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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 4. The Redemption Of The Son And The Daughter
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Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 1. Children Of The Ghetto - Chapter 4. The Redemption Of The Son And The Daughter Post by :Samoyedman Category :Long Stories Author :Israel Zangwill Date :May 2012 Read :743

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Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 1. Children Of The Ghetto - Chapter 4. The Redemption Of The Son And The Daughter


Malka did not have long to wait for her liege lord. He was a fresh-colored young man of thirty, rather good-looking, with side whiskers, keen, eager glance, and an air of perpetually doing business. Though a native of Germany, he spoke English as well as many Lane Jews, whose comparative impiety was a certificate of British birth. Michael Birnbaum was a great man in the local little synagogue if only one of the crowd at "Duke's Plaizer." He had been successively _Gabbai and _Parnass_, or treasurer and president, and had presented the plush curtain, with its mystical decoration of intersecting triangles, woven in silk, that hung before the Ark in which the scrolls of the Law were kept. He was the very antithesis of Moses Ansell. His energy was restless. From hawking he had risen to a profitable traffic in gold lace and Brummagem jewelry, with a large _clientele all over the country, before he was twenty. He touched nothing which he did not profit by; and when he married, at twenty-three, a woman nearly twice his age, the transaction was not without the usual percentage. Very soon his line was diamonds,--real diamonds. He carried, a pocket-knife which was a combination of a corkscrew, a pair of scissors, a file, a pair of tweezers, a toothpick, and half a dozen other things, and which seemed an epitome of his character. His temperament was lively, and, like Ephraim Phillips, he liked music-halls. Fortunately, Malka was too conscious of her charms to dream of jealousy.

Michael smacked her soundly on the mouth with his lips and said: "Well, mother!"

He called her mother, not because he had any children, but because she had, and it seemed a pity to multiply domestic nomenclature.

"Well, my little one," said Malka, hugging him fondly. "Have you made a good journey this time?"

"No, trade is so dull. People won't put their hands in their pockets. And here?"

"People won't take their hands out of their pockets, lazy dogs! Everybody is striking,--Jews with them. Unheard-of things! The bootmakers, the capmakers, the furriers! And now they say the tailors are going to strike; more fools, too, when the trade is so slack. What with one thing and another (let me put your cravat straight, my little love), it's just the people who can't afford to buy new clothes that are hard up, so that they can't afford to buy second-hand clothes either. If the Almighty is not good to us, we shall come to the Board of Guardians ourselves."

"Not quite so bad as that, mother," laughed Michael, twirling the massive diamond ring on his finger. "How's baby? Is it ready to be redeemed?"

"Which baby?" said Malka, with well-affected agnosticism.

"Phew!" whistled Michael. "What's up now, mother?"

"Nothing, my pet, nothing."

"Well, I'm going across. Come along, mother. Oh, wait a minute. I want to brush this mud off my trousers. Is the clothes-brush here?"

"Yes, dearest one," said the unsuspecting Malka.

Michael winked imperceptibly, flicked his trousers, and without further parley ran across the diagonal to Milly's house. Five minutes afterwards a deputation, consisting of a char-woman, waited upon Malka and said:

"Missus says will you please come over, as baby is a-cryin' for its grandma."

"Ah, that must be another pin," said Malka, with a gleam of triumph at her victory. But she did not budge. At the end of five minutes she rose solemnly, adjusted her wig and her dress in the mirror, put on her bonnet, brushed away a non-existent speck of dust from her left sleeve, put a peppermint in her mouth, and crossed the Square, carrying the clothes-brush in her hand. Milly's door was half open, but she knocked at it and said to the char-woman:

"Is Mrs. Phillips in?"

"Yes, mum, the company's all upstairs."

"Oh, then I will go up and return her this myself."

Malka went straight through the little crowd of guests to Milly, who was sitting on a sofa with Ezekiel, quiet as a lamb and as good as gold, in her arms.

"Milly, my dear," she said. "I have come to bring you back your clothes-brush. Thank you so much for the loan of it."

"You know you're welcome, mother," said Milly, with unintentionally dual significance. The two ladies embraced. Ephraim Phillips, a sallow-looking, close-cropped Pole, also kissed his mother-in-law, and the gold chain that rested on Malka's bosom heaved with the expansion of domestic pride. Malka thanked God she was not a mother of barren or celibate children, which is only one degree better than personal unfruitfulness, and testifies scarce less to the celestial curse.

"Is that pin-mark gone away yet, Milly, from the precious little thing?" said Malka, taking Ezekiel in her arms and disregarding the transformation of face which in babies precedes a storm.

