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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 3. Malka
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Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 1. Children Of The Ghetto - Chapter 3. Malka Post by :Samoyedman Category :Long Stories Author :Israel Zangwill Date :May 2012 Read :3466

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Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 1. Children Of The Ghetto - Chapter 3. Malka


The Sunday Fair, so long associated with Petticoat Lane, is dying hard, and is still vigorous; its glories were in full swing on the dull, gray morning when Moses Ansell took his way through the Ghetto. It was near eleven o'clock, and the throng was thickening momently. The vendors cried their wares in stentorian tones, and the babble of the buyers was like the confused roar of a stormy sea. The dead walls and hoardings were placarded with bills from which the life of the inhabitants could be constructed. Many were in Yiddish, the most hopelessly corrupt and hybrid jargon ever evolved. Even when the language was English the letters were Hebrew. Whitechapel, Public Meeting, Board School, Sermon, Police, and other modern banalities, glared at the passer-by in the sacred guise of the Tongue associated with miracles and prophecies, palm-trees and cedars and seraphs, lions and shepherds and harpists.

Moses stopped to read these hybrid posters--he had nothing better to do--as he slouched along. He did not care to remember that dinner was due in two hours. He turned aimlessly into Wentworth Street, and studied a placard that hung in a bootmaker's window. This was the announcement it made in jargon:

Riveters, Clickers, Lasters, Finishers,


Makes and Repairs Boots.
Every Bit as Cheaply

of 12 Goulston Street.

Mordecai Schwartz was written in the biggest and blackest of Hebrew letters, and quite dominated the little shop-window. Baruch Emanuel was visibly conscious of his inferiority, to his powerful rival, though Moses had never heard of Mordecai Schwartz before. He entered the shop and said in Hebrew "Peace be to you." Baruch Emanuel, hammering a sole, answered in Hebrew:

"Peace be to you."

Moses dropped into Yiddish.

"I am looking for work. Peradventure have you something for me?"

"What can you do?"

"I have been a riveter."

"I cannot engage any more riveters."

Moses looked disappointed.

"I have also been a clicker," he said.

"I have all the clickers I can afford," Baruch answered.

Moses's gloom deepened. "Two years ago I worked as a finisher."

Baruch shook his head silently. He was annoyed at the man's persistence. There was only the laster resource left.

"And before that I was a laster for a week," Moses answered.

"I don't want any!" cried Baruch, losing his temper.

"But in your window it stands that you do," protested Moses feebly.

"I don't care what stands in my window," said Baruch hotly. "Have you not head enough to see that that is all bunkum? Unfortunately I work single-handed, but it looks good and it isn't lies. Naturally I want Riveters and Clickers and Lasters and Finishers. Then I could set up a big establishment and gouge out Mordecai Schwartz's eyes. But the Most High denies me assistants, and I am content to want."

Moses understood that attitude towards the nature of things. He went out and wandered down another narrow dirty street in search of Mordecai Schwartz, whose address Baruch Emanuel had so obligingly given him. He thought of the _Maggid's sermon on the day before. The _Maggid had explained a verse of Habakkuk in quite an original way which gave an entirely new color to a passage in Deuteronomy. Moses experienced acute pleasure in musing upon it, and went past Mordecai's shop without going in, and was only awakened from his day-dream by the brazen clanging of a bell It was the bell of the great Ghetto school, summoning its pupils from the reeking courts and alleys, from the garrets and the cellars, calling them to come and be Anglicized. And they came in a great straggling procession recruited from every lane and by-way, big children and little children, boys in blackening corduroy, and girls in washed-out cotton; tidy children and ragged children; children in great shapeless boots gaping at the toes; sickly children, and sturdy children, and diseased children; bright-eyed children and hollow-eyed children; quaint sallow foreign-looking children, and fresh-colored English-looking children; with great pumpkin heads, with oval heads, with pear-shaped heads; with old men's faces, with cherubs' faces, with monkeys' faces; cold and famished children, and warm and well-fed children; children conning their lessons and children romping carelessly; the demure and the anaemic; the boisterous and the blackguardly, the insolent, the idiotic, the vicious, the intelligent, the exemplary, the dull--spawn of all countries--all hastening at the inexorable clang of the big school-bell to be ground in the same great, blind, inexorable Governmental machine. Here, too, was a miniature fair, the path being lined by itinerant temptations. There was brisk traffic in toffy, and gray peas and monkey-nuts, and the crowd was swollen by anxious parents seeing tiny or truant offspring safe within the school-gates. The women were bare-headed or be-shawled, with infants at their breasts and little ones toddling at their sides, the men were greasy, and musty, and squalid. Here a bright earnest little girl held her vagrant big brother by the hand, not to let go till she had seen him in the bosom of his class-mates. There a sullen wild-eyed mite in petticoats was being dragged along, screaming, towards distasteful durance. It was a drab picture--the bleak, leaden sky above, the sloppy, miry stones below, the frowsy mothers and fathers, the motley children.

