Providential Match by Abraham Cahan
He is still known among his townspeople
as Rouvke Arbel. Rouvke they call him,
because this name, in its more respectful
form of Rouven, was bestowed upon him on
the eighth day of his life, at the ceremony
which initiated him into Israel. As to the
nickname of Arbel, which is Yiddish for
"sleeve," he is indebted for it to the apparently
never-to-be-forgotten fact that before
he came to America, and when he still
drove horses and did all sorts of work for
Peretz the distiller, he was in the habit of
assigning to the sleeves of his sheepskin
coat such duties as generally devolve upon a
That was only about four years ago; and
yet Rouvke is now quite a different young
man in quite a different coat and with a
handkerchief in its side-pocket. The face is
precisely the same: the same everlasting
frown, the same pockmarks, hollow yet ruddy
cheeks, snub nose, and little gray eyes, at
once timid and sly. But for all that, such
is the dissimilarity between the Rouvke of
four years ago and the Rouvke of to-day that
recently, when his mother, who still peddles
boiled potatoes in Kropovetz, Government
of Kovno, had been surprised by a photograph
of her son, her first impulse was to
spit at the portrait and to repudiate it as the
ungodly likeness of some unknown gentile.
But then this photograph, which, by the way,
Rouvke had taken by mere chance and for
the sole reason that it was no use trying to
get any cash from the Bowery photographer,
to whom he had sold, on the installment plan,
"a pair of pants made to order"—this photograph
fully establishes its original's claim
of not being a "greener" in the New World.
For this is what the portrait reveals.
Rouvke's hair is now entirely free from the
pair of sidelocks, or peieths, which dangled
over his ears when he first set foot on American
soil; it is parted in the middle and
combed on either side in the shape of a curled
ostrich-feather. He wears a collar; and this
collar is so high and so much below the size
of his neck that it gives you the uncomfortable
idea of its owner having swallowed the
handle of the whip with which he used to
rule over Peretz the distiller's mare. The
flannel muffler, which seemed never to part
company with him while he lived in Kropovetz,
has been supplanted by a gay necktie,
and the sheepskin by a diagonal "cut-away."
Now, if you were conversant with the business
of "custom-peddling," you might perhaps
conjecture, upon inspecting Rouvke's
photograph, that his cut-away, which seems
to be at least one size too large for him, had
formerly encased the portly figure of a bartender.
And so it had, although for no
length of time; for finding the bartender
as backward in his payments as the photographer
had been, Rouvke soon contrived
to prevail upon his delinquent customer to
exchange the cut-away for a "mishfeet corkshcrew
Printz Albert," which would "feet
him like a glove," and carrying off the diagonal
in advance he let the bartender wait
for the glove-like garment until doomsday.
But "bishness is bishness," as Rouvke
would put it. Otherwise he is quite a fine
fellow. His bills he pays promptly. On
the Eve of the Day of Atonement he subscribes
a dollar or two to the funds of the
synagogue "Sons of Kropovetz," and has
been known to start a newly arrived townsman
in business by standing his security in
a perforated chair-seat store to the amount
of two dollars and a half. Nevertheless,
since he visits the Bowery Savings Bank on
Saturdays with the same punctuality with
which he puts on his phylacteries and prays
in his room every morning on week-days, and
since his townsfolk, who, unlike him, are
blessed with families, cannot afford such
excursions to the Bowery institution, these
latter Kropovetz Americans begrudge him
his bank account, as well as his credit in the
peddler-supply stores, and out of sheer envy
like to refer to him, not as Robert Friedman,
as his business-card reads, but as "Rouvke
Arbel—what do you think of that slouch!"
Let us hope, however, that these invidious
references never reach Rouvke's ears; for
his susceptibilities in this direction are, it
must be owned, rather keen. Indeed, if there
be a weakness of which he is guilty, it is a
rather intense love of approbation and a
slight proneness to parade himself. I do not
know what he would not give to have people
say: "Robert is a smart fellow! Robert is
no greenhorn! Robert is the best soul in
the world!" It was this foible which, in
translating his first name into English, caused
him to prefer Robert to Reuben, on the
ground that the former appellation seemed
to have less of Kropovetz and more of a
"tzibilized" sound to it.
The feminine element was until recently
absent from Rouvke's life. True, while at
home, in the domestic employ of Peretz, the
distiller, he would bestow an occasional pinch
on Leike the servant maid's cheek. But
that was by no means a pinch of gallantry;
it was never one of those pinches which a
Kropovetz lad will accompany with a look
of ostensible mock admiration in his half-shut
eyes, and with the exclamation: "Capital
stuff, that! as sure as I am a Jew!"
No! Leike the lame devil, Leike the scold,
Rouvke hated from the deepest recesses of
his driver's soul; and when he pinched her,
as he often did in the kitchen, he did it, not
from love, but simply that she might smart
and "jump to heaven, the scarecrow." And
Leike would so amply repay him with the
ladle, that there would ensue a series of the
most complex and the most ingenious oaths,
attended by hair-tearing and by squeaking,
till the mistress would come rushing in and
terminate the war by boxing the ears of both
To Hanele, his master's only daughter,
Rouvke used to serve tea with more alacrity
than to the rest of the family; and when
Feive, the matchmaker, made his first appearance
and the first suitor was introduced,
Rouvke's appetite for sour cream and rye
bread somehow disappeared for a few days,
while Rouvke himself moved about as if out
of gear, and on one occasion caught a slap
in the face, because, upon being ordered to
fetch a pail of water, he stood staring as if
he did not understand Yiddish. But this
seemed of no consequence, and Rouvke himself
could not, for the life of him, explain
this sudden disappearance both of his appetite
and presence of mind. Indeed, how
could he have dared to connect Hanele with
it? What could there have been in common
between the relish for sour cream of a mere
driver, and the pet daughter of Reb Peretz,
the distiller, the son of Rabbi Berele,
and the first citizen of Kropovetz?