"Yes, it was a mere flea-bite," said Milly incautiously, adding hurriedly, "I always go through his flannels and things most carefully to see there are no more pins lurking about."

"That is right! Pins are like fleas--you never know where they get to," said Malka in an insidious spirit of compromise. "Where is Leah?"

"She is in the back yard frying the last of the fish. Don't you smell it?"

"It will hardly have time to get cold."

"Well, but I did a dishful myself last night. She is only preparing a reserve in case the attack be too deadly."

"And where is the _Cohen_?"

"Oh, we have asked old Hyams across the Ruins. We expect him round every minute."

At this point the indications of Ezekiel's facial barometer were fulfilled, and a tempest of weeping shook him.

"_Na_! Go then! Go to the mother," said Malka angrily. "All my children are alike. It's getting late. Hadn't you better send across again for old Hyams?"

"There's no hurry, mother," said Michael Birnbaum soothingly. "We must wait for Sam."

"And who's Sam?" cried Malka unappeased.

"Sam is Leah's _Chosan_," replied Michael ingenuously.

"Clever!" sneered Malka. "But my grandson is not going to wait for the son of a proselyte. Why doesn't he come?"

"He'll be here in one minute."

"How do you know?"

"We came up in the same train. He got in at Middlesborough. He's just gone home to see his folks, and get a wash and a brush-up. Considering he's coming up to town merely for the sake of the family ceremony, I think it would be very rude to commence without him. It's no joke, a long railway journey this weather. My feet were nearly frozen despite the foot-warmer."

"My poor lambkin," said Malka, melting. And she patted his side whiskers.

Sam Levine arrived almost immediately, and Leah, fishfork in hand, flew out of the back-yard kitchen to greet him. Though a member of the tribe of Levi, he was anything but ecclesiastical in appearance, rather a representative of muscular Judaism. He had a pink and white complexion, and a tawny moustache, and bubbled over with energy and animal spirits. He could give most men thirty in a hundred in billiards, and fifty in anecdote. He was an advanced Radical in politics, and had a high opinion of the intelligence of his party. He paid Leah lip-fealty on his entry.

"What a pity it's Sunday!" was Leah's first remark when the kissing was done.

"No going to the play," said Sam ruefully, catching her meaning.

They always celebrated his return from a commercial round by going to the theatre--the-etter they pronounced it. They went to the pit of the West End houses rather than patronize the local dress circles for the same money. There were two strata of Ghetto girls, those who strolled in the Strand on Sabbath, and those who strolled in the Whitechapel Road. Leah was of the upper stratum. She was a tall lovely brunette, exuberant of voice and figure, with coarse red hands. She doted on ice-cream in the summer, and hot chocolate in the winter, but her love of the theatre was a perennial passion. Both Sam and she had good ears, and were always first in the field with the latest comic opera tunes. Leah's healthy vitality was prodigious. There was a legend in the Lane of such a maiden having been chosen by a coronet; Leah was satisfied with Sam, who was just her match. On the heels of Sam came several other guests, notably Mrs. Jacobs (wife of "Reb" Shemuel), with her pretty daughter, Hannah. Mr. Hyams, the _Cohen_, came last--the Priest whose functions had so curiously dwindled since the times of the Temples. To be called first to the reading of the Law, to bless his brethren with symbolic spreadings of palms and fingers in a mystic incantation delivered, standing shoeless before the Ark of the Covenant at festival seasons, to redeem the mother's first-born son when neither parent was of priestly lineage--these privileges combined with a disability to be with or near the dead, differentiated his religious position from that of the Levite or the Israelite. Mendel Hyams was not puffed up about his tribal superiority, though if tradition were to be trusted, his direct descent from Aaron, the High Priest, gave him a longer genealogy than Queen Victoria's. He was a meek sexagenarian, with a threadbare black coat and a child-like smile. All the pride of the family seemed to be monopolized by his daughter Miriam, a girl whose very nose Heaven had fashioned scornful. Miriam had accompanied him out of contemptuous curiosity. She wore a stylish feather in her hat, and a boa round her throat, and earned thirty shillings a week, all told, as a school teacher. (Esther Ansell was in her class just now.) Probably her toilette had made old Hyams unpunctual. His arrival was the signal for the commencement of the proceedings, and the men hastened to assume their head-gear.

Ephraim Phillips cautiously took the swaddled-up infant from the bosom of Milly where it was suckling and presented it to old Hyams. Fortunately Ezekiel had already had a repletion of milk, and was drowsy and manifested very little interest in the whole transaction.