"Monkey-nuts! Monkey-nuts!" croaked a wizened old woman.

"Oppea! Oppea!" droned a doddering old Dutchman. He bore a great can of hot peas in one hand and a lighthouse-looking pepper-pot in the other. Some of the children swallowed the dainties hastily out of miniature basins, others carried them within in paper packets for surreptitious munching.

"Call that a ay-puth?" a small boy would say.

"Not enough!" the old man would exclaim in surprise. "Here you are, then!" And he would give the peas another sprinkling from the pepper-pot.

Moses Ansell's progeny were not in the picture. The younger children were at home, the elder had gone to school an hour before to run about and get warm in the spacious playgrounds. A slice of bread each and the wish-wash of a thrice-brewed pennyworth of tea had been their morning meal, and there was no prospect of dinner. The thought of them made Moses's heart heavy again; he forgot the _Maggid's explanation of the verse in Habakkuk, and he retraced his steps towards Mordecai Schwartz's shop. But like his humbler rival, Mordecai had no use for the many-sided Moses; he was "full up" with swarthy "hands," though, as there were rumors of strikes in the air, he prudently took note of Moses's address. After this rebuff, Moses shuffled hopelessly about for more than an hour; the dinner-hour was getting desperately near; already children passed him, carrying the Sunday dinners from the bakeries, and there were wafts of vague poetry in the atmosphere. Moses felt he could not face his own children.

At last he nerved himself to an audacious resolution, and elbowed his way blusterously towards the Ruins, lest he might break down if his courage had time to cool.

"The Ruins" was a great stony square, partly bordered by houses, and only picturesque on Sundays when it became a branch of the all-ramifying Fair. Moses could have bought anything there from elastic braces to green parrots in gilt cages. That is to say if he had had money. At present he had nothing in his pocket except holes.