The negotiations of which Hanele was the
object were soon broken off, and Rouvke's
truant appetite again fell into the line of
drivers' appetites; with this difference, however,
that, when Hanele asked for a glass of
tea, he would now run to serve her with still
more eagerness than before.
Suitor after suitor called and was dismissed,
until a year rolled by, when Rouvke's
name appeared in the military service-roll,
and he packed off for America.
In America he passed his first four years
in the school of peddling, among the most
diligent and most successful of its students,
and so had no mind for anything else in the
world. Only during the first few months
his heart would almost unremittingly be
pining and yearning after Kropovetz—after
his mother, his master's family, his master's
apple-tree, under which he had loved to
steal a nap on summer days; the raised
lawn in front of the house, where he would
sit down of a Friday evening and show off
his enormous top-boots, just after he had
given them a fresh coat of tar, "in honor of
the Sabbath;" the well by the synagogue,
where on Saturdays, during the intermission
in the morning prayer, he used to indulge
in a lark with his chums, while the elder
members of the congregation were attending
the reading of the scrolls. But of all the
memories which at this early period of his
life in New York troubled his busy mind
and gnawed at his enterprising heart that of
Hanele was the most excruciating and the
most persistent. In due course, however,
the waves of time drowned in his mind and
in his heart Hanele as well as the apple-tree,
the lawn in front of the house, and the
well by the synagogue. Only at rare intervals,
when plying a new arrival from Kropovetz
with questions as to the place where
his cradle had been rocked, Rouvke would,
after a cursory inquiry concerning the health
of his mother and of the Peretz family in
general, exact the most minute information
about Hanele; and then he would for some
time feel as if his heart was "stretching,"
as he himself would mentally define the
effect of his stirred-up recollections.
For the rest, Rouvke followed the regular
peddler course with undisturbed assiduity.
From a handkerchief peddler he was promoted
to "basket-peddling"—that is to
say, his stock became plentiful enough and
heterogeneous enough to call for a portable
store in the shape of a basket. After a
while he joined the class where the peddling
is done on the "stairses" of tenement-houses.
The curriculum of this class includes the
occasional experience of being sent head
foremost down all the "stairses," of then
picking one's self up and imperturbably
knocking at some door on the ground-floor,
only to come face to face with the janitor
and thus get into fresh trouble, and so on.
Finally, Rouvke reached the senior grade of
the institution, and graduated with the degree
of custom peddler, and with the following
business card for his diploma: "Robert
Friedman, Dealer in Furniture, Carpets,
Jewelry, Clothing, Ladies' Dress Goods, etc.
Weekly Payments Taken."
As has been said, Rouvke was a stranger
to the feminine world. He met a good
many members of the gentle sex, but that
was exclusively in a business way. The
other peddlers he would often encounter on
the street in company with nicely dressed
"yoong laddas," with whom they loudly
spoke in English. He also knew that these
fellows attended dancing academies, balls,
and picnics; but to him himself these entertainments
were a terra incognita. And
sometimes when Rouvke entered the house
of a fellow countryman on business (Rouvke
never visited his fellow countrymen except
on business), and there happening to be an
English-speaking young woman, the host
said: "Miss Goldberg—Mr. Friedman;
Mr. Friedman—Miss Goldberg," Mr.
Friedman would blush crimson at the transaction,
while the sentence, "I'm pleashed
to meech you," which he well knew was then
in order, stuck in his throat and would not
budge. This, however, was no common
occurrence, for Rouvke took care to avoid
such predicaments. At all events, he never
allowed these things to bother his head.
After a while, however, by the time the
peddlers and his townsfolk estimated his
capital in cash at five thousand dollars, and
when he actually had over three thousand
dollars in bank deposits and twenty-five
summers behind his back, his heart somehow
resumed its old stretching process. He was
at a loss to account for it; but he became
aware that each time he passed by a pretty
young woman this stretching sensation forced
him to outrun her, and, making a show of
stopping to look at a window display, to
allow his eyes to stray off under the brim of
the fair one's hat.
He gradually became a new sort of Rouvke.
Formerly, when he was subjected to the tortures
of an introduction to a "yoong ladda,"
the ordeal would result in a mere blush,
accompanied by one or two minutes' violent
throbbing. Whereas now, every time a
similar accident befell him, he would, after
the calamity was over, hasten to find himself
in front of a looking-glass, and fall to inspecting
his glaring necktie and more particularly
the pockmarks on his nose. In times
past he was hardly ever conscious of these
traces of smallpox on his face; now they
dwelt in his mind with such pertinacity that
one night he dreamed of seeing a watermelon,
which was somehow at the same time
a dog with a huge nose all covered with
pocks. And when he awoke in the morning
he felt so sick at heart that he could not
relish his breakfast, and was so dazed all
that day that he had a carpet sent to an
Irishwoman who had ordered some satin for
Rouvke enrolled in a public evening
school for immigrants, and when he had
achieved the wisdom of piecing together the
letters in "cat," "rat," "mat," of the First
Reader, he one afternoon bought a newspaper,
and applied himself to looking for an
advertisement of some physician who would
undertake to remove the footprints of smallpox.