"This my first-born son," said Ephraim in Hebrew as he handed Ezekiel over--"is the first-born of his mother, and the Holy One, blessed be He, hath given command to redeem him, as it is said, and those that are to be redeemed of them from a month old, shalt thou redeem according to thine estimation for the money of five shekels after the shekel of the sanctuary, the shekel being twenty gerahs; and it is said, 'Sanctify unto me all the first-born, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast; it is mine.'"

Ephraim Phillips then placed fifteen shillings in silver before old Hyams, who thereupon inquired in Chaldaic: "Which wouldst thou rather--give me thy first-born son, the first-born of his mother, or redeem him for five selaim, which thou art bound to give according to the Law?"

Ephraim replied in Chaldaic: "I am desirous rather to redeem my son, and here thou hast the value of his redemption, which I am bound to give according to the Law."

Thereupon Hyams took the money tendered, and gave back the child to his father, who blessed God for His sanctifying commandments, and thanked Him for His mercies; after which the old _Cohen held the fifteen shillings over the head of the infant, saying: "This instead of that, this in exchange for that, this in remission of that. May this child enter into life, into the Law, and into the fear of Heaven. May it be God's will that even as he has been admitted to redemption, so may he enter into the Law, the nuptial canopy and into good deeds. Amen." Then, placing his hand in benediction upon the child's head, the priestly layman added: "God make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh. The Lord bless thee and keep thee. The Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. The Lord turn His face to thee and grant thee peace. The Lord is thy guardian; the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. For length of days and years of life and peace shall they add to thee. The Lord shall guard thee from all evil. He shall guard thy soul."

"Amen," answered the company, and then there was a buzz of secular talk, general rapture being expressed at the stolidness of Ezekiel's demeanor. Cups of tea were passed round by the lovely Leah, and the secrets of the paper bags were brought to light. Ephraim Phillips talked horses with Sam Levine, and old Hyams quarrelled with Malka over the disposal of the fifteen shillings. Knowing that Hyams was poor, Malka refused to take back the money retendered by him under pretence of a gift to the child. The _Cohen_, however, was a proud man, and under the eye of Miriam a firm one. Ultimately it was agreed the money should be expended on a _Missheberach_, for the infant's welfare and the synagogue's. Birds of a feather flock together, and Miriam forgathered with Hannah Jacobs, who also had a stylish feather in her hat, and was the most congenial of the company. Mrs. Jacobs was left to discourse of the ailments of childhood and the iniquities of servants with Mrs. Phillips. Reb Shemuel's wife, commonly known as the Rebbitzin, was a tall woman with a bony nose and shrivelled cheeks, whereon the paths of the blood-vessels were scrawled in red. The same bones were visible beneath the plumper padding of Hannah's face. Mrs. Jacobs had escaped the temptation to fatness, which is the besetting peril of the Jewish matron. If Hannah could escape her mother's inclination to angularity she would be a pretty woman. She dressed with taste, which is half the battle, and for the present she was only nineteen.

"Do you think it's a good match?" said Miriam Hyams, indicating Sam Levine with a movement of the eyebrow.

A swift, scornful look flitted across Hannah's face. "Among the Jews," she said, "every match is a grand _Shidduch before the marriage; after, we hear another tale."

"There is a good deal in that," admitted Miriam, thoughtfully. "The girl's family cries up the capture shamelessly. I remember when Clara Emanuel was engaged, her brother Jack told me it was a splendid _Shidduch_. Afterwards I found he was a widower of fifty-five with three children."

"But that engagement went off," said Hannah.

"I know," said Miriam. "I'm only saying I can't fancy myself doing anything of the kind."

"What! breaking off an engagement?" said Hannah, with a cynical little twinkle about her eye.

"No, taking a man like that," replied Miriam. "I wouldn't look at a man over thirty-five, or with less than two hundred and fifty a year."

"You'll never marry a teacher, then," Hannah remarked.

"Teacher!" Miriam Hyams repeated, with a look of disgust. "How can one be respectable on three pounds a week? I must have a man in a good position." She tossed her piquant nose and looked almost handsome. She was five years older than Hannah, and it seemed an enigma why men did not rush to lay five pounds a week at her daintily shod feet.

"I'd rather marry a man with two pounds a week if I loved him," said Hannah in a low tone.

"Not in this century," said Miriam, shaking her head incredulously. "We don't believe in that nonsense now-a-days. There was Alice Green,--she used to talk like that,--now look at her, riding about in a gig side by side with a bald monkey."

