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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesChildren Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 1. Children Of The Ghetto - Chapter 2. The Sweater
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Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 1. Children Of The Ghetto - Chapter 2. The Sweater Post by :Samoyedman Category :Long Stories Author :Israel Zangwill Date :May 2012 Read :1966

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Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 1. Children Of The Ghetto - Chapter 2. The Sweater


The catastrophe was not complete. There were some long thin fibres of pale boiled meat, whose juices had gone to enrich the soup, lying about the floor or adhering to the fragments of the pitcher. Solomon, who was a curly-headed chap of infinite resource, discovered them, and it had just been decided to neutralize the insipidity of the bread by the far-away flavor of the meat, when a peremptory knocking was heard at the door, and a dazzling vision of beauty bounded into the room.

"'Ere! What are you doin', leavin' things leak through our ceiling?"

Becky Belcovitch was a buxom, bouncing girl, with cherry cheeks that looked exotic in a land of pale faces. She wore a mass of black crisp ringlets aggressively suggestive of singeing and curl-papers. She was the belle of Royal Street in her spare time, and womanly triumphs dogged even her working hours. She was sixteen years old, and devoted her youth and beauty to buttonholes. In the East End, where a spade is a spade, a buttonhole is a buttonhole, and not a primrose or a pansy. There are two kinds of buttonhole--the coarse for slop goods and the fine for gentlemanly wear. Becky concentrated herself on superior buttonholes, which are worked with fine twist. She stitched them in her father's workshop, which was more comfortable than a stranger's, and better fitted for evading the Factory Acts. To-night she was radiant in silk and jewelry, and her pert snub nose had the insolence of felicity which Agamemnon deprecated. Seeing her, you would have as soon connected her with Esoteric Buddhism as with buttonholes.

The _Bube explained the situation in voluble Yiddish, and made Esther wince again under the impassioned invective on her clumsiness. The old beldame expended enough oriental metaphor on the accident to fit up a minor poet. If the family died of starvation, their blood would be upon their granddaughter's head.

"Well, why don't you wipe it up, stupid?" said Becky. "'Ow would you like to pay for Pesach's new coat? It just dripped past his shoulder."

"I'm so sorry, Becky," said Esther, striving hard to master the tremor in her voice. And drawing a house-cloth from a mysterious recess, she went on her knees in a practical prayer for pardon.

Becky snorted and went back to her sister's engagement-party. For this was the secret of her gorgeous vesture, of her glittering earrings, and her massive brooch, as it was the secret of the transformation of the Belcovitch workshop (and living room) into a hall of dazzling light. Four separate gaunt bare arms of iron gas-pipe lifted hymeneal torches. The labels from reels of cotton, pasted above the mantelpiece as indexes of work done, alone betrayed the past and future of the room. At a long narrow table, covered with a white table-cloth spread with rum, gin, biscuits and fruit, and decorated with two wax candles in tall, brass candlesticks, stood or sat a group of swarthy, neatly-dressed Poles, most of them in high hats. A few women wearing wigs, silk dresses, and gold chains wound round half-washed necks, stood about outside the inner circle. A stooping black-bearded blear-eyed man in a long threadbare coat and a black skull cap, on either side of which hung a corkscrew curl, sat abstractedly eating the almonds and raisins, in the central place of honor which befits a _Maggid_. Before him were pens and ink and a roll of parchment. This was the engagement contract.

The damages of breach of promise were assessed in advance and without respect of sex. Whichever side repented of the bargain undertook to pay ten pounds by way of compensation for the broken pledge. As a nation, Israel is practical and free from cant. Romance and moonshine are beautiful things, but behind the glittering veil are always the stern realities of things and the weaknesses of human nature. The high contracting parties were signing the document as Becky returned. The bridegroom, who halted a little on one leg, was a tall sallow man named Pesach Weingott. He was a boot-maker, who could expound the Talmud and play the fiddle, but was unable to earn a living. He was marrying Fanny Belcovitch because his parents-in-law would give him free board and lodging for a year, and because he liked her. Fanny was a plump, pulpy girl, not in the prime of youth. Her complexion was fair and her manner lymphatic, and if she was not so well-favored as her sister, she was more amiable and pleasant. She could sing sweetly in Yiddish and in English, and had once been a pantomime fairy at ten shillings a week, and had even flourished a cutlass as a midshipman. But she had long since given up the stage, to become her father's right hand woman in the workshop. She made coats from morning till midnight at a big machine with a massive treadle, and had pains in her chest even before she fell in love with Pesach Weingott.

