The boy has
become so dear to me that I feel as if he
were my own son. Will you recite Kaddish
for my soul? Will you play for me at the
anniversary of my death? God thought I
was not good enough to have a son, but he
sent me this holy child to take the place of
one. As I hear him read his holy books," he
went on, with mounting pathos, "it melts
like ice-cream in my heart. It pleased the
Uppermost to make a boor of your papa.
Well, I suppose He knows his business, and
I am not going to poke my nose in, and ask
questions; but He seems to have taken pity
on me after all, and in my old age he has
sent me an angel, so that I may get the
credit of supporting him. Did you hear what
the wise men said? That to support a man
who does nothing but study sacred books
is as good as offering sacrifices. Yes, my
daughter, God has put this boy in my hands;
He sent me all the way to Pravly for him—all
to give me a chance to make up for my
sins. Do you want me to kick him out?
Not if New York turned upside down."
"Hold on! Let me talk the heart out of
myself. It's no use asking me to send him
away. He is God's gift. He is as holy as
a Purity (the scrolls of the Law). You are
my daughter, and he is my son. I don't
chase you under the bridal canopy with a
strap, do I? If God does not wish the
match, it won't come off, that's all."
The conversation took place about a fortnight
after the great debate. Asriel lived
in the hope that when Shaya had learned
some English and the ways of Flora's circle,
she would get to like him. He could not
see how it was possible to withstand the
charms of the young man whom he sincerely
thought the handsomest fellow in the Jewish
colony. He provided him with a teacher,
and trusted the rest to time and God.
"Just fix him up in English and a little
figuring, and that's all," he instructed the
teacher. "But mind you, don't take him
too far into those Gentile books of yours.
He does not want any of the monkey tricks
they teach the children at college. Do you
Flora was getting used to Shaya's presence
in the house, as if he actually were a newly
discovered brother of hers, brought up in a
queer way which she could not understand,
and it was only occasionally and at growing
intervals that the situation would burst upon
her, and she would plead with her father as
she had done.
The two young people frequently found
themselves alone. The door between the
front parlor, which was now Shaya's study,
and Flora's boudoir was most of the time
open. They often talked together, and she
quizzed him about his manners, and once
or twice even went over his English lessons
with him, laughing at his mispronunciations,
and correcting them in the imposing
manner of her former school-teachers.
"Why do you work your fingers like
that?" she once said, with a pained look.
"Can't you try and read without them?"
"I am used to it from the Talmud-he-he-he!"
he tittered, as if acknowledging a
Her piano did not disturb him in his
studies, for in the synagogues, where he had
grown up, he had been used to read in a
turmoil of other voices; but he loved the
instrument, and he would often pause to listen
to Flora's energetic strokes through the
door. When the tune was a melancholy one
its first accords would make him start, with
a thrill; and as he proceeded to listen his
heart would contract with a sharp feeling of
homesickness, and at the same time he would
be longing for still more familiarity in the
performer's manner toward him. Sometimes
he would cross over to her room and quietly
stand behind her while she was playing.
"Ah, it is so nice!" he once said, feeling
himself in a paradise on earth.
"What are you doing here?" she exclaimed,
facing about toward him, in affected
surprise. "Music ain't for a 'holy child'
like yourself." She mocked a favorite expression
of her father's.
"Don't say that," he reproached her.
"You always like to tease me. Why don't
I tease you?"
Upon the whole, Shaya took the situation
quite recklessly. He studied his Talmud
and his English, let Tamara cloy him with
all sorts of tidbits, and roamed about the
streets and public buildings. In less than
six months he knew the city and its suburbs
much better than Flora, and could tell the
meaning of thousands of printed English
words, although he neither knew how to use
them himself nor recognized them in the
speech of others. Flora was amazed by his
rapid progress, and the facility with which
he mastered his Arithmetic and English
Grammar—in neither of which she had
been strong at school—even piqued her
ambition. It was as if she had been beaten
by the "holy soul" on her own ground.
The novelty of studying things so utterly
out of his rut was like a newly discovered
delicacy to his mental palate. He knew by
heart a considerable part of the English
translation in his Hebrew prayer-book and
Old Testament, and his greatest pleasure,
when Asriel was not about, was to do arithmetical
problems. But the problems were
all child's play to him, and he craved some
higher grade of intellectual food in the same
Gentile line. This he knew from his Talmud
to be contained in the "Wisdom of
Measuring," which he had learned of his
teacher to call Geometry.
"Bring me a Geometry, please," he whispered
to his instructor.
"I will, but don't say a word to Mr.
Stroon about it."
The forbidden fruit was furnished, and
the prodigy of sacred lore applied himself
to it with voracity.
"How cunning!" he said to the teacher,
in a transport of enthusiasm. "Of course,
it is not as deep as Talmud, but I never
dreamed there were such subtle things in
the Gentile books at all—may I be ill if I
"This is only the beginning of it,"
the other returned, in whispered exultation.
"Wait till you get deeper into it. And
then there are other books, far more interesting."
"Say, young fellow!" Asriel said to
Shaya's teacher a week or so later; "you
need not trouble your righteous legs to
bring you here any more. You are getting
too thick with the boy."
Shaya now found no difficulty in plodding
through the theorems and problems unaided.
But he yearned after his teacher and friend,
and for several days could relish neither
his Talmud nor his contraband Geometry.
He grew restless. His soul was languishing
"Guess where I have been," he confidentially
said to Flora, coming from the street
one afternoon. He spoke in Yiddish, and
she answered in English, interspersed with
the same dialect.
"Not in the synagogue, studying?" she
"No—at the Astor Library," he whispered.
"They have such a lot of books
there, Flora! Upstairs and downstairs—large
rooms like rich synagogues, with
shelves all over the walls, and all full of
books. Have you ever been there, Flora?"
"N-no!" she owned, with reluctance. The
"holy soul" was clearly forging ahead of
her in a world which she considered all her
own; and she hated the idea of it, and liked
it at the same time. "What did you
"I just looked at the books—oh, what a
lot!—and then I found out how to get a
Geometry,—they have everything in the
world, I tell you,—and I did some problems.