He had an idea that the papers contained
kindred advertisements. The undertaking
proved a failure, however, for Rouvke
could detect in the paper neither "cat" nor
"rat," while the other words only swam before
his eyes. And his heart was "stretching"
It would be unfair to Rouvke, however,
to ascribe his attending evening school to
the sole purpose of being able to make out
a medical advertisement. His chief motive
therefor was twofold: In the first place, he
would often say to himself: "Robert, bear
in mind that you are Rouvke no longer; the
chances are that in a year or two you may
open a peddler's supply-store of your own:
now, you know that the owner of a store
who cannot read and write is in danger of
being robbed by his bookkeeper." In the
second place, his "stretching" heart seemed
to whisper: "Robert, remember those ladies
have nothing but sneers for a gentleman who
does not know how to read a newspaper."
Moreover, those of his fellow peddlers
who had studied the Talmud in Russia, and
having, therefore, some mental training,
found no trouble in picking up some crumbs
of broken English in its written form, would
often rally him on the "iron head" he must
possess to retain the ponderous load of the
addresses and accounts of his numerous customers
without committing them to writing.
These pleasantries pierced Rouvke to the
heart; but the pain they gave him was not
half so cruel as his moral pangs at the jokes
which were showered at him on the subject
of his shyness in the presence of ladies.
Often he would be entrapped into the company
of a "nearly American-born" daughter
of Israel; but a still more frequent prank
at his expense was for a facetious fellow to
drag him out to the middle of the floor in a
peddler-supply store, and to force him into
a waltz, or to jestingly measure his legs, by
way of ascertaining their potential adroitness
in a dancing-hall. "Eh, Robert!" they
would torment him, "buy a teecket for a
ball, veel you? A ball fi'sht clesh, I tell
you. Come, ven the laddas veel shee you,
dey veel get shtuck—in de co'ners." Robert
would struggle, scream, swear, and, after
all, steal up to the front of the looking-glass.
And his heart would be "stretching" and
Whenever he heard of a new marriage,
he would apply for details as to the bride
and the bridegroom—how much he earned
a week, how they came to be engaged, what
space of time interposed between the engagement
and the wedding. One Saturday morning,
while mounting the stairs which led to
his miniature hall bedroom, he saw through
an open door a young woman buttoning the
shirt-collar for her husband; whereupon his
heart swelled with a feeling of mixed envy
and extreme friendliness for the young
couple. "Who is he?" he remarked to
himself, on reaching his room, which now
seemed to him desolate and lonely. "Only
a tailor, a penniless workman. When I am
married I shall not live in a tenement
house." And at this his fancy unfolded a
picture: A parlor with bronze clock on the
mantelpiece; a mirror between two lace window-curtains;
a dark-eyed little woman in
a chocolate-colored wrapper sweeping a carpet
of flaming red and yellow; and, behold!
he, Robert, comes in from business, and the
young woman addresses him in a piping little
voice: "Hello, Rob! Will you have
dinner?" just as he had the day before seen
in the house of a newly married custom-peddler.
And it came to pass, in those days of
"heart-stretching," that one Saturday morning
Robert met at the "Sons of Kropovetz"
Synagogue a new arrival from his native
place in the person of Feive the melamed.
As the Hebrew term implies, this tall and
bony old gentleman, with the face of a
martyr, had at home conducted one of the
schools in which a Jewish boy passes the
day, learning the Word of God. As is not
unusual with melameds, Feive's profession
yielded him an income which made it necessary
for him to devote his spare hours to
the business of shadchen, or shidech agent—that
is, of matchmaker in the matrimonial
sense of the word. In course of time
the shadchen spirit had become so deeply
imbedded in Reb Feive's soul that even on
finding himself in New York, and before
his draggling satin coat had had time to exhale
its lingering traces of steerage odors,
his long and snuff-stocked nose fell to smelling
"Ah, Reb Feive!" Rouvke accosted his
townsman, "how do you do? Quite an unexpected
guest, as sure as I am a Jew!
When did you arrive?"
And after a perfunctory catechism upon
the health of his mother and Kropovetz
matters in general, he inquired about his
"Peretz?" the old man echoed Rouvke's
interrogation. "May the Uppermost have
mercy on him! You have heard that he is
now in reduced circumstances, have you
not? The distillery is closed."
"You don't say so!"
"Yes, he is in a very bad way," Reb
Feive resumed, curling one of his long yellowish-gray
sidelocks. "You know what
hard times the Jews are now having in Russia.
Things are getting from bad to worse—may
He whom I dare not mention without
washing my hands deliver us and preserve!—a
Jew can nowadays hardly engage
in any business, much less in the liquor line.
Poor Peretz, he looks so careworn!"
"Can it be true that the distillery has
been closed? I am very sorry."
Rouvke was moved with profound pity
for his old employer, who had been kind to
him, and to whom he had been devoted.
But this feeling of commiseration was instantly
succeeded by a vague sense of triumph.
"What have I lived to see!"
Rouvke seemed to exclaim. "I am now
richer than Reb Peretz, as sure as I am a
Jew!" And at this he became aware of
the bank-book in his breast-pocket.