There was a hubbub of congratulation (_Mazzoltov, Mazzoltov_, good luck), and a palsy of handshaking, when the contract was signed. Remarks, grave and facetious, flew about in Yiddish, with phrases of Polish and Russian thrown in for auld lang syne, and cups and jugs were broken in reminder of the transiency of things mortal. The Belcovitches had been saving up their already broken crockery for the occasion. The hope was expressed that Mr. and Mrs. Belcovitch would live to see "rejoicings" on their other daughter, and to see their daughters' daughters under the _Chuppah_, or wedding-canopy.

Becky's hardened cheek blushed under the oppressive jocularity. Everybody spoke Yiddish habitually at No. 1 Royal Street, except the younger generation, and that spoke it to the elder.

"I always said, no girl of mine should marry a Dutchman." It was a dominant thought of Mr. Belcovitch's, and it rose spontaneously to his lips at this joyful moment. Next to a Christian, a Dutch Jew stood lowest in the gradation of potential sons-in-law. Spanish Jews, earliest arrivals by way of Holland, after the Restoration, are a class apart, and look down on the later imported _Ashkenazim_, embracing both Poles and Dutchmen in their impartial contempt. But this does not prevent the Pole and the Dutchman from despising each other. To a Dutch or Russian Jew, the "Pullack," or Polish Jew, is a poor creature; and scarce anything can exceed the complacency with which the "Pullack" looks down upon the "Litvok" or Lithuanian, the degraded being whose Shibboleth is literally Sibboleth, and who says "ee" where rightly constituted persons say "oo." To mimic the mincing pronunciation of the "Litvok" affords the "Pullack" a sense of superiority almost equalling that possessed by the English Jew, whose mispronunciation of the Holy Tongue is his title to rank far above all foreign varieties. Yet a vein of brotherhood runs beneath all these feelings of mutual superiority; like the cliqueism which draws together old clo' dealers, though each gives fifty per cent, more than any other dealer in the trade. The Dutch foregather in a district called "The Dutch Tenters;" they eat voraciously, and almost monopolize the ice-cream, hot pea, diamond-cutting, cucumber, herring, and cigar trades. They are not so cute as the Russians. Their women are distinguished from other women by the flaccidity of their bodices; some wear small woollen caps and sabots. When Esther read in her school-books that the note of the Dutch character was cleanliness, she wondered. She looked in vain for the scrupulously scoured floors and the shining caps and faces. Only in the matter of tobacco-smoke did the Dutch people she knew live up to the geographical "Readers."

German Jews gravitate to Polish and Russian; and French Jews mostly stay in France. _Ici on ne parle pas Francais_, is the only lingual certainty in the London Ghetto, which is a cosmopolitan quarter.

"I always said no girl of mine should marry a Dutchman." Mr. Belcovitch spoke as if at the close of a long career devoted to avoiding Dutch alliances, forgetting that not even one of his daughters was yet secure.

"Nor any girl of mine," said Mrs. Belcovitch, as if starting a separate proposition. "I would not trust a Dutchman with my medicine-bottle, much less with my Alte or my Becky. Dutchmen were not behind the door when the Almighty gave out noses, and their deceitfulness is in proportion to their noses."

The company murmured assent, and one gentleman, with a rather large organ, concealed it in a red cotton handkerchief, trumpeting uneasily.

"The Holy One, blessed be He, has given them larger noses than us," said the _Maggid_, "because they have to talk through them so much."

A guffaw greeted this sally. The _Maggid's wit was relished even when not coming from the pulpit. To the outsider this disparagement of the Dutch nose might have seemed a case of pot calling kettle black. The _Maggid poured himself out a glass of rum, under cover of the laughter, and murmuring "Life to you." in Hebrew, gulped it down, and added, "They oughtn't to call it the Dutch tongue, but the Dutch nose."

"Yes, I always wonder how they can understand one another," said Mrs. Belcovitch, "with their _chatuchayacatigewesepoopa_." She laughed heartily over her onomatopoetic addition to the Yiddish vocabulary, screwing up her nose to give it due effect. She was a small sickly-looking woman, with black eyes, and shrivelled skin, and the wig without which no virtuous wife is complete. For a married woman must sacrifice her tresses on the altar of home, lest she snare other men with such sensuous baits. As a rule, she enters into the spirit of the self-denying ordinance so enthusiastically as to become hideous hastily in every other respect. It is forgotten that a husband is also a man. Mrs. Belcovitch's head was not completely shaven and shorn, for a lower stratum of an unmatched shade of brown peeped out in front of the _shaitel_, not even coinciding as to the route of the central parting.