Don't tell your father I was there."
"Of course I won't," she said intimately.
"Can ladies come in?"
"Certainly; they have a separate place
for them, though; will you go there with
"Some day," she rejoined evasively.
"Will you? Oh, it's so nice to be sitting
and reading there! Only you must sit still.
I forgot myself, and as I was figuring out
some nice point, I began to reason aloud, so
a fine old gentleman stepped up to my side
and touched me on the shoulder. Oh, I got
so scared, Flora! But he did not do me anything—may
I be ill if he did. He only
told me to be quiet."
Flora burst out laughing.
"I'll bet you, you was singing in that
funny way you have when you are studying
"Yes," he admitted joyfully.
"And working your hands and shaking
the life out of yourself," she pursued,
mimicking his gestures.
"No, I was not—may I not live till to-morrow
if I was," he protested vehemently,
with a touch of resentment. "Oh, it is so
nice to be there! I never knew there were
so many Gentile books in the world at all.
I wonder what they are all about. Only
I am so troubled about my English." He
interrupted himself, with a distressed air.
"When I asked them for the book, and how
to get it, they could not understand me."
"I can understand everything you say
when you speak English. You're all right,"
she comforted him. His troubled, childlike
smile and his shining clear blue eyes, as he
spoke, went to her heart.
"You can, but other people can't. I so
wish I could speak it like you, Flora. Do
read a page or two with me, will you? I'll
get my Reader—shall I?"
"What's your hurry? Can't you wait?"
He could not wait. He was in a fever of
impatience to inhale the whole of the Gentile
language—definitions, spelling, pronunciation,
and all—with one desperate effort. It
was the one great impediment that seemed
to stand between him and the enchanted new
world that had revealed itself to him.
"Oh, do hear me read—may you live
long, Flora! It somehow draws mo as with
a kind of impure force. Will you?"
"All right," she yielded, with kindly curiosity
at the fervor of his request, and feeling
He had been reading perhaps a quarter of
an hour when he grew absent-minded.
"You must have skipped a line again,"
she said, in an awkward undertone.
They were seated at a respectful distance,
with the corner of the marble table between
them, her full, well-modeled bust erect and
stately against the pier-glass. She wore a
waist of dark-blue silk, trimmed with red,
and there was a red ribbon in her shock
of inky hair. Presently she leaned forward
to see a mispronounced word for herself.
Their heads found themselves close together.
Her ivory cheek almost touched his.
"Where is it?" she questioned, under
He made no reply. His glance was riveted
to her raven eyelashes. A dash of scarlet
lurking under her chin dazed his brain.
After a slight pause he said, as he timidly
stroked her burning cheek:—
"It is so smooth!"
She had an impulse to withdraw her face,
but felt benumbed. He went on patting
her, until, meeting with no resistance, his
lips touched her cheek, in a gingerly kiss.
Both lowered their eyes. They were silent,
but their hearts, each conscious of the other's
beatings, throbbed wildly.
"Bad boy!" she then whispered, without
raising her head.
After another silence, as their eyes met,
they burst into a subdued, nervous titter.
"You must not do that again," she said.
"Is this the kind of pious man you are?"
"Don't say that, Flora—pray don't. You
know it hurts my feelings when you speak
like that," he implored her. And impelled
by the embarrassed, affectionate sadness of
her mien, he seized her hand and fell to
kissing first her fingers and then her eyes,
as though beseeching them to reveal the
meaning of their sombre look. Their lips
met and clung together in a trance of passion.
When they parted Shaya felt ten
years older, and as his eye fell upon the
bookcase, he wondered what those glittering,
massive tomes were doing there.
"Will you tell your father that you want
to be my sweetheart?" he asked after
His voice and his features appeared to her
in a novel aspect.
"How do you know I do?" she said, with
playful defiance, hiding a burst of admiration
which was lost upon the unworldly
"Why—don't you?" he demanded solicitously.
Then, a sudden light of inspiration coming
in her eyes, Flora said,—
"Hol' on! How would you like to be a
"But your father would turn me out if I
began to study for it."
She grew thoughtful. "But suppose he
had no objection?" she queried, her bashfulness
suddenly returning to her face.
"Oh, then I should be dying to study
doctor books—any kind of Gentile books
you wanted me to, Flora. But Reb Asriel
won't let me."
"Listen! Can you keep a secret?" she
asked like a conspiring little schoolgirl.
"You mean about your being my sweetheart?"
"No!" she rejoined impatiently. "I
mean the other thing—your studyin'. Papa
needn't get wind of it till it's too late—you
understand? If you are smart, we can fix
"That's all right. I am awful clever at
keeping a secret," he boasted.
"Well, I want you to be a doctor, Shayie,"
she resumed, with matronly tenderness. "If
you are, I'll care for you, and you'll be my
birdie boy, an' all; if not, you won't. Oh,
won't it be lovely when everybody knows
that you go to college and study together
with nice, educated up-town fellows! We
would go to theatres together and read different
books. You'll make a daisy of a
college boy, too—you bet. Would you like
to wear a high hat, and spec's, and ride in a
buggy, with a little nigger for a driver?—would
you, would you, bad boy, you? Hello,
Doctor Golub! How are you?"
She presented her lips, and they kissed
again and again.
"You know what, Shayie? When papa
comes I'll go out somewheres, so you can
tell him—you know what I mean. It'll
make it so much easier to fool him. Will
you tell him?"
"I am ashamed."
"I won't tell him."
"Don't be angry—I will. I shall always
do everything you tell me, Flora," he said,
looking into her black gleaming eyes,—"always,
always!" And in the exuberance
of his delight he once again felt himself a
little boy, and broke out into a masterly imitation
of the crow of a cock, jumping up and
flapping his arms for a pair of wings.