"Oh, I am very, very sorry for him!" he
added, with renewed sincerity, after a slight
pause. "Why, such an honest Jew! And
how is Hanele?"
"As usual," the shadchen rejoined—"still
unmarried. But it serves Peretz
right (may God not punish me for my hard
words!). When I offered her the best
matches in the world, he was hard to please.
Nothing short of a king would have suited
As the old shadchen spoke his right arm,
hand, and fingers were busily engaged punctuating
his words with a system of the most
intricate and most diversified evolutions in
"And how does she look?" Rouvke again
broke in. "Is she still as pretty as she used
"That she is," the matchmaker returned
grimly. "But all the worse for her. Would
she were plainer looking, for then her father
would not have been so fastidious about a
young man for her, and she might be a
mother of three children by this time."
"Oh, she will have no trouble in making
a match; such a beauty!" Rouvke observed.
In the afternoon of the same day, Rouvke
lay across his bed with his legs stretched on
a chair, after his wont, and his head lost in
recollections of Hanele. She had recently
all but faded away from his memory, and
when he did have occasion to recall her, her
portrait before his mind's eye would be a
mere faint-drawn outline. But now, singularly
enough, he could somehow again vividly
see her good-natured, deep, dark eyes,
and her rosy lips perpetually exposing the
dazzling whiteness of her teeth and illuminating
her pallid face with inextinguishable
good humor; he could hear the rustle of
her fresh calico dress as she friskily ran up
to answer her father's solemnly affectionate
"Good Sabbath," on Reb Peretz's return
from synagogue, the last Saturday before
The image did not send a yearning thrill
through Rouvke, as it would have done during
his first few months in America; still,
on the other hand, it now had for his
wearied soul a quieting, benign charm, which
it had never exercised before, and the more
deeply to indulge in its soothing effect, he
shut his eyes. "Suppose I marry her."
The thought flashed through his mind, but
was instantly dismissed as an absurdity too
gross to be indulged even for a pastime.
But the thought carried him back to his old
days in Kropovetz, and he wished he could
go there in flesh for a visit. What a glorious
time it would be to let them see his
stylish American dress, his business-like
manners and general air of prosperity and
"echucation"! Ah, how they would be
stupefied to see the once Rouvke Arbel thus
elegantly attired, "like a regula' dood"!
For who in all Kropovetz wears a cut-away,
a brown derby, a necktie, and a collar like
his? And would it not be lovely to donate
a round sum to the synagogue? Oh, how
he would be sought after and paraded!
"Poor Reb Peretz!" he said to himself,
transferring his thoughts to the news of his
old employer's adversity. "Poor Hanele!"
Whereat the Kropovetz girl loomed up, her
head lowered and tears trickling down her
cheeks, as he had once seen her when she
sat quietly lamenting her defeated expectation
of a new dress. Rouvke conceived the
vague idea of sending Reb Peretz fifty dollars,
which would make the respectable sum
of one hundred rubles. But the generous
plan was presently lost in a labyrinth of figures,
accounts of his customers, and reflections
upon his prospective store, which the
notion of fifty dollars called forth in his
He thus lay plunged in meditation until
his reverie was broken by the door flying
"Good Sabbath! Good Sabbath!" Reb
Feive greeted his young townsman with his
martyr-like features relaxed into a significant
smile, as he squeezed himself through
the narrow space between the half-opened
door and the foot of the bedstead. "Do
not take ill my not knocking at the door
first. I am not yet used to your customs
here, greenhorn that I am."
"Ah, Reb Feive! Good Sabbath!"
Rouvke returned, starting up with an anxious
air and foreboding an appeal for pecuniary
"Guess what brings me, Rouven."
"How can I tell?" the host rejoined, with
a forced simper. "And why should you
not call just for a visit in honor of the Sabbath?
You are a welcome guest. Be
seated," he added, indicating his solitary
chair and himself keeping his seat on the
bed, which rendered the additional service
"How dare these beggarly greenhorns
beset me in this manner?" he left unsaid.
"Indeed, what business have they to come
to America at all?"
"Well, how are things going on in Kropovetz?"
he asked, audibly. "Business is
very dull here—very dull, indeed—may I
not be punished for talking business on
"Well, do leave business alone! You
had better hear my errand, Rouven," the
matchmaker said, working his fingers.
"Suppose I had a shidech for you, eh?"
"A shidech?" Rouvke ejaculated, much
relieved from his misgivings, only to become
all of a flutter with delicious surprise.
"Yes, a shidech; and what sort of a one!
You never dreamed of such a shidech, I can
assure you. Never mind blushing like that.
Why, is it not high time for a young man
like you to get married?"
"I am not blushing at all," Rouvke protested,
coloring still more deeply, and missing
the sentence by which he had been
about to inform himself of the fair one's
name without betraying his feverish impatience.
"Well," Reb Feive resumed, with a smile,
and twisting his sidelock into a corkscrew,
"it would be too cruel to try your patience.
Let us come straight to the point, then. I
mean—guess whom—well, I mean Hanele,
Peretz the distiller's Hanele! What do you
think of that?" the shadchen added in a
whisper, as he let go of his corkscrew, and
started back in well-acted ecstasy to watch
the produced effect.
Rouvke flushed up to the roots of his
hair, while his mouth opened in one of those
embarrassed grins which seem to be especially
adapted to the mouths of Kropovetz
horse-drivers,—one which makes the general
expression of the face such that you are
at a loss whether to take it for a smile or
for the preliminary to a cry.