What he might be able to do on his way back was another matter; for it was Malka that Moses Ansell was going to see. She was the cousin of his deceased wife, and lived in Zachariah Square. Moses had not been there for a month, for Malka was a wealthy twig of the family tree, to be approached with awe and trembling. She kept a second-hand clothes store in Houndsditch, a supplementary stall in the Halfpenny Exchange, and a barrow on the "Ruins" of a Sunday; and she had set up Ephraim, her newly-acquired son-in-law, in the same line of business in the same district. Like most things she dealt in, her son-in-law was second-hand, having lost his first wife four years ago in Poland. But he was only twenty-two, and a second-hand son-in-law of twenty-two is superior to many brand new ones. The two domestic establishments were a few minutes away from the shops, facing each other diagonally across the square. They were small, three-roomed houses, without basements, the ground floor window in each being filled up with a black gauze blind (an invariable index of gentility) which allowed the occupants to see all that was passing outside, but confronted gazers with their own rejections. Passers-by postured at these mirrors, twisting moustaches perkily, or giving coquettish pats to bonnets, unwitting of the grinning inhabitants. Most of the doors were ajar, wintry as the air was: for the Zachariah Squareites lived a good deal on the door-step. In the summer, the housewives sat outside on chairs and gossiped and knitted, as if the sea foamed at their feel, and wrinkled good-humored old men played nap on tea-trays. Some of the doors were blocked below with sliding barriers of wood, a sure token of infants inside given to straying. More obvious tokens of child-life were the swings nailed to the lintels of a few doors, in which, despite the cold, toothless babes swayed like monkeys on a branch. But the Square, with its broad area of quadrangular pavement, was an ideal playing-ground for children, since other animals came not within its precincts, except an inquisitive dog or a local cat. Solomon Ansell knew no greater privilege than to accompany his father to these fashionable quarters and whip his humming-top across the ample spaces, the while Moses transacted his business with Malka. Last time the business was psalm-saying. Milly had been brought to bed of a son, but it was doubtful if she would survive, despite the charms hung upon the bedpost to counteract the nefarious designs of Lilith, the wicked first wife of Adam, and of the Not-Good Ones who hover about women in childbirth. So Moses was sent for, post-haste, to intercede with the Almighty. His piety, it was felt, would command attention. For an average of three hundred and sixty-two days a year Moses was a miserable worm, a nonentity, but on the other three, when death threatened to visit Malka or her little clan, Moses became a personage of prime importance, and was summoned at all hours of the day and night to wrestle with the angel Azrael. When the angel had retired, worsted, after a match sometimes protracted into days, Moses relapsed into his primitive insignificance, and was dismissed with a mouthful of rum and a shilling. It never seemed to him an unfair equivalent, for nobody could make less demand on the universe than Moses. Give him two solid meals and three solid services a day, and he was satisfied, and he craved more for spiritual snacks between meals than for physical.

The last crisis had been brief, and there was so little danger that, when Milly's child was circumcised, Moses had not even been bidden to the feast, though his piety would have made him the ideal _sandek or god-father. He did not resent this, knowing himself dust--and that anything but gold-dust.

Moses had hardly emerged from the little arched passage which led to the Square, when sounds of strife fell upon his ears. Two stout women chatting amicably at their doors, had suddenly developed a dispute. In Zachariah Square, when you wanted to get to the bottom of a quarrel, the cue was not "find the woman," but find the child. The high-spirited bantlings had a way of pummelling one another in fistic duels, and of calling in their respective mothers when they got the worse of it--which is cowardly, but human. The mother of the beaten belligerent would then threaten to wring the "year," or to twist the nose of the victorious party--sometimes she did it. In either case, the other mother would intervene, and then the two bantlings would retire into the background and leave their mothers to take up the duel while they resumed their interrupted game.

Of such sort was the squabble betwixt Mrs. Isaacs and Mrs. Jacobs. Mrs. Isaacs pointed out with superfluous vehemence that her poor lamb had been mangled beyond recognition. Mrs. Jacobs, _per contra_, asseverated with superfluous gesture that it was _her poor lamb who had received irreparable injury. These statements were not in mutual contradiction, but Mrs. Isaacs and Mrs. Jacobs were, and so the point at issue was gradually absorbed in more personal recriminations.

"By my life, and by my Fanny's life, I'll leave my seal on the first child of yours that comes across my way! There!" Thus Mrs. Isaacs.

"Lay a linger on a hair of a child of mine, and, by my husband's life, I'll summons you; I'll have the law on you." Thus Mrs. Jacobs; to the gratification of the resident populace.

Mrs. Isaacs and Mrs. Jacobs rarely quarrelled with each other, uniting rather in opposition to the rest of the Square. They were English, quite English, their grandfather having been born in Dresden; and they gave themselves airs in consequence, and called their _kinder "children," which annoyed those neighbors who found a larger admixture of Yiddish necessary for conversation. These very _kinder_, again, attained considerable importance among their school-fellows by refusing to pronounce the guttural "ch" of the Hebrew otherwise than as an English "k."