When Asriel and Shaya were alone in
the parlor, the young man said, as he fell to
wringing his index finger,—
"Flora wants me to tell you that she is
"Satisfied with what?" the old man demanded,
leaping to his feet.
"To be my sweetheart."
"Is she? Did she say so? When?—Tamara!"
he yelled, rushing downstairs and
dragging the prodigy along,—"Tamara!
May you live long! The Uppermost has
taken pity upon me after all. Floraly has
come around—blessed be the Uppermost."
"Blessed be the Uppermost!" Tamara
echoed, her pleasant, swarthy face beaming
with heartfelt delight. "When He wills,
walls of iron must give way. It is a divine
match—any one can see it is. May they
live a hundred and twenty years together.
"Mazol-tov to you and to all of us,"
Asriel responded. "But where is Flora?
Fetch some drink, Tamara."
He stepped up to the "Wonder-worker
box," and deposited a silver coin for the
support of the pilgrims at Palestine, saying
as he did so:—
"I thank and praise thee, O Lord of the
Universe, for thy mercy toward me. Mayest
Thou grant the children long years, and
keep up in Shaya his love for thy sacred
Law. You know the match is all of your
own making, and you must take care of it.
I am only your slave, that's all."
"Is Shayaly in?" inquired old Asriel
on entering Flora's room one morning in
midsummer. It was four months after his
daughter's betrothment to the Talmudist
had been celebrated by a solemn ceremony
and a sumptuous feast, the wedding having
been set for a later date. The crowning
glory of his achievement Stroon postponed,
like a rare bottle of wine, for some future
day. He dreaded to indulge himself in
such a rapid succession of This World joys
lest he might draw upon his Share in the
World-to-come. Will the Uppermost let
him live to see his daughter and the "holy
child," standing side by side under the Canopy?
Asriel was now confident that He
would. "Is Shayaly in?"
"Of course he is—papa," Flora answered,
raising her face from her book. Her "papa"
was added aloud, and as if upon after-thought.
The parlor door stood ajar. Asriel stationed
himself near by and listened to the
young man's habitual sing-song. The old
man's face gradually became radiant with
"My crown, my Messiah, my Kaddish!
My Share in the World-to-come!" he muttered.
"Did you have breakfast, papa?" Flora
demanded, speaking still louder than before.
At this moment Shaya's sing-song broke
out with fresh enthusiasm and his Hebrew
words became distinct. Asriel waved her
away fiercely. After a little he remarked
in a subdued voice, as he pointed to the
"This is my breakfast. This is for the
soul, my child; the worms of the grave cannot
touch it, and you take it along to the
other world. Everything else is a lot of
He made to leave, but could not help
pausing, in fresh admiration, and then,
softly opening the parlor door he entered
the sanctum, on tiptoe, in order to feast
his eye as well as his ear on the thrilling
scene. He found Shaya rapturously swaying
and singing over a Talmud volume. Flora
watched her father with roguish delight.
"I am afraid I must not be gloating over
him like this," Asriel rebuked himself in his
heart. "I may give him the evil eye."
When he regained the back parlor he said,
under his breath: "Floraly, I am afraid
your company may disturb him sometimes.
A pretty sweetheart is apt to stir a fellow's
brains, you know, and take him away from
the Law. He had better study more at the
The girl blushed to her charcoal hair and
dropped her glance. But her father had
scarcely gained his room, on the floor above,
when she flew into the front parlor with a
"Now you can go right on, dearie," she
said, encircling Shaya's neck with one arm,
and producing with the other an English
textbook on Natural Philosophy, which had
lain open under the huge Hebrew volume.
"You heard me holler, didn't you?"
"Of course I did," Shaya answered beamingly.
"He interrupted me in the middle
of such a cunning explanation!"
"Did he? What was it about? All
about sounds—the same as before?"
"Yes, but it is even more brainy than
what I told you."
He proceeded to expound, in Yiddish,
what he had been reading on Acoustics, she
listening to his enthusiastic popularization
with docile, loving inattention.
The young man made a pretense of spending
his afternoons, and sometimes also mornings,
at the various synagogues of the
Jewish quarter. His proud guardian encouraged
this habit, in order that his
"daughter's bridegroom" might disseminate
his sacred knowledge among other congregations
than his own. "Your learning
is the gift of God, Shayaly," he would say,
"and you needn't be ashamed to peddle it
around. Reb Lippe said America wanted
a man like you to spread the holy Law here.
Go and do it, my son, and the Uppermost
will help us all for your sake."
The prodigy and his importer were the
talk of the orthodox colony, and nothing
was more pleasing to Asriel than to hear
the praises of his daughter's fiancé sounded
by the Talmudists. There came a time, however,
when, in his own synagogue, at least,
these encomiums ceased. Asriel missed
them keenly and pestered the learned men
of the congregation with incessant talks
about Shaya, for the purpose of worrying
out some acknowledgment of his phenomenal
talents. But the concession was
mostly made in a half-hearted way, and
poor Asriel would be left hungrier than
ever. Particularly was his heart longing
for the warm eulogies of Reb Tzalel, a poor,
sickly old peddler, who was considered one
of the most pious and learned men in the
neighborhood. Asriel liked the man for
his nervous sincerity and uncompromising
self-respect. He often asked him to his
house, but the tattered, underfed peddler
invariably declined the invitation.
"What will I do there, Reb Asriel?" he
would say, with the pained sort of smile
which would light up his ghastly old face
whenever he spoke. "Look at your costly
carpet and furniture, and bear in mind that
you are a landlord and I a poor peddler!
At the synagogue I like you better, for here
we are equals. Saith the verse in the Book
of Job: 'Whereas He is one that shows no
favor to chieftains, and distinguishes not
the rich before the indigent, for all of them
are the work of his hands.'" Reb Tzalel
translated the verse into Yiddish for the
benefit of his listener, whereupon Asriel felt
a much wealthier man than he was, and at
the same time he had a sense of humiliation,
as though his money were something to be
This man's unusual reticence on the point
of Shaya's merits chagrined Asriel sorely,
and his mind even began to be troubled by
some vague misgivings on that score.