"You must be joking, Reb Feive. Why
I a-a-a-I am not thinking of getting married
as yet; a-a-you had better tell me some
news," he faltered.
The fact is that the shadchen's attack had
taken him so unawares that it gave him no
time to analyze his own mind, and although
the subject thrilled his soul with delightful
curiosity, he dreaded the risk of committing
himself. But Feive was not the man to let
himself be put off so easily in matters of a
professional nature; and so, warming up to
the beloved topic, he launched out in a flood
of garrulity, emphasizing his speech now by
striking some figure in space, now by an energetic
twirl of his yellowish gray appendages.
He enlarged with real shadchenlike
gusto on the prospective bride's virtues and
accomplishments; on the love which, according
to him, she had always professed for
Rouvke; on the frivolity of American girls;
on the honor it would confer upon his listener
to marry into the family of Reb Peretz
Rouvke followed Reb Feive with breathless
attention, but never uttered a word or
a gesture which might be interpreted into
an encouragement. This, however, mattered
but little to the old matrimonial commission
agent, for, carried away with his own eloquence,
he talked himself into the impression
that Rouvke "was willing," if I may
be permitted to borrow a phrase from a
more famous horse-driver. At any rate,
when Reb Feive suddenly bethought himself
that he came near missing the afternoon
service at the synagogue, and abruptly got
up from his seat, Rouvke seemed anxious to
detain him; and as he returned "What is
your hurry, Reb Feive?" to his departing
visitor's "Good-pie!—is that the way you
say here on leaving?" he felt for the old
man a kind of filial tenderness.
Choson is a term applied to a Jewish
young man, embracing the period from the
time he is placed on the matrimonial market
down to the termination of the nuptial
festivities. There is all the difference
in the world between a choson and a common
unmarried mortal of the male sex, who
is left to the bare designation of bocher, the
very sound of the hymeneal title possessing
an indefinable charm, an element of solemnity,
which seems to invest its bearer with a
Reb Feive thus suddenly, as if by a magic
wand, converted Rouvke from a simple bocher
into a choson. And so keenly alive was
Rouvke to his unexpected transformation,
that for some time after the wizard's departure
his face was wreathed in bashful smiles,
as if his new self, by its dazzling presence,
embarrassed him. He felt the change in
himself in a general way, however, and
quite apart from the idea of Hanele. As to
Peretz's daughter, the notion of her assenting
to marry him again seemed preposterous.
Besides, admitting for argument's sake, as
the phrase goes, that she would accept him,
Rouvke reflected that he would then not be
fool enough to enter into wedlock with a
portionless girl; that if he waited a year or
two longer (although it seemed much too
long to wait), that is, until he was a prospering
storekeeper, he could get for a wife
the daughter of some Division Street merchant
with two or three thousand dollars
into the bargain.
So he relinquished the thought of Hanele
as a thing out of the question and proceeded
to picture himself the choson of some American
girl. But as he was making that effort,
the image of the Kropovetz maiden kept
intruding upon his imagination, interfering
with the mental process, and his heart seemed
all the while to be longing after the dismissed
subject and filled with the desire that
he might have both matches to choose from.
Finally, he yielded and resumed the discussion
of Reb Feive's project. The idea of a
Division Street business man for a father-in-law,
beside the assumption of becoming
the son-in-law of Reb Peretz, appeared
prosaic and vulgar. Those New York merchants
had risen from the mire, like himself,
while his old master looked at the world
from the lofty height of distinguished birth,
added to Talmudical learning and exceeding
social importance. And here the ties of
traditional reverence and adoration which
bound Rouvke to his former employer made
themselves keenly felt in his heart. Ah, for
the privilege of calling Reb Peretz father-in-law!
To think of the stir the news would
make among his townsfolk, both in Kropovetz
and here in New York! Besides, the
American-born or "nearly American-born"
girls inspire him with fear. These young
ladies are brought up at picnics and balls,
while to him the very thought of inviting a
lady for a dance is embarrassing. What
are they good for, anyway? They look
more Christian than Jewish, and are only
great hands at squandering their husbands'
money on candy, dresses, and theatres. A
woman like that would domineer over him,
treat him haughtily, and generally make
life a burden to him. Hanele, dear Hanele,
on the other hand, is a true daughter of
Israel. She would make a good housekeeper;
would occasionally also mind the
store; would accompany him to synagogue
every Saturday; and that is just what a
man like him wants in a wife. An English-speaking
Mrs. Friedman he would have to
call "darling," a word barren of any charm
or meaning for his heart, whereas Hanele
he would address in the melodious terms of
"Kreinele meine! Gold meine!" Ah,
the very music of these sounds would make
him cry with happiness!
The thought of a walk to synagogue with
Hanele, dressed in a plush cloak and an
enormous hat, by his side, and of whispering
these words of endearment in her ear was
enchanting enough; but then, enchantment-like,
the spectacle soon faded away before
the hard, retrospective fact of Rouvke, the
horse-driver, in top-boots, serving tea to
Hanele, the only daughter of Reb Peretz
the distiller. "Oh, it cannot be! Feive is
a greener to take such a match into his
head!" he mentally exclaimed in black despair.
And forthwith he once more sought
consolation in the prospect of a marriage
portion which a New York wife would bring
him, and fell to adding the probable amount
to his own future capital. Hanele will reject
him? Why, so much the better! That
makes it impossible for him to commit the
folly of sacrificing at least two thousand
dollars. And his spirits rose at the narrow
escape he was having from a ruinous temptation.