"Summons me, indeed," laughed back Mrs. Isaacs. "A fat lot I'd care for that. You'd jolly soon expose your character to the magistrate. Everybody knows what _you are."

"Your mother!" retorted Mrs. Jacobs mechanically; the elliptical method of expression being greatly in vogue for conversation of a loud character. Quick as lightning came the parrying stroke.

"Yah! And what was your father, I should like to know?"

Mrs. Isaacs had no sooner made this inquiry than she became conscious of an environment of suppressed laughter; Mrs. Jacobs awoke to the situation a second later, and the two women stood suddenly dumbfounded, petrified, with arms akimbo, staring at each other.

The wise, if apocryphal, Ecclesiasticus, sagely and pithily remarked, many centuries before modern civilization was invented: Jest not with a rude man lest thy ancestors be disgraced. To this day the oriental methods of insult have survived in the Ghetto. The dead past is never allowed to bury its dead; the genealogical dust-heap is always liable to be raked up, and even innocuous ancestors may be traduced to the third and fourth generation.

Now it so happened that Mrs. Isaacs and Mrs. Jacobs were sisters. And when it dawned upon them into what dilemma their automatic methods of carte and tierce had inveigled them, they were frozen with confusion. They retired crestfallen to their respective parlors, and sported their oaks. The resources of repartee were dried up for the moment. Relatives are unduly handicapped in these verbal duels; especially relatives with the same mother and father.

Presently Mrs. Isaacs reappeared. She had thought of something she ought to have said. She went up to her sister's closed door, and shouted into the key-hole: "None of my children ever had bandy-legs!"

Almost immediately the window of the front bedroom was flung up, and Mrs. Jacobs leant out of it waving what looked like an immense streamer.

"Aha," she observed, dangling it tantalizingly up and down. "Morry antique!"

The dress fluttered in the breeze. Mrs. Jacobs caressed the stuff between her thumb and forefinger.

"Aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-awl silk," she announced with a long ecstatic quaver.

Mrs. Isaacs stood paralyzed by the brilliancy of the repartee.

Mrs. Jacobs withdrew the moire antique and exhibited a mauve gown.

"Aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-awl silk."

The mauve fluttered for a triumphant instant, the next a puce and amber dress floated on the breeze.

"Aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-awl silk." Mrs. Jacobs's fingers smoothed it lovingly, then it was drawn within to be instantly replaced by a green dress. Mrs. Jacobs passed the skirt slowly through her fingers. "Aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-awl silk!" she quavered mockingly.

By this time Mrs. Isaacs's face was the color of the latest flag of victory.

"The tallyman!" she tried to retort, but the words stuck in her throat. Fortunately just then she caught sight of her poor lamb playing with the other poor lamb. She dashed at her offspring, boxed its ears and crying, "You little blackguard, if I ever catch you playing with blackguards again, I'll wring your neck for you," she hustled the infant into the house and slammed the door viciously behind her.

Moses had welcomed this every-day scene, for it put off a few moments his encounter with the formidable Malka. As she had not appeared at door or window, he concluded she was in a bad temper or out of London; neither alternative was pleasant.

He knocked at the door of Milly's house where her mother was generally to be found, and an elderly char-woman opened it. There were some bottles of spirit, standing on a wooden side-table covered with a colored cloth, and some unopened biscuit bags. At these familiar premonitory signs of a festival, Moses felt tempted to beat a retreat. He could not think for the moment what was up, but whatever it was he had no doubt the well-to-do persons would supply him with ice. The char-woman, with brow darkened by soot and gloom, told him that Milly was upstairs, but that her mother had gone across to her own house with the clothes-brush.