One evening Asriel sat by Reb Tzalel's
side in the study rooms of his synagogue.
It was in the latter part of November, and
Shaya's wedding was to take place during
the Feast of Hanuccah, some few weeks
later. The evening services, which on week
days were held in these rooms, were over,
and the "learners" could now give themselves
to their divine studies undisturbed,
save for the possible and unwelcome advent
of some belated Ten Worshipers. The two
spacious, dingy rooms, their connecting doors
wide open, were dimly lighted with candles
placed upon the plain long deal tables ranged
against their discolored walls. The open
bookcases were filled with dilapidated old
volumes, many more being in use or strewn
about, in chaotic heaps, on the tables,
benches, or window-sills.
In one room, around one of the long
tables, were gathered the members of the
daily Mishnah class. There were about a
dozen of them, mostly poor peddlers or
artisans,—a humble, seedy, pitiable lot,
come after a hard day's work or freezing,
to "take a holy word into their mouths."
Hardly one of these was up to the Gemarah
part of the Talmud, and even the Mishnah
only few could brave single-handed. They
sat at their open books following their voluntary
teacher, a large, heavy, middle-aged
man,—a mass of unkempt beard, flesh, and
rags, ablaze with the intellectual fury of
his enormous black eyes. He was reading
aloud, with ferocious appetite, swaying and
jerking his disheveled bulk, as he ever and
anon tossed up his head to interpret the
Mishna to his pupils, and every little while
breaking off in the middle of a sentence, or
even a word, to let his class shout the other
half as a guaranty of proficiency. Some of
his listeners plodded along the lines of their
books, in humble silence, with their index
fingers for fescues; the brighter ones boldly
interrupted the ponderous man, joyously
anticipating his explanations or pointing
out some discrepancy; one old dissembler
repeated unintelligible half-sentences with
well-acted gusto; another little old fellow
betrayed the fog in his mind by timid nods
of assent, while still another was bravely
kept from dozing off on his holy book by
frequent neighborly nudges from the man
next him. Standing behind the members
of the class were some envying "boors,"
like our poor Asriel, to whom even the
Mishnah was a luxury beyond their intellectual
One of the long tables in the adjoining
room was covered with the open folios of the
daily Gemarah class,—some fifteen men of
all ages and economical conditions from the
doddering apple-vender, to whom the holy
books are the only source of pleasure in this
life as well as in the other, to the well-fed,
overdressed young furniture-dealer, with
whom the Talmud is a second nature, contracted
in the darker days of his existence
in Russia. There were several "keen
brains" in the group, and a former "prodigy"
or two, like Shaya. The class needed
no guide, but one old man with a boyish
face framed in snow-white hair, and wearing
a sea of unstarched linen collar about his
emaciated neck, was their chosen reader.
He also left many sentences unuttered, but
he did it merely because he thought them
too well-known to need repetition. Whenever
he had something to add to the text, he
would address himself to the man by his
side, snapping his fingers at him genially,
and at times all but pinching him for ecstasy.
The others participated now by a twirl of a
finger, now by the swift repetition of a whole
syllogism, now by an indescribable system
of gestures, enacting, in dumb show, the
whole logical process involved in a nice
point. All at once the whole class would
burst into a bedlam of voices and gesticulations.
When the whirlwind of enthusiasm
subsided, it might be followed by a bit of
pleasantry,—from the exuberance of good
spirits at having got the better of a difficult
point,—and, upon the whole the motley
company looked like a happy family at the
The other long tables in both rooms were
occupied by lomdim (learned men), each intent
upon the good deed of studying "for
study's sake" by himself: some humming to
their musty folios melodiously; others smiling
and murmuring to them, like a fond
mother to her babe; still others wailing or
grumbling or expostulating with their books,
or slapping them and yelling for delight, or
roaring like a lion in a cage. A patriarch
teaching his ten-year-old grandson and both
shouting at the top of their voices, in an entanglement
of pantomime; a swarthy little
grammar-school boy going it on his own
hook over a volume bigger than himself;
a "fine householder" in reduced circumstances
dignifiedly swinging his form and
twirling his sidelock as if he were confiding
a secret to his immense golden beard; one or
two of the hollow-voiced prooshim, who had
come to America in search of fortune, but
who were now supported by the congregation
for giving all their time to "the law
and the service;" a knot of men engaged
in a mixed discussion of "words of law"
and "words of every-day life"—all these
voices and murmurs mingled in one effervescence
of the sublime and the ridiculous,
with tragedy for a keynote,—twenty centuries
thrown pell-mell in a chaos of sound
Asriel could have lived on the spectacle,
and although unable to participate in it himself,
he now, since the advent of the prodigy,
looked upon it as a world in which he
was not without a voice. He was seated in
a remote corner of the Gemarah room,
now watching the noisy scenes with open-mouthed
reverence, now turning to admire
Reb Tzalel by his side. The cadaverous face
and burning eyes of the peddler were sneering
at the drab-colored page before him;
while his voice sounded melancholy, like a
subdued bugle call.
Presently Reb Tzalel paused, and the two
engaged in converse. As Asriel was boasting
of Shaya's genius and kindliness of
disposition, vainly courting his friend for
a word of assent, the peddler, suddenly reddening
in the face, interrupted him:—
"What's the use of playing cat and rat,
Mr. Stroon?" he burst out with his ghastly
smile. "I may as well tell you what lies
like a heavy stone on my heart. Your
Shaya is going to the bad. He is an appikoros."
"An appikoros!" Asriel demanded, as
if the word had suddenly acquired a new
"Yes, an appikoros, and a Jeroboam the
son of Nebat—he sins, and leads others
to sin," the Talmudist declared tartly. "I
hated to cause you the pain, Mr. Stroon,
but he has gone too far in Gentile books,
and when he is here and you are not about
he talks to everybody he can get hold of
concerning the way the world swings around
the sun, how rain and thunder, day and
night—everything—can be explained as a
matter of common sense, and that there is
no God in heaven, and all that sort of vile
stuff that you hear from every appikoros—may
they all be hurled from one end of the
world to the other! Everything can be explained—may
the Angel of Death explain
it to them, may they"—
"Hold on, Reb Tzalel!" Asriel shouted:
"You need not curse him: you don't feed
him, do you? And what you say is a lie!—as
big a lie as Og the King of Bashan!"
he concluded with calm ferocity, raising his
burly figure from the bench.