Still, lurking in a deeper corner of
his heart, there lingered something which
wounded his pride and made him feel as if
he would much rather have that means of
escape cut off from him and the temptation
left for himself to grapple with.
Feive, the melamed, had another talk with
Rouvke; but although he did not hesitate
to speak authoritatively of Reb Peretz's and
Hanele's assent, he utterly failed to elicit
from his interlocutor any positive hint. Nothing
daunted, however, the shadchen despatched
a lengthy epistle to Reb Peretz.
He went off in raptures over Rouvke's
wealth, social rank in America, and religious
habits, and gave him credit for newly acquired
education. "It is not the Rouvke
of yore," read at least one line on each of
the ten pages of the letter. The installment
peddling business was elevated to the dignity
of a combination of large concerns in furniture,
jewelry, and clothing. The owner of
this thriving establishment was depicted as
panting with love for Hanele, and this again
was pointed out as proof that the match had
been foreordained by Providence.
Reb Peretz's answer had not reached its
destination when in New York there occurred
two events which came to the daring matchmaker's
The daughter of a Seventh Ward landlord
had been betrothed to a successful custom
peddler, her father promising one thousand
dollars in cash, in addition to a complete
household outfit, as her marriage portion.
As the fixed wedding-day drew near, the
choson was one day shocked to receive from
his would-be father-in-law the intimation
that his girl and the household outfit were
good enough on their own merits, and that
the thousand dollars would have to be dispensed
with. The young man immediately
cut short his visits to the landlord's daughter;
but a fortnight had hardly elapsed before
he found himself behind prison bars on
an action brought in the name of his brokenhearted
sweetheart. How the matter was
compromised does not concern our story;
but the news, which for several days was
the main topic of gossip in the peddler
stores, reached Rouvke; and the effect it
had on him the reader may well imagine: it
riddled to pieces the only unfavorable argument
in his discussion of Feive's offer.
A still more powerful element in reaching
a conclusion was with Rouvke the following
One day he went to see the shadchen,
who had his lodging in the house of a fellow
townsman. While he stood behind the door
adjusting his necktie, as he now invariably
did before entering a house, he overheard a
loud dialogue between the housewife and
her boarder. Catching his own name,
Rouvke paused with bated breath to listen.
"Pray, don't be talking nonsense, Reb
Feive," came to the ears of our eavesdropper.
"Peretz the distiller give his Hanele
in marriage to Rouvke Arbel!—That pock-pitted
bugbear and Hanele! Such a beauty,
such a pampered child! Why, anybody
would be glad to marry her, penniless as she
may be. She marry that horrid thing, slop-tub,
cholera that he is!"
Rouvke was cut to the quick; and shivering
before the prospect of hearing some
further uncomplimentary allusions to himself,
he was on the point of beating retreat;
but the very thought of those epithets continuing
to be uttered at his expense, even
though beyond his hearing, was too painful
to bear; and so he put a stop to them by a
knock at the door.
"But are you really sure, Reb Feive, that
Reb Peretz will have me?" he queried, after
a little, all of a flutter, in a private conversation
with the shadchen, in the bedroom.
"Leave it to me," the marriage-broker
replied. "I have managed greater things
in my lifetime. It is as good as settled."
"See if I do not marry Hanele after all,
if only to spite you, grudging witch that
you are!" Rouvke, in his heart, addressed
to his townswoman, on emerging from the
pitchy darkness of the little bedroom.
"Good-by, Mrs. Kohen!" his tongue then
said, as his eyes looked daggers at her.
Reb Peretz concluded the reading of Reb
Feive's letter by good naturedly calling him
"foolish melamed." Little by little, however,
the very fact that the shadchen could
now dare conceive such a match at all began
to mortify him. It took him back to
the time when Rouvke used to sit behind
his mare, and when he, Reb Peretz, was
the most prosperous Jew for miles around,
and it wrung his heart with pity both for
himself and for Hanele. He became aware
that it was over a year since a young man
had come to offer himself, and instead of
becoming irritated with his daughter, as
had latterly been frequently the case with
him, he was overpowered by an acute twinge
of hurt pride, as well as by compunction
for the splendid matrimonial opportunities
which he had brushed aside from her. It
occurred to Reb Peretz that Hanele was
now in her twenty-fifth year, whereupon his
fancy reproachfully pointed at his cherished
child in the form of a gray-haired old maid.
A shudder ran through his veins at the
vision, and he began to seek refuge in commercial
air castles, but the a๋rial structures
were presently blown away, only to leave
him face to face with the wretched ramshackle
edifice of his actual affairs. His
attention reverted to the American letter,
but the collocation of Rouvke Arbel with
Hanele sickened Reb Peretz. His self-respect
suddenly rushed back upon him, and
he felt like "tearing out the beard and sidelocks"
of the impudent shadchen.
Nevertheless, he took up the letter once
more. This time the matchmaker's eulogies
of Rouvke's flourishing business made
a deeper impression on him, and brought
the indistinct reflection that in course of
time he might have to emigrate to America
himself with his whole family.
"Pooh, nonsense!" he ultimately concluded,
after a third or fourth reading of
Reb Feive's missive. "America makes a
new man of every young fellow. There had
not been a more miserable wretch than
Tevke, the watchman; and yet when he
recently came back from America for a
visit, he looked like a prince. Let her go
and be a mother of children, as behooves a
daughter of Israel. We must trust to God.