Meantime Pesach Weingott and Alte (Fanny) Belcovitch held each other's hand, guiltily conscious of Batavian corpuscles in the young man's blood. Pesach had a Dutch uncle, but as he had never talked like him Alte alone knew. Alte wasn't her real name, by the way, and Alte was the last person in the world to know what it was. She was the Belcovitches' first successful child; the others all died before she was born. Driven frantic by a fate crueller than barrenness, the Belcovitches consulted an old Polish Rabbi, who told them they displayed too much fond solicitude for their children, provoking Heaven thereby; in future, they were to let no one but themselves know their next child's name, and never to whisper it till the child was safely married. In such wise, Heaven would not be incessantly reminded of the existence of their dear one, and would not go out of its way to castigate them. The ruse succeeded, and Alte was anxiously waiting to change both her names under the _Chuppah_, and to gratify her life-long curiosity on the subject. Meantime, her mother had been calling her "Alte," or "old 'un," which sounded endearing to the child, but grated on the woman arriving ever nearer to the years of discretion. Occasionally, Mrs. Belcovitch succumbed to the prevailing tendency, and called her "Fanny," just as she sometimes thought of herself as Mrs. Belcovitch, though her name was Kosminski. When Alte first went to school in London, the Head Mistress said, "What's your name?" The little "old 'un" had not sufficient English to understand the question, but she remembered that the Head Mistress had made the same sounds to the preceding applicant, and, where some little girls would have put their pinafores to their eyes and cried, Fanny showed herself full of resource. As the last little girl, though patently awe-struck, had come off with flying colors, merely by whimpering "Fanny Belcovitch," Alte imitated these sounds as well as she was able.

"Fanny Belcovitch, did you say?" said the Head Mistress, pausing with arrested pen.

Alte nodded her flaxen poll vigorously.

"Fanny Belcovitch," she repeated, getting the syllables better on a second hearing.

The Head Mistress turned to an assistant.

"Isn't it astonishing how names repeat themselves? Two girls, one after the other, both with exactly the same name."

They were used to coincidences in the school, where, by reason of the tribal relationship of the pupils, there was a great run on some half-a-dozen names. Mr. Kosminski took several years to understand that Alte had disowned him. When it dawned upon him he was not angry, and acquiesced in his fate. It was the only domestic detail in which he had allowed himself to be led by his children. Like his wife, Chayah, he was gradually persuaded into the belief that he was a born Belcovitch, or at least that Belcovitch was Kosminski translated into English.

Blissfully unconscious of the Dutch taint in Pesach Weingott, Bear Belcovitch bustled about in reckless hospitality. He felt that engagements were not every-day events, and that even if his whole half-sovereign's worth of festive provision was swallowed up, he would not mind much. He wore a high hat, a well-preserved black coat, with a cutaway waistcoat, showing a quantity of glazed shirtfront and a massive watch chain. They were his Sabbath clothes, and, like the Sabbath they honored, were of immemorial antiquity. The shirt served him for seven Sabbaths, or a week of Sabbaths, being carefully folded after each. His boots had the Sabbath polish. The hat was the one he bought when he first set up as a _Baal Habaas or respectable pillar of the synagogue; for even in the smallest _Chevra the high hat comes next in sanctity to the Scroll of the Law, and he who does not wear it may never hope to attain to congregational dignities. The gloss on that hat was wonderful, considering it had been out unprotected in all winds and weathers. Not that Mr. Belcovitch did not possess an umbrella. He had two,--one of fine new silk, the other a medley of broken ribs and cotton rags. Becky had given him the first to prevent the family disgrace of the spectacle of his promenades with the second. But he would not carry the new one on week-days because it was too good. And on Sabbaths it is a sin to carry any umbrella. So Becky's self-sacrifice was vain, and her umbrella stood in the corner, a standing gratification to the proud possessor. Kosminski had had a hard fight for his substance, and was not given to waste. He was a tall, harsh-looking man of fifty, with grizzled hair, to whom life meant work, and work meant money, and money meant savings. In Parliamentary Blue-Books, English newspapers, and the Berner Street Socialistic Club, he was called a "sweater," and the comic papers pictured him with a protuberant paunch and a greasy smile, but he had not the remotest idea that he was other than a God-fearing, industrious, and even philanthropic citizen. The measure that had been dealt to him he did but deal to others. He saw no reason why immigrant paupers should not live on a crown a week while he taught them how to handle a press-iron or work a sewing machine. They were much better off than in Poland. He would have been glad of such an income himself in those terrible first days of English life when he saw his wife and his two babes starving before his eyes, and was only precluded from investing a casual twopence in poison by ignorance of the English name for anything deadly. And what did he live on now? The fowl, the pint of haricot beans, and the haddocks which Chayah purchased for the Sabbath overlapped into the middle of next week, a quarter of a pound of coffee lasted the whole week, the grounds being decocted till every grain of virtue was extracted. Black bread and potatoes and pickled herrings made up the bulk of the every-day diet No, no one could accuse Bear Belcovitch of fattening on the entrails of his employees. The furniture was of the simplest and shabbiest,--no aesthetic instinct urged the Kosminskis to overpass the bare necessities of existence, except in dress. The only concessions to art were a crudely-colored _Mizrach on the east wall, to indicate the direction towards which the Jew should pray, and the mantelpiece mirror which was bordered with yellow scalloped paper (to save the gilt) and ornamented at each corner with paper roses that bloomed afresh every Passover. And yet Bear Belcovitch had lived in much better style in Poland, possessing a brass wash-hand basin, a copper saucepan, silver spoons, a silver consecration beaker, and a cupboard with glass doors, and he frequently adverted to their fond memories. But he brought nothing away except his bedding, and that was pawned in Germany on the route. When he arrived in London he had with him three groschen and a family.