"A lie, is it? Very well, then—you
shall know all. Little Mendele saw your
imported decoration smoking a cigarette
"Shaya smoke on the Sabbath!" Asriel
echoed. The practical, concrete nature of
this sin came home to him with a more
forceful blow than all the peddler had
said about Shaya's ungodly theories. "Begone!"
the surrounding chaos seemed to
say to the "boor." "From now on you
have nothing to do here!"
"Shaya smoke a cigarette on the Sabbath!"
he repeated. "Well, and I have
this to say, that Mendele, and yourself,and
the whole lot of you are nothing but a set of
first-class liars and begrudging gossip-mongers.
It must give him a belly-ache to think
that he could not afford such a bridegroom
for his girl and that I could. Well, I have
got a prodigy for my daughter and he has
licked the whole lot of you learned fellows
to ground coffee. I have got him,—see?—and
let all my enemies and the boy's
enemies burst for envy." He clicked his
tongue and snapped his fingers, and for a
moment stood glaring witheringly at his interlocutor.
"Well, I am not going to argue with a
boor," said Reb Tzalel, in utter disgust.
His words were drowned in the noise, but
the "boor" reached Asriel's ear and touched
him on the raw. "Shut up, Reb Tzalel!"
he said, paling.
"Why should I? This is not your
house. It is God's dwelling. Here I am
richer than you. I only wanted to say that
it is not you I pity. You have been a boor,
and that's what you are and will be. But
the boy was about to become a great man in
Israel, and you have brought him over here
for bedeviled America to turn him into an
appikoros. Woe! woe! woe!"
"Keep still, Reb Tzalel; take pity," Asriel
implored, in a squeaking voice. "Don't
spill any salt over my wounds. Forgive me,—you
know I am a boor. Do take pity
and say no more; but all you have said—they
have said—is a lie—the cholera
choke me if it is not." And gasping for
breath, he ran out of the synagogue.
When he found himself in the street he
was conscious of some terrific blow having
just been dealt him, but did not clearly realize
its full meaning; and what had transpired
a minute before, between him and Reb
Tzalel, seemed to have occurred in the remote
past. The clamor of the street peddlers,
and the whole maze of squalor and
noise through which he was now scurrying,
he appeared to hear and to view at a great
distance, as if it all were on the other side
of a broad river, he hurrying on his lonely
way along the deserted bank opposite.
"An appikoros! an appikoros!" he said
to himself, vainly trying to grasp the meaning
of the word which he knew but too well.
"An appikoros, smoking on the Sabbath!"
The spectacle smote him in cold blood.
"Shaya smoke on the holy Sabbath! It's
He started in the direction of Mendele's
residence, bent upon thrashing the red-haired
talebearer to death. Soon, however, he
halted and turned homeward. The courage
failed Asriel Stroon to face the man who
had seen his daughter's fiancé smoke a
cigarette on a Saturday. Then Shaya appeared
to his mind as something polluted,
sacrilegious, and although this something
had nothing in common with his beloved
prodigy, save the name, and the young man
whitened in the distance, pure and lovely as
ever, Asriel's rage surged in the direction of
his home, and he mended pace to storm the
house as soon as he could get there.
When he collected his wits he decided to
wait till he found out everything for himself.
For the first time, perhaps, he felt
himself a coward. He quailed before the
thought that what he had heard from the
learned peddler might prove true, and he
cringingly begged his own mind to put off
the culminating agony of believing it.
Nevertheless, when he saw Shaya, at the
supper-table, his heart whispered to him, in
dismay: "An appikoros!" and the unuttered
word enveloped the prodigy in a forbidding,
He now hated Shaya; he felt as though
he feared him.
"Where have you been so late, papa?"
"Deep in the earth. You care much
where your papa is, do you?" he snarled.
"Papa!" she said deprecatingly; "are
He made no response.
"Have you been to the Mariv service?"
Shaya intervened. "I studied at the Souvalk
Asriel remained grimly uncommunicative.
The young people, reinforced by Tamara,
made several other attempts at conversation,
but the dogged taciturnity of the head of
the family cast a spell of misery over them
all, and the meal passed in unsupportable
"See if papa ain't getting on to what you
are doing, Shayie," Flora said, when the
two were alone.
"Pshaw! is it the first time you see him
out of humor? He must have had some
trouble with a tenant or janitor."
"He must have," she assented gloomily.
"But what if he gets wind? I'm worrying
the life out of myself about it."
"So am I. I love your father just the
same as if he were my own papa. I wish
the wedding were over, don't you?" he
asked in his childish way.
On the following morning Asriel repaired
to the Souvalk Synagogue to attend the service
his usual place of worship he had not
the heart to visit), and, incidentally, to ascertain
how Shaya had spent his time there
the day before.
To his consternation he learned that his
"daughter's bridegroom" had not been seen
there for weeks.
Asriel held his counsel, and took to shadowing
the young man.
He now had no doubt as to the accuracy
of Reb Tzalel's story. But it gave him no
pain. It was Shaya no longer; it was not
his daughter's bridegroom; it was not the
prodigy he had imported,—it was an appikoros.
But then Asriel's heart withered at
the notion of being the victim of systematic
deception. Shaya was an appikoros and a
secret, sneaking enemy.
"That youngster trick Asriel Stroon!"
He panted with hatred and thrilled with a
detective-like passion to catch Shaya in the
act of some grave violation of the Mosaic
He went about the various synagogues
where the young man was supposed to study
the Talmud, with a keen foretaste of his
vicious joy at finding that he had been playing
truant. Yet each time his fervent expectations
were realized he would, instead
of triumph, experience an overpowering
sense of defeat.