The match does look like a Providential
Reb Peretz was a whole day in mustering
courage for an explanation with Hanele.
But when he had at last broached the subject
to her, by means of rendering Feive's
Hebrew letter into Yiddish, his undertaking
proved easier of achievement than he had
Hanele was really a "true daughter of
Israel," and this implies that her education
was limited to the reading of a Yiddish
version of the Five Books of Moses, and
that her knowledge of the world did not
extend beyond "Kropovetz and its goats,"
as the phrase runs in her native town. She
was a taciturn, good-natured, and tractable
girl, and her greatest pleasure was to be
knitting fancy tablecloths and brooding
over day-dreams. Moreover, the repeated
appearance and disappearance of chosons, by
recurrently unsettling her hitherto calm and
easy heart, had left it in a state of perpetual
unrest. She had not fallen in love with
any of the young men who had sought her
hand and her marriage portion, for, according
to a rigid old rule of propriety to which
her father clung, she never had been allowed
the chance of interchanging a word with any
of them, even while the suit was pending.
Still, when a month passed without a shadchen
putting in an appearance, she would
often, when the latch gave a click, raise her
eyes to the door in the eager hope that it
would admit a member of that profession.
In her reveries she now frequently dwelt on
her girl friends who had married out of
Kropovetz, and then her soul would be yearning
and longing, she knew not after what.
With all the tender affection which tied her
to her family, with all her attachment to
her native surroundings, her father's house
became dreary and lonely to her; she grew
tired of her home and homesick after the
rest of the world.
To be sure, the first intimation as to her
marrying Rouvke Arbel shocked her, and
on realizing the full meaning of the offer
she dropped her head on her father's shoulder
and burst into tears. But as Reb Peretz
stroked her hair, while he presented the
matter in an aspect which was even an improvement
on Feive's plea, he gradually
hypnotized her into a lighter mood, and
she recalled Rouvke's photograph, which his
mother had on several occasions flaunted before
her. The match now assumed a somewhat
romantic phase. She let her jaded
imagination waft her away to an unknown
far-off land, where she saw herself glittering
with gold and pearls and nestling up to a
masculine figure in sumptuous attire. It was
a bewitching, thrilling scene only slightly
marred by the dim outline of Rouvke in
top-boots and sheepskin rising in the background.
Ah, it was such a pity to have that
taint on the otherwise fascinating picture!
And, in order to remove the sickly blotch,
Hanele essayed to rig Rouvke out in a "cut-away,"
stand-up collar, and necktie after
the model of the photograph. But then her
effort produced a total stranger with features
she could not make out, while Rouvke
Arbel, top-boots, sheepskin and all, seemed to
have dodged the elegant attire and to remain
aloof both from the stranger and the photograph.
Well, it is not Rouvke, then, who
is proposed to her, she settled, with the
three images crowding each other in her
mind. It is an entirely new man. Besides,
who can tell what may transpire? Let her
first get to America and then—who knows,
but she may in truth marry another man, a
nice young fellow who had never been her
father's servant? And Hanele felt that such
would be the case. At all events, did not
Baske David, the flour merchant's daughter,
marry a former blacksmith in America, and
is she not happy? Ah, the letters she
writes to her!
"Say yes or no. Speak out, my little
dove," Reb Peretz insisted, in conclusion of
a second conversation on the same subject.
"It is not my destiny which is to be decided.
It is for you to say," he added, feeling
that Hanele had no business to render
any but an affirmative decision.
"Yes," she at last whispered, drooping
her head and bursting into a cry.
The shadchen gave himself no rest, and
letters sailed over the Atlantic by the dozen.
In his first reply Reb Peretz took care to
appear oscillating. His second contained a
hint as to the attachment which Hanele had
always felt for Rouvke, whom they had
treated like one of the family. There were
also letters with remote allusions to money
which Hanele would want for some dresses
and to pay her way. And thus, with every
message he penned, the conviction gained
on Reb Peretz that his daughter would be
happy in America, and that the match was
really of Providential origin.
These letters operated on Rouvke's heart
as an ointment does on a wound, to cite
his own illustration; and in spite of the
money hints, which constituted the fly in
this ointment, he felt happy. He thought
of Hanele; he dreamed of her; and, above
all, he thought and dreamed of the sensation
which her departure from home would
create at Kropovetz, and of his glory on her
arrival in New York. "Good luck to you,
Robert!" the peddlers repeatedly congratulated
him. "Have you ever dreamed of
becoming the son-in-law of Peretz the distiller?
There should be no end to the
treats which you ought to stand now." And
Robert stood treat and was wreathed in
It was a busy day at Castle Garden.
Several transatlantic steamers had arrived,
and the railed inclosure within the vast shed
was alive with a motley crowd of freshly
landed steerage passengers. Outside, there
was a cluster of empty merchandise trucks
waiting for their human loads, while at a
haughty distance from these stood a pair
of highly polished carriages—quite a rare
sight in front of the immigrant landing station.
It was Rouvke who had engaged
these superior vehicles. He had come in
them with Reb Feive, and with two or three
others of his fellow countrymen and brothers
in business, to meet Hanele. He was dressed
in his Saturday clothes and in a brand-new
brown derby hat, and even wore a huge red
rose which one of the party, a gallant custom
peddler, had stuck into the lapel of his
"cut-away" before starting.