"What do you think, Pesach," said Becky, as soon as she could get at her prospective brother-in-law through the barriers of congratulatory countrymen. "The stuff that came through there"--she pointed to the discolored fragment of ceiling--"was soup. That silly little Esther spilt all she got from the kitchen."

"_Achi-nebbich_, poor little thing," cried Mrs. Kosminski, who was in a tender mood, "very likely it hungers them sore upstairs. The father is out of work."

"Knowest thou what, mother," put in Fanny. "Suppose we give them our soup. Aunt Leah has just fetched it for us. Have we not a special supper to-night?"

"But father?" murmured the little woman dubiously.

"Oh, he won't notice it. I don't think he knows the soup kitchen opens to-night. Let me, mother."

And Fanny, letting Pesach's hand go, slipped out to the room that served as a kitchen, and bore the still-steaming pot upstairs. Pesach, who had pursued her, followed with some hunks of bread and a piece of lighted candle, which, while intended only to illumine the journey, came in handy at the terminus. And the festive company grinned and winked when the pair disappeared, and made jocular quotations from the Old Testament and the Rabbis. But the lovers did not kiss when they came out of the garret of the Ansells; their eyes were wet, and they went softly downstairs hand in hand, feeling linked by a deeper love than before.

Thus did Providence hand over the soup the Belcovitches took from old habit to a more necessitous quarter, and demonstrate in double sense that Charity never faileth. Nor was this the only mulct which Providence exacted from the happy father, for later on a townsman of his appeared on the scene in a long capote, and with a grimy woe-begone expression. He was a "greener" of the greenest order, having landed at the docks only a few hours ago, bringing over with him a great deal of luggage in the shape of faith in God, and in the auriferous character of London pavements. On arriving in England, he gave a casual glance at the metropolis and demanded to be directed to a synagogue wherein to shake himself after the journey. His devotions over, he tracked out Mr. Kosminski, whose address on a much-creased bit of paper had been his talisman of hope during the voyage. In his native town, where the Jews groaned beneath divers and sore oppressions, the fame of Kosminski, the pioneer, the Croesus, was a legend. Mr. Kosminski was prepared for these contingencies. He went to his bedroom, dragged out a heavy wooden chest from under the bed, unlocked it and plunged his hand into a large dirty linen bag, full of coins. The instinct of generosity which was upon him made him count out forty-eight of them. He bore them to the "greener" in over-brimming palms and the foreigner, unconscious how much he owed to the felicitous coincidence of his visit with Fanny's betrothal, saw fortune visibly within his grasp. He went out, his heart bursting with gratitude, his pocket with four dozen farthings. They took him in and gave him hot soup at a Poor Jews' Shelter, whither his townsman had directed him. Kosminski returned to the banqueting room, thrilling from head to foot with the approval of his conscience. He patted Becky's curly head and said:

"Well, Becky, when shall we be dancing at your wedding?"