"You have been cheated out of your boots
by a stripling, Asrielke—woe to your foolish
head!" he tortured himself, reveling in an
agony of fury. "Ah, a cholera into him!
I'll show him how to fool Asriel Stroon!"
He discovered that Shaya's frequent companion
was his former teacher of English,
whom he often visited in his attic room on
Clinton Street, and he impatiently awaited
the next Saturday to raid the atheistic resort
and to overtake Shaya smoking or writing
on the holy day. But the climax came
a day or two sooner.
After tracing Shaya to the Clinton Street
house Asriel stood waiting around a corner,
at a vantage point from which he could see
the windows of the two garret rooms one
of which was the supposed scene of the
young man's ungodly pursuits. He had no
definite purpose in view, for it was not Sabbath,
and he would not spoil his game by
apprehending his man in the mere act of
reading Gentile books. Yet he was rooted
to the place, and remained aimlessly waiting,
with his eyes riveted to the windows which
they could not penetrate. Tired at last, and
overcome with a sense of having been engaged
in a fool's errand, he returned home,
and, reaching his bedroom, sank on the bed
in a prostration of hurt pride and impotent
On the following morning he returned to
his post. The attic windows drew him like
the evil one, as he put it to himself.
He had been keeping watch for some minutes
when, to his fierce joy, Shaya and his
accomplice sallied forth into the street. He
dogged their steps to Grand Street, and
thence, through the Bowery, to Lafayette
Place, where they disappeared behind the
massive doors of an imposing structure, apparently
neither a dwelling-place nor an
"Dis a choych?" Asriel asked a passer-by.
"A church? No, it's a library—the
Astor Library," the stranger explained.
"Ah, a lot of Gentile books!" he exclaimed
to himself, disappointed in one way
and triumphant in another. The unaccustomed
neighborhood and the novelty of his
impressions increased the power of the "evil
one" over him. He took up a position
whence he could observe without being observed,
and waited for the two young men to
come out. What he would gain by tracing
them back to the Jewish quarter he never
asked himself. He waited because the "evil
one" would not let him stir from the spot.
An hour passed. He was growing faint
with hunger; yet he never moved. "He
has not had his lunch, either," he thought.
"Still, he can stand it. It's the witchcraft
of the Gentile books—may he be burned to
death!—keeping up his strength. They'll
come out in a minute or two."
Many more minutes elapsed, and still Asriel
waited. At last "Here, they are, the
convert Jews! Look at them—how jolly!
It's the Black Year shining out of their
faces—may they shine on their death-beds!
That beggar of a teacher I shall have arrested."
He followed them through Fourth Street
back to the Bowery and down the rumbling
thoroughfare, till—"a lamentation!"—they
entered a Christian restaurant!
A terrific pang smote Asriel's heart. It
was as if he saw his temple, the embodiment
of many years of labor, the object of his
fondest cares, just completed and ready to
be dedicated, suddenly enveloped in flames.
The prodigy, his prodigy, his Kaddish, his
glory in this and the other world, plunged
into the very thick of impurity!
He made to rush after them, but checked
himself to wait till the treife food was
served them. A few minutes later he made
his entry, cool and collected as a regular
Each of the two young men was bent on a
veal cutlet. The collegian was dispatching
his with the nonchalant appetite and ease of
manner of an habitué, whereas poor Shaya
looked like one affecting to relish his first
plate of raw oysters. The smells proceeding
from the kitchen made him dizzy, and the
cutlet itself, partly because he was accustomed
to meat of a better quality, but mainly
through the consciousness of eating treife,
inclined him to nausea.
Asriel took a vacant chair at the same
"Bless the sitter, Shaya!" he said.
The two young men were petrified.
"How is the pork—does it taste well?"
"It is not pork. It is veal cutlet," the
teacher found tongue to retort.
"I am not speaking to you, am I?" Asriel
hissed out. Murder was swelling in his
heart. But at this point the waiter came
up to his side.
"Vot'll ye have?"
"Notink!" Asriel replied, suddenly rising
from his seat and rushing out, as if this were
the most terrible sort of violence he could
Asriel found his daughter playing.
"Stop that or I'll smash your Gentile
piano to pieces!" he commanded her, feeling
as though the instrument had all along
been in the conspiracy and were now bidding
"Why, what's the matter?" she questioned,
getting up from her stool in stupefaction.
"Matter? Bluff a dead rooster, not me—my
head is still on my shoulders. Here
it is, you see?" he added, taking himself
by the head. "It's all up, Flora."
"What do you mean?" she made out to
"I mean that if Shayke ever enters this
house I'll murder both of you. You thought
your papa was a fool, didn't you? Well,
you are a poor hand at figuring, Flora. I
knew everything, but I wanted some particulars.
I have got them all now here, in
my pocket, and a minute ago I took the
pleasure of bidding him 'bless the sitter' in
a Gentile restaurant—may he be choked
with his treife gorge!"
"You've got no business to curse him
like that!" she flamed out, coloring violently.
"I have no business? And who is to
stop me, pray?"
"I am. It ain't my fault. You know I
did not care at first."
The implication that he had only himself
to blame threw him into a new frenzy. But
he restrained himself, and said with ghastly
"Flora, you are not going to marry him."
"I am. I can't live without him," she
declared with quiet emphasis.
Asriel left her room.
"It's all gone, Tamara! My candle is
blown out," he said, making his way from
the dining-room to the kitchen. "There is
no Shaya any longer."
"A weeping, a darkness to me! Has an
accident—mercy and peace!—befallen the
"Yes, he is 'dead and buried, and gone
from the market-place.' Worse than that:
a convert Jew is worse than a dead one.
It's all gone, Tamara!" he repeated gravely.
"I have just seen him eating treife in
a Gentile restaurant. America has robbed
me of my glory."