The atmosphere of the barn-like garden
was laden with nauseating odors of steerage
and of carbolic acid, and reeking with human
wretchedness. Leaning against the
railing or sitting on their baggage, there
were bevies of unkempt men and women in
shabby dress of every cut and color, holding
on to ragged, bulging parcels, baskets, or
sacks, and staring at space with a look of
forlorn, stupefied, and cowed resignation.
The cry of children in their mothers' arms,
blending in jarring discord with the gruff
yells of the uniformed officers, jostling their
way through the crowd, and with the general
hum and buzz inside and outside the
inclosure, made the scene as painful to the
ear as it was to the eye and nostrils, and
completed the impression of misery and desolation.
Rouvke and his companions, among a
swarm of other residents of the East Side,
who, like themselves, had come to meet
newly landed friends, stood gazing through
the railing. Rouvke was nervously biting
his finger-nails, and now and then brushing
his new derby with his coat-sleeve or adjusting
his necktie. Reb Feive was winding
his sidelock about his finger, while the
young peddlers were vying with each other
in pleasantries appropriate to the situation.
Our choson was lost in a tumult of emotions.
He made repeated attempts at collecting his
wits and devising a befitting form of welcome;
he tried to figure to himself Hanele's
present appearance and to forecast her conduct
on first catching sight of him; he also
essayed to analyze the whole situation and to
think out a plan for the immediate future.
But all his efforts fell flat. His thoughts
were fragmentary, and no sooner had he
laid hold of an idea or an image than it
would flee from his mind again and his attention
would, for spite, as it were, occupy
itself with the merest trifle, such as the size
of the whiskers of one of the officers or the
sea-biscuit at which an immigrant urchin
At last Rouvke's heart gave a leap. His
eyes had fallen on Hanele. She was still
more beautiful and charming than before.
Instead of the spare and childish-looking
girl whom he had left at Kropovetz, there
stood before him a stately, well-formed
young woman of twenty-five.
"Ha—Ha—Hanele!" he gasped out,
all but melting away with emotion, and suddenly
feeling, not like Robert Friedman,
but like Rouvke Arbel.
Hanele turned her head toward him, but
she did not see him. So at least it seemed,
for instead of pushing her way to the part
of the railing where he stood, she started
back and obliterated herself in the crowd.
Presently her name was called, together
with other names, and she emerged from a
stream of fellow immigrants. More dead
than alive, Rouvke ran forward to meet
her; but he had advanced two steps when
his legs refused to proceed, and his face became
blank with amazement. For, behold,
snugly supporting Hanele's arm, there was
a young man in spectacles and in a seedy
gray uniform overcoat of a Russian collegian,
with its brass buttons superseded by
new ones of black celluloid.
The pair marched up to Rouvke, she with
her eyes fixed at the floor, as she clung to
her companion, and the collegian with his
head raised in timid defiance.
"How do you do, Rouven?" she began.
"This is Gospodin Levinsky—my choson.
Do not take it ill, Rouven. I am not
to blame, as true as I am a child of Israel.
You see, it is my Providential match, and I
could not help it," she rattled off in a trembling
voice and like an embarrassed schoolboy
reciting a lesson which he has gotten
well by heart.
"I'll pay you every copeck, you can rest
assured," the collegian interposed, turning
as white as a sheet. "I have a rich brother
Hanele had met the young man in the
steerage of the Dutch vessel which brought
them across the ocean; and they passed
a fortnight there, walking or sitting together
on deck, and sharing the weird overawing
whispers of the waves, the stern
thumping of the engine, and the soothing
smiles of the moon—that skillfulest of
shadchens in general, and on ship's deck in
particular. The long and short of it is that
the matchmaking luminary had cut Reb
Feive out of his job.
Hanele's explanation at first stunned
Rouvke, and he stood for some time eyeing
her with a grin of stupid distraction. But
presently, upon recovering his senses, he
turned as red as fire, and making a face
like that of a child when suddenly robbed of
its toy, he wailed out in a husky voice:
"I want my hundred and fifty dollars
back!" And then in English:—
"I call a politzman. I vant my hoondered
an' fifty dollar!"
"Ai, ai—murderess! murderess!" Reb
Feive burst out at Hanele. "I am going
to get your father to come over here, ai, ai!"
he lamented, all but bursting into tears
with rage. And presently, in caressing
"Listen to me, Hanele! I know you are
a good and God-fearing Jewish girl. Fie!
drop that abominable beggar. Leave that
gentile-like shaven mug, I tell you. Rouven
is your Providential match. Look at him,
the prince that he is! You will live like a
queen with him, you will roll in gold and
But Hanele only clung to the collegian's
arm the faster, and the two were about to
leave the Garden, when Rouvke grasped his
successful rival by the lapels of his overcoat,
crying as he did so: "Politzman! Politzman!"
The young couple looked a picture of
helplessness. But at this juncture a burly
shaven-faced "runner" of an immigrant
hotel, who had been watching the scene,
sprang to their rescue. Brushing Rouvke
aside with a thrust of his mighty arm, accompanied
by a rasping "Git out, or I'll
punch your pockmarked nose, ye monkey!"
he marched Hanele and her choson away,
leaving Rouvke staring as if he were at a
loss to realize the situation, while Reb Feive,
violently wringing his hands, gasped, "Ai!
ai! ai!" and the young peddlers bandied