Becky shook her curls. Her young men could not have a poorer opinion of one another than Becky had of them all. Their homage pleased her, though it did not raise them in her esteem. Lovers grew like blackberries--only more so; for they were an evergreen stock. Or, as her mother put it in her coarse, peasant manner. _Chasanim were as plentiful as the street-dogs. Becky's beaux sat on the stairs before she was up and became early risers in their love for her, each anxious to be the first to bid their Penelope of the buttonholes good morrow. It was said that Kosminski's success as a "sweater" was due to his beauteous Becky, the flower of sartorial youth gravitating to the work-room of this East London Laban. What they admired in Becky was that there was so much of her. Still it was not enough to go round, and though Becky might keep nine lovers in hand without fear of being set down as a flirt, a larger number of tailors would have been less consistent with prospective monogamy.

"I'm not going to throw myself away like Fanny," said she confidentially to Pesach Weingott in the course of the evening. He smiled apologetically. "Fanny always had low views," continued Becky. "But I always said I would marry a gentleman."

"And I dare say," answered Pesach, stung into the retort, "Fanny could marry a gentlemen, too, if she wanted."

Becky's idea of a gentleman was a clerk or a school-master, who had no manual labor except scribbling or flogging. In her matrimonial views Becky was typical. She despised the status of her parents and looked to marry out of it. They for their part could not understand the desire to be other than themselves.

"I don't say Fanny couldn't," she admitted. "All I say is, nobody could call this a luck-match."

"Ah, thou hast me too many flies in thy nose," reprovingly interposed Mrs. Belcovitch, who had just crawled up. "Thou art too high-class."

Becky tossed her head. "I've got a new dolman," she said, turning to one of her young men who was present by special grace. "You should see me in it. I look noble."

"Yes," said Mrs. Belcovitch proudly. "It shines in the sun."

"Is it like the one Bessie Sugarman's got?" inquired the young man.

"Bessie Sugarman!" echoed Becky scornfully. "She gets all her things from the tallyman. She pretends to be so grand, but all her jewelry is paid for at so much a week."

"So long as it is paid for," said Fanny, catching the words and turning a happy face on her sister.

"Not so jealous, Alte," said her mother. "When I shall win on the lottery, I will buy thee also a dolman."

Almost all the company speculated on the Hamburg lottery, which, whether they were speaking Yiddish or English, they invariably accentuated on the last syllable. When an inhabitant of the Ghetto won even his money back, the news circulated like wild-fire, and there was a rush to the agents for tickets. The chances of sudden wealth floated like dazzling Will o' the Wisps on the horizon, illumining the gray perspectives of the future. The lottery took the poor ticket-holders out of themselves, and gave them an interest in life apart from machine-cotton, lasts or tobacco-leaf. The English laborer, who has been forbidden State Lotteries, relieves the monotony of existence by an extremely indirect interest in the achievements of a special breed of horses.

"_Nu_, Pesach, another glass of rum," said Mr. Belcovitch genially to his future son-in-law and boarder.

"Yes, I will," said Pesach. "After all, this is the first time I've got engaged."

The rum was of Mr. Belcovitch's own manufacture; its ingredients were unknown, but the fame of it travelled on currents of air to the remotest parts of the house. Even the inhabitants of the garrets sniffed and thought of turpentine. Pesach swallowed the concoction, murmuring "To life" afresh. His throat felt like the funnel of a steamer, and there were tears in his eyes when he put down the glass.

"Ah, that was good," he murmured.

"Not like thy English drinks, eh?" said Mr. Belcovitch.

"England!" snorted Pesach in royal disdain. "What a country! Daddle-doo is a language and ginger-beer a liquor."

"Daddle doo" was Pesach's way of saying "That'll do." It was one of the first English idioms he picked up, and its puerility made him facetious. It seemed to smack of the nursery; when a nation expressed its soul thus, the existence of a beverage like ginger-beer could occasion no further surprise.

"You shan't have anything stronger than ginger-beer when we're married," said Fanny laughingly. "I am not going to have any drinking.'"

"But I'll get drunk on ginger-beer," Pesach laughed back.

"You can't," Fanny said, shaking her large fond smile to and fro. "By my health, not."

"Ha! Ha! Ha! Can't even get _shikkur on it. What a liquor!"

In the first Anglo-Jewish circles with which Pesach had scraped acquaintance, ginger-beer was the prevalent drink; and, generalizing almost as hastily as if he were going to write a book on the country, he concluded that it was the national beverage. He had long since discovered his mistake, but the drift of the discussion reminded Becky of a chance for an arrow.