"Woe is me!" the housekeeper gasped,
clutching at her wig. "Treife! Does he not
get enough to eat here?" She then burst
out, "Don't I serve him the best food there
is in the world? Any king would be glad
to get such dinners."
"Well, it seems treife tastes better,"
Asriel rejoined bitterly.
"A calamity upon my sinful head! We
must have evil-eyed the child; we have devoured
him with our admiring looks."
While Asriel was answering her volley of
questions, Flora stealthily left the house.
When Stroon missed her he hurried off
to Clinton Street. There he learned of the
landlady that her lodger had left a short
while before, in the company of his friend
and a young lady whom the two young men
had found waiting in her parlor. In his
despair Asriel betook himself to the Astor
Library, to some of Flora's friends, and even
to the Bowery restaurant.
When he reached home, exhausted with
fatigue and rage, he found his daughter in
"Where have you been?" he demanded,
"I'll tell you where, but don't aggravate
yourself, papaly," she replied in beseeching,
"Where have you been?"
"I am going to tell you, but don't blame
Shaya. He is awful fond of you. It's all
my fault. He didn't want to go, but I
couldn't help it, papaly. We've been to
the city court and got married by a judge.
Shaya didn't want to."
"Yes, but don't be angry, papaly darlin'.
We'll do everything to please you. If you
don't want him to be a doctor, he won't."
"A doctor!" he resumed, still speaking
like one in a daze. "Is that what you have
been up to? I see—you have got the best
of me, after all. You married, Flora?" he
repeated, unable to apply the meaning of
the word to his daughter. "In court—without
Canopy and Dedication—like Gentiles?
What have you done, Flora?" He
sank into a chair, gnashing his teeth and
tearing at his sidelocks.
"Papaly, papaly, don't!" she sobbed,
hugging and kissing him. "You know I
ain't to blame for it all."
It dawned upon him that no serious wrong
had been committed, after all, and that it
could all be mended by a Jewish marriage
ceremony; and so great was his relief at
the thought that it took away all his anger,
and he even felt as if he were grateful to
his daughter for not being guilty of a graver
transgression than she was.
"I know you are not to blame," he said,
tragic in his calmness. "America has done
it all. But what is the use talking! It's
gone, and I am not going to take another
sin upon my soul. I won't let you be his
wife without Canopy and Dedication. Let
the Jewish wedding come off at once—this
week—to-morrow. You have got the best
of me and I don't kick, do I? It seems
God does not want Asrielke the boor to
have some joy in his old age, nor a Kaddish
for his soul, when the worms will be feasting
upon his silly bones"—
"Oh, don't say that, papa. It'll break
my heart if you do. You know Shaya is as
good as a son to you."
"An appikoros my son? An appikoros
my Kaddish? No," he rejoined, shaking his
As he said it he felt as if Flora, too, were
a stranger to him.
He descended to the basement in a state
of mortal indifference.
"I have lost everything, Tamara," he
said. "I have no daughter, either. I am
all alone in the world—alone as a stone."
He had no sooner closed the kitchen door
behind him, than Flora was out and away
to Clinton Street to surprise her bridegroom
with the glad news of her father's surrender.
The housekeeper was in the kitchen, sewing
upon some silk vestments for the scrolls
of her synagogue. Asriel stood by her side,
leaning against the cupboard door, in front
of the Palestine box. Speaking in a bleak,
resigned undertone, he told her of Flora's
escapade and of his determination to make
the best of it by precipitating the Jewish
ceremony. A gorgeous celebration was now,
of course, out of the question. The proposed
fête which was to have been the talk
of the synagogues and which had been the
centre of his sweetest dreams had suddenly
turned in his imagination to something like a
funeral feast. Tamara bade him be of good
cheer, and cited Rabbi Nochum And-This-Too,
who would hail the severest blows of
fate with the words: "And this, too, is for
the best." But Asriel would not be comforted.
"Yes, Tamara, it is gone, all gone," he
murmured forlornly. "It was all a dream,—a
last year's lemon pie. It has flown
away and you can't catch it. Gone, and
that's all. You know how I feel? As if
some fellow had played a joke on me."
The pious woman was moved.
"But it is a sin to take things so close to
heart," she said impetuously. "You must
take care of your health. Bear up under
your affliction like a righteous Jew, Reb
Asriel. Trust to the Uppermost, and you
will live to rejoice in your child and in her
children, if God be pleased."
Asriel heaved a sigh and fell silent. He
stood with his eyes upon the pilgrim box,
listening to the whisper of her needle.
"You know what; let us go to the Land
of Israel," he presently said, as though continuing
an interrupted sentence. "They
have got the best of me. I cannot change
the world. Let them live as they please
and be responsible to the Uppermost for
themselves. I don't care the kernel of a
hollow nut. I shall give Flora half my
property and the rest I'll sell. You are a
righteous woman, Tamara. Why not marry
and end our days serving God in the Holy
Tamara plied her needle with redoubled
zeal. He could see only her glossy black
wig and the flaming dusk of her cheek.
"We'll have a comfortable living and
plenty of money for deeds of charity," he
pursued. "I know I am only a boor. Do
I say I am not? But is a boor no human
being at all? Can't I die a righteous Jew?"
he pleaded piteously.
The glossy wig bent lower and the silk
"You know that I have on my tongue
what I have on my lung, Tamara. I mean
what I say, and we want no matchmakers.
America is now treife to me. I can't show
my head. The world is dark and empty to
me. All is gone, gone, gone. I am a little
baby, Tamara. Come, take pity. I shall
see Flora married according to the laws of
Moses and Israel, and then let us put up a
canopy and set out on our journey. I want
to be born again. Well?"
There was no response.
"Since it is the will of God," she returned
resignedly, without raising her head from
Flora was all of a flutter with impatience
to share her joy with Shaya, and yearning
for his presence. She had not seen him
since he had become her legal husband, and
the two or three hours seemed a week.