Moses's face fell. When his wife was alive, she had been a link of connection between "The Family" and himself, her cousin having generously employed her as a char-woman. So Moses knew the import of the clothes-brush. Malka was very particular about her appearance and loved to be externally speckless, but somehow or other she had no clothes-brush at home. This deficiency did not matter ordinarily, for she practically lived at Milly's. But when she had words with Milly or her husband, she retired to her own house to sulk or _schmull_, as they called it. The carrying away of the clothes-brush was, thus, a sign that she considered the breach serious and hostilities likely to be protracted. Sometimes a whole week would go by without the two houses ceasing to stare sullenly across at each other, the situation in Milly's camp being aggravated by the lack of a clothes-brush. In such moments of irritation, Milly's husband was apt to declare that his mother-in-law had abundance of clothes-brushes, for, he pertinently asked, how did she manage during her frequent business tours in the country? He gave it as his conviction that Malka merely took the clothes-brush away to afford herself a handle for returning. But then Ephraim Phillips was a graceless young fellow, the death of whose first wife was probably a judgment on his levity, and everybody except his second mother-in-law knew that he had a book of tickets for the Oxbridge Music Hall, and went there on Friday nights. Still, in spite of these facts, experience did show that whenever Milly's camp had outsulked Malka's, the old woman's surrender was always veiled under the formula of: "Oh Milly, I've brought you over your clothes-brush. I just noticed it, and thought you might be wanting it." After this, conversation was comparatively easy.

Moses hardly cared to face Malka in such a crisis of the clothes-brush. He turned away despairingly, and was going back through the small archway which led to the Ruins and the outside world, when a grating voice startled his ear.

"Well, Meshe, whither fliest thou? Has my Milly forbidden thee to see me?"

He looked back. Malka was standing at her house-door. He retraced his steps.

"N-n-o," he murmured. "I thought you still out with your stall."

That was where she should have been, at any rate, till half an hour ago. She did not care to tell herself, much less Moses, that she had been waiting at home for the envoy of peace from the filial camp summoning her to the ceremony of the Redemption of her grandson.

"Well, now thou seest me," she said, speaking Yiddish for his behoof, "thou lookest not outwardly anxious to know how it goes with me."

"How goes it with you?"

"As well as an old woman has a right to expect. The Most High is good!" Malka was in her most amiable mood, to emphasize to outsiders the injustice of her kin in quarrelling with her. She was a tall woman of fifty, with a tanned equine gypsy face surmounted by a black wig, and decorated laterally by great gold earrings. Great black eyes blazed beneath great black eyebrows, and the skin between them was capable of wrinkling itself black with wrath. A gold chain was wound thrice round her neck, and looped up within her black silk bodice. There were numerous rings on her fingers, and she perpetually smelt of peppermint.

"_Nu_, stand not chattering there," she went on. "Come in. Dost thou wish me to catch my death of cold?"

Moses slouched timidly within, his head bowed as if in dread of knocking against the top of the door. The room was a perfect fac-simile of Milly's parlor at the other end of the diagonal, save that instead of the festive bottles and paper bags on the small side-table, there was a cheerless clothes-brush. Like Milly's, the room contained a round table, a chest of drawers with decanters on the top, and a high mantelpiece decorated with pendant green fringes, fastened by big-headed brass nails. Here cheap china dogs, that had had more than their day squatted amid lustres with crystal drops. Before the fire was a lofty steel guard, which, useful enough in Milly's household, had survived its function in Malka's, where no one was ever likely to tumble into the grate. In a corner of the room a little staircase began to go upstairs. There was oilcloth on the floor. In Zachariah Square anybody could go into anybody else's house and feel at home. There was no visible difference between one and another. Moses sat down awkwardly on a chair and refused a peppermint. In the end he accepted an apple, blessed God for creating the fruit of the tree, and made a ravenous bite at it.

"I must take peppermints," Malka explained. "It's for the spasms."

"But you said you were well," murmured Moses.