"On the day when you sit for joy, Pesach," she said slily. "I shall send you a valentine."

Pesach colored up and those in the secret laughed; the reference was to another of Pesach's early ideas. Some mischievous gossip had heard him arguing with another Greener outside a stationer's shop blazing with comic valentines. The two foreigners were extremely puzzled to understand what these monstrosities portended; Pesach, however, laid it down that the microcephalous gentlemen with tremendous legs, and the ladies five-sixths head and one-sixth skirt, were representations of the English peasants who lived in the little villages up country.

"When I sit for joy," retorted Pesach, "it will not be the season for valentines."

"Won't it though!" cried Becky, shaking her frizzly black curls. "You'll be a pair of comic 'uns."

"All right, Becky," said Alte good-humoredly. "Your turn'll come, and then we shall have the laugh of you."

"Never," said Becky. "What do I want with a man?"

The arm of the specially invited young man was round her as she spoke.

"Don't make _schnecks_," said Fanny.

"It's not affectation. I mean it. What's the good of the men who visit father? There isn't a gentleman among them."

"Ah, wait till I win on the lottery," said the special young man.

"Then, vy not take another eighth of a ticket?" inquired Sugarman the _Shadchan_, who seemed to spring from the other end of the room. He was one of the greatest Talmudists in London--a lean, hungry-looking man, sharp of feature and acute of intellect. "Look at Mrs. Robinson--I've just won her over twenty pounds, and she only gave me two pounds for myself. I call it a _cherpah_--a shame."

"Yes, but you stole another two pounds," said Becky.

"How do you know?" said Sugarman startled.

Becky winked and shook her head sapiently. "Never _you mind."

The published list of the winning numbers was so complex in construction that Sugarman had ample opportunities of bewildering his clients.

"I von't sell you no more tickets," said Sugarman with righteous indignation.

"A fat lot I care," said Becky, tossing her curls.

"Thou carest for nothing," said Mrs. Belcovitch, seizing the opportunity for maternal admonition. "Thou hast not even brought me my medicine to-night. Thou wilt find, it on the chest of drawers in the bedroom."

Becky shook herself impatiently.

"I will go," said the special young man.

"No, it is not beautiful that a young man shall go into my bedroom in my absence," said Mrs. Belcovitch blushing.

Becky left the room.

"Thou knowest," said Mrs. Belcovitch, addressing herself to the special young man, "I suffer greatly from my legs. One is a thick one, and one a thin one."

The young man sighed sympathetically.

"Whence comes it?" he asked.

"Do I know? I was born so. My poor lambkin (this was the way Mrs. Belcovitch always referred to her dead mother) had well-matched legs. If I had Aristotle's head I might be able to find out why my legs are inferior. And so one goes about."

The reverence for Aristotle enshrined in Yiddish idiom is probably due to his being taken by the vulgar for a Jew. At any rate the theory that Aristotle's philosophy was Jewish was advanced by the mediaeval poet, Jehuda Halevi, and sustained by Maimonides. The legend runs that when Alexander went to Palestine, Aristotle was in his train. At Jerusalem the philosopher had sight of King Solomon's manuscripts, and he forthwith edited them and put his name to them. But it is noteworthy that the story was only accepted by those Jewish scholars who adopted the Aristotelian philosophy, those who rejected it declaring that Aristotle in his last testament had admitted the inferiority of his writings to the Mosaic, and had asked that his works should be destroyed.

When Becky returned with the medicine, Mrs. Belcovitch mentioned that it was extremely nasty, and offered the young man a taste, whereat he rejoiced inwardly, knowing he had found favor in the sight of the parent. Mrs. Belcovitch paid a penny a week to her doctor, in sickness or health, so that there was a loss on being well. Becky used to fill up the bottles with water to save herself the trouble of going to fetch the medicine, but as Mrs. Belcovitch did not know this it made no difference.

"Thou livest too much indoors," said Mr. Sugarman, in Yiddish.

"Shall I march about in this weather? Black and slippery, and the Angel going a-hunting?"

"Ah!" said Mr. Sugarman, relapsing proudly into the vernacular, "Ve English valk about in all vedders."