When the German landlady of the little
Clinton Street house told her that neither
her lodger nor his friend were in the attic
room the young woman's heart sank within
her. Her message seemed to be bubbling
over and her over-wrought mind too weak
to bear it another minute. She mentally
berated her absent bridegroom, and not
knowing whither to bend her steps in quest
of him she repaired to some girl friends to
while away the time and to deliver herself
of part of her burden to them.
"When he comes tell him he da's not
leave for one second till I come back. Tell
him I've got some grand news for him,"
she instructed the landlady, struggling hard
against a wild temptation to unbosom herself
to the stranger.
It was about eight o'clock when she returned.
Shaya met her in the hallway.
"Well?" he inquired anxiously.
"Well?" she mocked him. "You are a
daisy! Why didn't you wait? Couldn't
you guess I'd come?"
"How should I? But tell me what your
father says. Why should you torment me?"
"He says he don't want you," she replied.
But her look told even a more encouraging
tale than the one she had to deliver, and
they flew into mutual embrace in an outburst
of happiness which seemed to both of
them unlike any they had ever experienced
"A life into your little eyes! A health
into your little hands and feet!" he muttered,
stroking her arm sheepishly. "You
shall see how fine it will all come out. You
don't know me yet. I tell you you don't
begin to know me," he kept repeating with
some braggadocio and without distinctly
knowing what he meant.
They were to return home at once and to
try to pacify Asriel as best they could.
When Flora pressed him to take his hat
and overcoat, however, he looked reluctant
and then said:—
"Floraly, you know what; come upstairs
for just one minute. We are reading the
nicest book you ever saw, and there is a
lot of such nice gentlemen there!—several
genuine Americans—Christians. Do come,
Floraly." He drew her up the two flights
of stairs almost by force. "Don't be afraid:
the landlady knows all about it," he whispered.
"You'll see what nice people. I
tell you they are so educated, and they love
Jews so much! A Jew is the same as a
Gentile to them—even better."
Flora felt a lump growing in her heart.
The notion of Shaya being at this minute
interested in anything outside of herself and
their mutual happiness literally dazed her,
and before she had time to recover from her
shock she was in the over-crowded attic.
There were some ten or twelve men in the
room, some seated—two on chairs, two on
the host's trunk, and three on his bed—the
others standing by the window or propping
the sloping wall with their heads. They
were clustered about a round table, littered
with books, papers, and cigarette stumps.
A tin can was hissing on the flat top of a
little parlor stove, and some of the company
were sipping Russian tea from tumblers,
each with a slice of lemon floating in it.
The group was made up of a middle-aged
man with a handsome and intensely intellectual
Scotch face, who was a laborer by
day and a philosopher by night; a Swedish
tailor with the face of a Catholic priest; a
Zurich Ph. D. in blue eyeglasses; a young
Hindoo who eked out a wretched existence
by selling first-rate articles to second-rate
weeklies, and several Russian Jews, all of
them insatiable debaters and most of them
with university or gymnasium diplomas.
The group met every Thursday to read
and discuss Harriet Martineau's "Auguste
Comte," under the guidance of the Scotchman,
who was a leading spirit in positivist
The philosopher surrendered his chair to
the lady, in a flurry of chivalry, but a seat
was made for him on the trunk, and he
forthwith resumed his reading with well-bred
impetuosity, the kerosene lamp in the
centre of the table casting a halo upon his
frank, pleasant face.
His auditors were now listening with conscious
attention, some of the younger men
affecting an absorbed mien or interrupting
the reader with unnecessary questions.
Shaya's eyes were traveling between Flora
and the Scotchman's audience. "Did you
ever see such a beautiful and stylish young
lady?" he seemed to be saying. "She is
my bride—mine and nobody else's in the
world," and, "Look at these great men,
Flora—I am their chum." Presently,
however, he became engrossed in the reading;
and only half-conscious of Flora's presence,
he sat leaning forward, his mouth
wide open, his face rapt, and his fingers
quietly reproducing the mental gymnastics
of Comte's system in the air.
The young woman gazed about her in
perplexity. The Scotchman and his reading
inspired her with respect, but the rest of
the company and the tout ensemble of the
scene impressed her as the haunt of queer
individuals, meeting for some sinister purpose.
It was anything but the world of intellectual
and physical elegance into which
she had dreamed to be introduced by marriage
to a doctor. Any society of "custom
peddlers" was better dressed than these
men, who appeared to her more like some
of the grotesque and uncouth characters in
Dickens's novels than an assemblage of educated
people. For a moment even Shaya
seemed a stranger and an enemy. Overcome
by the stuffy, overheated atmosphere
of the misshapen apartment, she had a sense
of having been kidnaped into the den of
some terrible creatures, and felt like crying
for help. Next she was wondering what her
Shaya could have in common with these
shabby beings and what it all had to do
with becoming a doctor and riding in a
"Shaya!" she whispered, tugging him
by the coat-sleeve.
"Just one moment, Floraly," he begged
her. "Ah, it's so deep!"
A discussion engaged itself. The Russians
fell to greedily. One of them, in
particular, a young man with a dignified
bass, was hateful to Flora. She could not
have told you why, but his voice, coupled
with the red embroidery of his Little-Russian
shirt-front, cut her to the quick.
The room was full of smoke and broken
Shaya was brimful of arguments and
questions which he had not the courage to
advance; and so he sat, now making a vehement
gesture of despair at somebody
else's absurdities, now nodding violent approval,
and altogether fidgeting about in a
St. Vitus's dance of impotent pugnacity.
"Shaya, it is getting late, and papa"—
"One second, do please, Floraly, may
you live long," he implored her, with some
irritation; and taking the book from the
Scotchman's hand, he fell to turning over
its leaves in a feverish search of what struck
him as a misinterpreted passage.
Flora was going to protest and to threaten
to leave without him, but she could neither
speak nor stir from her seat. A nightmare
of desolation and jealousy choked her—jealousy
of the Scotchman's book, of the
Little-Russian shirt, of the empty tea-glasses
with the slices of lemon on their
bottoms, of the whole excited crowd, and
of Shaya's entire future, from which she