"And suppose? If I did not take peppermint I should have the spasms. My poor sister Rosina, peace be upon him, who died of typhoid, suffered greatly from the spasms. It's in the family. She would have died of asthma if she had lived long enough. _Nu_, how goes it with thee?" she went on, suddenly remembering that Moses, too, had a right to be ill. At bottom, Malka felt a real respect for Moses, though he did not know it. It dated from the day he cut a chip of mahogany out of her best round table. He had finished cutting his nails, and wanted a morsel of wood to burn with them in witness of his fulfilment of the pious custom. Malka raged, but in her inmost heart there was admiration for such unscrupulous sanctity.

"I have been out of work for three weeks," Moses answered, omitting to expound the state of his health in view of more urgent matters.

"Unlucky fool! What my silly cousin Gittel, peace be upon him, could see to marry in thee, I know not."

Moses could not enlighten her. He might have informed her that _olov hasholom_, "peace be upon him," was an absurdity when applied to a woman, but then he used the pious phrase himself, although aware of its grammatical shortcomings.

"I told her thou wouldst never be able to keep her, poor lamb," Malka went on. "But she was always an obstinate pig. And she kept her head high up, too, as if she had five pounds a week! Never would let her children earn money like other people's children. But thou oughtest not to be so obstinate. Thou shouldst have more sense, Meshe; _thou belongest not to my family. Why can't Solomon go out with matches?"

"Gittel's soul would not like it."

"But the living have bodies! Thou rather seest thy children starve than work. There's Esther,--an idle, lazy brat, always reading story-books; why doesn't she sell flowers or pull out bastings in the evening?"

"Esther and Solomon have their lessons to do."

"Lessons!" snorted Malka. "What's the good of lessons? It's English, not Judaism, they teach them in that godless school. _I could never read or write anything but Hebrew in all my life; but God be thanked, I have thriven without it. All they teach them in the school is English nonsense. The teachers are a pack of heathens, who eat forbidden things, but the good Yiddishkeit goes to the wall. I'm ashamed of thee, Meshe: thou dost not even send thy boys to a Hebrew class in the evening."

"I have no money, and they must do their English lessons. Else, perhaps, their clothes will be stopped. Besides, I teach them myself every _Shabbos afternoon and Sunday. Solomon translates into Yiddish the whole Pentateuch with Rashi."

"Yes, he may know _Terah_" said Malka, not to be baffled. "But he'll never know _Gemorah or _Mishnayis_." Malka herself knew very little of these abstruse subjects beyond their names, and the fact that they were studied out of minutely-printed folios by men of extreme sanctity.

"He knows a little _Gemorah_, too," said Moses. "I can't teach him at home because I haven't got a _Gemorah_,--it's so expensive, as you know. But he went with me to the _Beth-Medrash_, when the _Maggid was studying it with a class free of charge, and we learnt the whole of the _Tractate Niddah_. Solomon understands very well all about the Divorce Laws, and he could adjudicate on the duties of women to their husbands."

"Ah, but he'll never know _Cabbulah_," said Malka, driven to her last citadel. "But then no one in England can study _Cabbulah since the days of Rabbi Falk (the memory of the righteous for a blessing) any more than a born Englishman can learn Talmud. There's something in the air that prevents it. In my town there was a Rabbi who could do _Cabbulah_; he could call Abraham our father from the grave. But in this pig-eating country no one can be holy enough for the Name, blessed be It, to grant him the privilege. I don't believe the _Shochetim kill the animals properly; the statutes are violated; even pious people eat _tripha cheese and butter. I don't say thou dost, Meshe, but thou lettest thy children."

"Well, your own butter is not _kosher_," said Moses, nettled.

"My butter? What does it matter about my butter? I never set up for a purist. I don't come of a family of Rabbonim. I'm only a business woman. It's the _froom people that I complain of; the people who ought to set an example, and are lowering the standard of _Froomkeit_. I caught a beadle's wife the other day washing her meat and butter plates in the same bowl of water. In time they will be frying steaks in butter, and they will end by eating _tripha meat out of butter plates, and the judgment of God will come. But what is become of thine apple? Thou hast not gorged it already?" Moses nervously pointed to his trousers pocket, bulged out by the mutilated globe. After his first ravenous bite Moses had bethought himself of his responsibilities.