Meanwhile Moses Ansell had returned from evening service and sat down, unquestioningly, by the light of an unexpected candle to his expected supper of bread and soup, blessing God for both gifts. The rest of the family had supped. Esther had put the two youngest children to bed (Rachel had arrived at years of independent undressing), and she and Solomon were doing home-lessons in copy-books, the candle saving them from a caning on the morrow. She held her pen clumsily, for several of her fingers were swathed in bloody rags tied with cobweb. The grandmother dozed in her chair. Everything was quiet and peaceful, though the atmosphere was chilly. Moses ate his supper with a great smacking of the lips and an equivalent enjoyment. When it was over he sighed deeply, and thanked God in a prayer lasting ten minutes, and delivered in a rapid, sing-song manner. He then inquired of Solomon whether he had said his evening prayer. Solomon looked out of the corner of his eyes at his _Bube_, and, seeing she was asleep on the bed, said he had, and kicked Esther significantly but hurtfully under the table.

"Then you had better say your night-prayer."

There was no getting out of that; so Solomon finished his sum, writing the figures of the answer rather faint, in case he should discover from another boy next morning that they were wrong; then producing a Hebrew prayer-book from his inky cotton satchel, he made a mumbling sound, with occasional enthusiastic bursts of audible coherence, for a length of time proportioned to the number of pages. Then he went to bed. After that, Esther put her grandmother to bed and curled herself up at her side. She lay awake a long time, listening to the quaint sounds emitted by her father in his study of Rashi's commentary on the Book of Job, the measured drone blending not disagreeably with the far-away sounds of Pesach Weingott's fiddle.

Pesach's fiddle played the accompaniment to many other people's thoughts. The respectable master-tailor sat behind his glazed shirt-front beating time with his foot. His little sickly-looking wife stood by his side, nodding her bewigged head joyously. To both the music brought the same recollection--a Polish market-place.

Belcovitch, or rather Kosminski, was the only surviving son of a widow. It was curious, and suggestive of some grim law of heredity, that his parents' elder children had died off as rapidly as his own, and that his life had been preserved by some such expedient as Alte's. Only, in his case the Rabbi consulted had advised his father to go into the woods and call his new-born son by the name of the first animal that he saw. This was why the future sweater was named Bear. To the death of his brothers and sisters, Bear owed his exemption from military service. He grew up to be a stalwart, well-set-up young baker, a loss to the Russian army.

Bear went out in the market-place one fine day and saw Chayah in maiden ringlets. She was a slim, graceful little thing, with nothing obviously odd about the legs, and was buying onions. Her back was towards him, but in another moment she turned her head and Bear's. As he caught the sparkle of her eye, he felt that without her life were worse than the conscription. Without delay, he made inquiries about the fair young vision, and finding its respectability unimpeachable, he sent a _Shadchan to propose to her, and they were affianced: Chayah's father undertaking to give a dowry of two hundred gulden. Unfortunately, he died suddenly in the attempt to amass them, and Chayah was left an orphan. The two hundred gulden were nowhere to be found. Tears rained down both Chayah's cheeks, on the one side for the loss of her father, on the other for the prospective loss of a husband. The Rabbi was full of tender sympathy. He bade Bear come to the dead man's chamber. The venerable white-bearded corpse lay on the bed, swathed in shroud, and _Talith or praying-shawl.

"Bear," he said, "thou knowest that I saved thy life."

"Nay," said Bear, "indeed, I know not that."

"Yea, of a surety," said the Rabbi. "Thy mother hath not told thee, but all thy brothers and sisters perished, and, lo! thou alone art preserved! It was I that called thee a beast."

Bear bowed his head in grateful silence.

"Bear," said the Rabbi, "thou didst contract to wed this dead man's daughter, and he did contract to pay over to thee two hundred gulden.''

"Truth." replied Bear.

"Bear," said the Rabbi, "there are no two hundred gulden."

A shadow flitted across Bear's face, but he said nothing.

"Bear," said the Rabbi again, "there are not two gulden."

Bear did not move.

"Bear," said the Rabbi, "leave thou my side, and go over to the other side of the bed, facing me."

So Bear left his side and went over to the other side of the bed facing him.

"Bear," said the Rabbi, "give me thy right hand."

The Rabbi stretched his own right hand across the bed, but Bear kept his obstinately behind his back.

"Bear," repeated the Rabbi, in tones of more penetrating solemnity, "give me thy right hand."

"Nay," replied Bear, sullenly. "Wherefore should I give thee my right hand?"

"Because," said the Rabbi, and his tones trembled, and it seemed to him that the dead man's face grew sterner. "Because I wish thee to swear across the body of Chayah's father that thou wilt marry her."

"Nay, that I will not," said Bear.

"Will not?" repeated the Rabbi, his lips growing white with pity.

"Nay, I will not take any oaths," said Bear, hotly. "I love the maiden, and I will keep what I have promised. But, by my father's soul, I will take no oaths!"

"Bear," said the Rabbi in a choking voice, "give me thy hand. Nay, not to swear by, but to grip. Long shalt thou live, and the Most High shall prepare thy seat in Gan Iden."

So the old man and the young clasped hands across the corpse, and the simple old Rabbi perceived a smile flickering over the face of Chayah's father. Perhaps it was only a sudden glint of sunshine.

The wedding-day drew nigh, but lo! Chayah was again dissolved in tears.

"What ails thee?" said her brother Naphtali.

"I cannot follow the custom of the maidens," wept Chayah. "Thou knowest we are blood-poor, and I have not the wherewithal to buy my Bear a _Talith for his wedding-day; nay, not even to make him a _Talith_-bag. And when our father (the memory of the righteous for a blessing) was alive, I had dreamed of making my _chosan a beautiful velvet satchel lined with silk, and I would have embroidered his initials thereon in gold, and sewn him beautiful white corpse-clothes. Perchance he will rely upon me for his wedding _Talith_, and we shall be shamed in the sight of the congregation."

"Nay, dry thine eyes, my sister," said Naphtali. "Thou knowest that my Leah presented me with a costly _Talith when I led her under the canopy. Wherefore, do thou take my praying-shawl and lend it to Bear for the wedding-day, so that decency may be preserved in the sight of the congregation. The young man has a great heart, and he will understand."

So Chayah, blushing prettily, lent Bear Naphtali's delicate _Talith_, and Beauty and the Beast made a rare couple under the wedding canopy. Chayah wore the gold medallion and the three rows of pearls which her lover had sent her the day before. And when the Rabbi had finished blessing husband and wife, Naphtali spake the bridegroom privily, and said:

"Pass me my _Talith back."

But Bear answered: "Nay, nay; the _Talith is in my keeping, and there it shall remain."

"But it is my _Talith_," protested Naphtali in an angry whisper. "I only lent it to Chayah to lend it thee."

"It concerns me not." Bear returned in a decisive whisper. "The _Talith is my due and I shall keep it. What! Have I not lost enough by marrying thy sister? Did not thy father, peace be upon him, promise me two hundred gulden with her?"

Naphtali retired discomfited. But he made up his mind not to go without some compensation. He resolved that during the progress of the wedding procession conducting the bridegroom to the chamber of the bride, he would be the man to snatch off Bear's new hat. Let the rest of the riotous escort essay to snatch whatever other article of the bridegroom's attire they would, the hat was the easiest to dislodge, and he, Naphtali, would straightway reimburse himself partially with that. But the instant the procession formed itself, behold the shifty bridegroom forthwith removed his hat, and held it tightly under his arm.

A storm of protestations burst forth at his daring departure from hymeneal tradition.

"Nay, nay, put it on," arose from every mouth.

But Bear closed his and marched mutely on.

"Heathen," cried the Rabbi. "Put on your hat."

The attempt to enforce the religious sanction failed too. Bear had spent several gulden upon his head-gear, and could not see the joke. He plodded towards his blushing Chayah through a tempest of disapprobation.

Throughout life Bear Belcovitch retained the contrariety of character that marked his matrimonial beginnings. He hated to part with money; he put off paying bills to the last moment, and he would even beseech his "hands" to wait a day or two longer for their wages. He liked to feel that he had all that money in his possession. Yet "at home," in Poland, he had always lent money to the officers and gentry, when they ran temporarily short at cards. They would knock him up in the middle of the night to obtain the means of going on with the game. And in England he never refused to become surety for a loan when any of his poor friends begged the favor of him. These loans ran from three to five pounds, but whatever the amount, they were very rarely paid. The loan offices came down upon him for the money. He paid it without a murmur, shaking his head compassionately over the poor ne'er do wells, and perhaps not without a compensating consciousness of superior practicality.

Only, if the borrower had neglected to treat him to a glass of rum to clench his signing as surety, the shake of Bear's head would become more reproachful than sympathetic, and he would mutter bitterly: "Five pounds and not even a drink for the money." The jewelry he generously lavished on his womankind was in essence a mere channel of investment for his savings, avoiding the risks of a banking-account and aggregating his wealth in a portable shape, in obedience to an instinct generated by centuries of insecurity. The interest on the sums thus invested was the gratification of the other oriental instinct for gaudiness.

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