"It's for the _kinder_," he explained.

"_Nu_, the _kinder_!" snorted Malka disdainfully. "And what will they give thee for it? Verily, not a thank you. In my young days we trembled before the father and the mother, and my mother, peace be upon him, _potched my face after I was a married woman. I shall never forget that slap--it nearly made me adhere to the wall. But now-a-days our children sit on our heads. I gave my Milly all she has in the world--a house, a shop, a husband, and my best bed-linen. And now when I want her to call the child Yosef, after my first husband, peace be on him, her own father, she would out of sheer vexatiousness, call it Yechezkel." Malka's voice became more strident than ever. She had been anxious to make a species of vicarious reparation to her first husband, and the failure of Milly to acquiesce in the arrangement was a source of real vexation.

Moses could think of nothing better to say than to inquire how her present husband was.

"He overworks himself," Malka replied, shaking her head. "The misfortune is that he thinks himself a good man of business, and he is always starting new enterprises without consulting me. If he would only take my advice more!"

Moses shook his head in sympathetic deprecation of Michael Birnbaum's wilfulness.

"Is he at home?" he asked.

"No, but I expect him back from the country every minute. I believe they have invited him for the _Pidyun Haben to-day."

"Oh, is that to-day?"

"Of course. Didst thou not know?"

"No, no one told me."

"Thine own sense should have told thee. Is it not the thirty-first day since the birth? But of course he won't accept when he knows that my own daughter has driven me out of her house."

"You say not!" exclaimed Moses in horror.

"I do say," said Malka, unconsciously taking up the clothes-brush and thumping with it on the table to emphasize the outrage. "I told her that when Yechezkel cried so much, it would be better to look for the pin than to dose the child for gripes. 'I dressed it myself, Mother,' says she. 'Thou art an obstinate cat's head. Milly,' says I. 'I say there _is a pin.' 'And I know better,' says she. 'How canst thou know better than I?' says I. 'Why, I was a mother before thou wast born.' So I unrolled the child's flannel, and sure enough underneath it just over the stomach I found--"

"The pin," concluded Moses, shaking his head gravely.

"No, not exactly. But a red mark where the pin had been pricking the poor little thing."

"And what did Milly say then?" said Moses in sympathetic triumph.

"Milly said it was a flea-bite! and I said, 'Gott in Himmel, Milly, dost thou want to swear my eyes away? My enemies shall have such a flea-bite.' And because Red Rivkah was in the room, Milly said I was shedding her blood in public, and she began to cry as if I had committed a crime against her in looking after her child. And I rushed out, leaving the two babies howling together. That was a week ago."

"And how is the child?"

"How should I know? I am only the grandmother, I only supplied the bed-linen it was born on."

"But is it recovered from the circumcision?"

"Oh, yes, all our family have good healing flesh. It's a fine, child, _imbeshreer_. It's got my eyes and nose. It's a rare handsome baby, _imbeshreer_. Only it won't be its mother's fault if the Almighty takes it not back again. Milly has picked up so many ignorant Lane women who come in and blight the child, by admiring it aloud, not even saying _imbeshreer_. And then there's an old witch, a beggar-woman that Ephraim, my son-in-law, used to give a shilling a week to. Now he only gives her ninepence. She asked him 'why?' and he said, 'I'm married now. I can't afford more.' 'What!' she shrieked, 'you got married on my money!' And one Friday when the nurse had baby downstairs, the old beggar-woman knocked for her weekly allowance, and she opened the door, and she saw the child, and she looked at it with her Evil Eye! I hope to Heaven nothing will come of it."

"I will pray for Yechezkel," said Moses.

"Pray for Milly also, while thou art about it, that she may remember what is owing to a mother before the earth covers me. I don't know what's coming over children. Look at my Leah. She _will marry that Sam Levine, though he belongs to a lax English family, and I suspect his mother was a proselyte. She can't fry fish any way. I don't say anything against Sam, but still I do think my Leah might have told me before falling in love with him. And yet see how I treat them! My Michael made a _Missheberach for them in synagogue the Sabbath after the engagement; not a common eighteen-penny benediction, but a guinea one, with half-crown blessings thrown in for his parents and the congregation, and a gift of five shillings to the minister. That was of course in our own _Chevrah_, not reckoning the guinea my Michael _shnodared at Duke's Plaizer _Shool_. You know we always keep two seats at Duke's Plaizer as well." Duke's Plaizer was the current distortion of Duke's Place.

"What magnanimity," said Moses overawed.

"I like to do everything with decorum," said Malka. "No one can say I have ever acted otherwise than as a fine person. I dare say thou couldst do with a few shillings thyself now."

Moses hung his head still lower. "You see my mother is so poorly," he stammered. "She is a very old woman, and without anything to eat she may not live long."

"They ought to take her into the Aged Widows' Home. I'm sure I gave her _my votes."

"God shall bless you for it. But people say I was lucky enough to get my Benjamin into the Orphan Asylum, and that I ought not to have brought her from Poland. They say we grow enough poor old widows here."

"People say quite right--at least she would have starved in, a Yiddishe country, not in a land of heathens."

"But she was lonely and miserable out there, exposed to all the malice of the Christians. And I was earning a pound a week. Tailoring was a good trade then. The few roubles I used to send her did not always reach her."

"Thou hadst no right to send her anything, nor to send for her. Mothers are not everything. Thou didst marry my cousin Gittel, peace be upon him, and it was thy duty to support _her and her children. Thy mother took the bread out of the mouth of Gittel, and but for her my poor cousin might have been alive to-day. Believe me it was no _Mitzvah_."

_Mitzvah is a "portmanteau-word." It means a commandment and a good deed, the two conceptions being regarded as interchangeable.

"Nay, thou errest there," answered Moses. "'Gittel was not a phoenix which alone ate not of the Tree of Knowledge and lives for ever. Women have no need to live as long as men, for they have not so many _Mitzvahs to perform as men; and inasmuch as"--here his tones involuntarily assumed the argumentative sing-song--"their souls profit by all the _Mitzvahs performed by their husbands and children, Gittel will profit by the _Mitzvah I did in bringing over my mother, so that even if she did die through it, she will not be the loser thereby. It stands in the Verse that _man shall do the _Mitzvahs and live by them. To live is a _Mitzvah_, but it is plainly one of those _Mitzvahs that have to be done at a definite time, from which species women, by reason of their household duties, are exempt; wherefore I would deduce by another circuit that it is not so incumbent upon women to live as upon men. Nevertheless, if God had willed it, she would have been still alive. The Holy One, blessed be He, will provide for the little ones He has sent into the world. He fed Elijah the prophet by ravens, and He will never send me a black Sabbath."

"Oh, you are a saint, Meshe," said Malka, so impressed that she admitted him to the equality of the second person plural. "If everybody knew as much _Terah as you, the Messiah would soon be here. Here are five shillings. For five shillings you can get a basket of lemons in the Orange Market in Duke's Place, and if you sell them in the Lane at a halfpenny each, you will make a good profit. Put aside five shillings of your takings and get another basket, and so you will be able to live till the tailoring picks up a bit." Moses listened as if he had never heard of the elementary principles of barter.

"May the Name, blessed be It, bless you, and may you see rejoicings on your children's children."

So Moses went away and bought dinner, treating his family to some _beuglich_, or circular twisted rolls, in his joy. But on the morrow he repaired to the Market, thinking on the way of the ethical distinction between "duties of the heart" and "duties of the limbs," as expounded in choice Hebrew by Rabbenu Bachja, and he laid out the remnant in lemons. Then he stationed himself in Petticoat Lane, crying, in his imperfect English, "Lemans, verra good lemans, two a penny each, two a penny each!"

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