"Alice Green's mother," interrupted Malka, pricking up her ears, "married a son of Mendel Weinstein by his third wife, Dinah, who had ten pounds left her by her uncle Shloumi."

"No, Dinah was Mendel's second wife," corrected Mrs. Jacobs, cutting short a remark of Mrs. Phillips's in favor of the new interest.

"Dinah was Mendel's third wife," repeated Malka, her tanned cheeks reddening. "I know it because my Simon, God bless him, was breeched the same month."

Simon was Malka's eldest, now a magistrate in Melbourne.

"His third wife was Kitty Green, daughter of the yellow Melammed," persisted the Rebbitzin. "I know it for a fact, because Kitty's sister Annie was engaged for a week to my brother-in-law Nathaniel."

"His first wife," put in Malka's husband, with the air of arbitrating between the two, "was Shmool the publican's eldest daughter."

"Shmool the publican's daughter," said Malka, stirred to fresh indignation, "married Hyam Robins, the grandson of old Benjamin, who kept the cutlery shop at the corner of Little Eden Alley, there where the pickled cucumber store stands now."

"It was Shmool's sister that married Hyam Robins, wasn't it, mother?" asked Milly, incautiously.

"Certainly not," thundered Malka. "I knew old Benjamin well, and he sent me a pair of chintz curtains when I married your father."

"Poor old Benjamin! How long has he been dead?" mused Reb Shemuel's wife.

"He died the year I was confined with my Leah----"

"Stop! stop!" interrupted Sam Levine boisterously. "There's Leah getting as red as fire for fear you'll blab out her age."

"Don't be a fool, Sam," said Leah, blushing violently, and looking the lovelier for it.

The attention of the entire company was now concentrated upon the question at issue, whatever it might be. Malka fixed her audience with her piercing eye, and said in a tone that scarce brooked contradiction: "Hyam Robins couldn't have married Shmool's sister because Shmool's sister was already the wife of Abraham the fishmonger."

"Yes, but Shmool had two sisters," said Mrs. Jacobs, audaciously asserting her position as the rival genealogist.

"Nothing of the kind," replied Malka warmly.

"I'm quite sure," persisted Mrs. Jacobs. "There was Phoeby and there was Harriet."

"Nothing of the kind," repeated Malka. "Shmool had three sisters. Only two were in the deaf and dumb home."

"Why, that, wasn't Shmool at all," Milly forgot herself so far as to say, "that was Block the Baker."

"Of course!" said Malka in her most acid tone. "My _kinder always know better than me."

There was a moment of painful silence. Malka's eye mechanically sought the clothes-brush. Then Ezekiel sneezed. It was a convulsive "atichoo," and agitated the infant to its most intimate flannel-roll.

"For thy Salvation do I hope, O Lord," murmured Malka, piously, adding triumphantly aloud, "There! the _kind has sneezed to the truth of it. I knew I was right."

The sneeze of an innocent child silences everybody who is not a blasphemer. In the general satisfaction at the unexpected solution of the situation, no one even pointed out that the actual statement to which Ezekiel had borne testimony, was an assertion of the superior knowledge of Malka's children. Shortly afterwards the company trooped downstairs to partake of high tea, which in the Ghetto need not include anything more fleshly than fish. Fish was, indeed, the staple of the meal. Fried fish, and such fried fish! Only a great poet could sing the praises of the national dish, and the golden age of Hebrew poetry is over. Strange that Gebirol should have lived and died without the opportunity of the theme, and that the great Jehuda Halevi himself should have had to devote his genius merely to singing the glories of Jerusalem. "Israel is among the other nations," he sang, "as the heart among the limbs." Even so is the fried fish of Judaea to the fried fish of Christendom and Heathendom. With the audacity of true culinary genius, Jewish fried fish is always served cold. The skin is a beautiful brown, the substance firm and succulent. The very bones thereof are full of marrow, yea and charged with memories of the happy past. Fried fish binds Anglo-Judaea more than all the lip-professions of unity. Its savor is early known of youth, and the divine flavor, endeared by a thousand childish recollections, entwined with the most sacred associations, draws back the hoary sinner into the paths of piety. It is on fried fish, mayhap, that the Jewish matron grows fat. In the days of the Messiah, when the saints shall feed off the Leviathan; and the Sea Serpent shall be dished up for the last time, and the world and the silly season shall come to an end, in those days it is probable that the saints will prefer their Leviathan fried. Not that any physical frying will be necessary, for in those happy times (for whose coming every faithful Israelite prays three times a day), the Leviathan will have what taste the eater will. Possibly a few highly respectable saints, who were fashionable in their day and contrived to live in Kensington without infection of paganism, will take their Leviathan in conventional courses, and beginning with _hors d'oeuvres may _will him everything by turns and nothing long; making him soup and sweets, joint and _entree_, and even ices and coffee, for in the millennium the harassing prohibition which bars cream after meat will fall through. But, however this be, it is beyond question that the bulk of the faithful will mentally fry him, and though the Christian saints, who shall be privileged to wait at table, hand them plate after plate, fried fish shall be all the fare. One suspects that Hebrews gained the taste in the Desert of Sinai, for the manna that fell there was not monotonous to the palate as the sciolist supposes, but likewise mutable under volition. It were incredible that Moses, who gave so many imperishable things to his people, did not also give them the knowledge of fried fish, so that they might obey his behest, and rejoice, before the Lord. Nay, was it not because, while the manna fell, there could be no lack of fish to fry, that they lingered forty years in a dreary wilderness? Other delicious things there are in Jewish cookery--_Lockschen_, which are the apotheosis of vermicelli, _Ferfel_, which are _Lockschen in an atomic state, and _Creplich_, which are triangular meat-pasties, and _Kuggol_, to which pudding has a far-away resemblance; and there is even _gefuellte Fisch_, which is stuffed fish without bones--but fried fish reigns above all in cold, unquestioned sovereignty. No other people possesses the recipe. As a poet of the commencement of the century sings:

The Christians are ninnies, they can't fry Dutch plaice,
Believe me, they can't tell a carp from a dace.

It was while discussing a deliciously brown oblong of the Dutch plaice of the ballad that Samuel Levine appeared to be struck by an idea. He threw down his knife and fork and exclaimed in Hebrew. "_Shemah beni_!"

Every one looked at him.

"Hear, my son!" he repeated in comic horror. Then relapsing into English, he explained. "I've forgotten to give Leah a present from her _chosan_."

"A-h-h!" Everybody gave a sigh of deep interest; Leah, whom the exigencies of service had removed from his side to the head of the table, half-rose from her seat in excitement.

Now, whether Samuel Levine had really forgotten, or whether he had chosen the most effective moment will never be known; certain it is that the Semitic instinct for drama was gratified within him as he drew a little folded white paper out of his waistcoat pocket, amid the keen expectation of the company.

"This," said he, tapping the paper as if he were a conjurer, "was purchased by me yesterday morning for my little girl. I said to myself, says I, look here, old man, you've got to go up to town for a day in honor of Ezekiel Phillips, and your poor girl, who had looked forward to your staying away till Passover, will want some compensation for her disappointment at seeing you earlier. So I thinks to myself, thinks I, now what is there that Leah would like? It must be something appropriate, of course, and it mustn't be of any value, because I can't afford it. It's a ruinous business getting engaged; the worst bit of business I ever did in all my born days." Here Sam winked facetiously at the company. "And I thought and thought of what was the cheapest thing I could get out of it with, and lo and behold I suddenly thought of a ring."

So saying, Sam, still with the same dramatic air, unwrapped the thick gold ring and held it up so that the huge diamond in it sparkled in the sight of all. A long "O--h--h" went round the company, the majority instantaneously pricing it mentally, and wondering at what reduction Sam had acquired it from a brother commercial. For that no Jew ever pays full retail price for jewelry is regarded as axiomatic. Even the engagement ring is not required to be first-hand--or should it be first-finger?--so long as it is solid; which perhaps accounts for the superiority of the Jewish marriage-rate. Leah rose entirely to her feet, the light of the diamond reflected in her eager eyes. She leant across the table, stretching out a finger to receive her lover's gift. Sam put the ring near her finger, then drew it away teasingly.

"Them as asks shan't have," he said, in high good humor. "You're too greedy. Look at the number of rings you've got already." The fun of the situation diffused itself along the table.

"Give it me," laughed Miriam Hyams, stretching out her finger. "I'll say 'ta' so nicely."

"No," he said, "you've been naughty; I'm going to give it to the little girl who has sat quiet all the time. Miss Hannah Jacobs, rise to receive your prize."

Hannah, who was sitting two places to the left of him, smiled quietly, but went on carving her fish. Sam, growing quite boisterous under the appreciation of a visibly amused audience, leaned towards her, captured her right hand, and forcibly adjusted the ring on the second finger, exclaiming in Hebrew, with mock solemnity, "Behold, thou art consecrated unto me by this ring according to the Law of Moses and Israel."

It was the formal marriage speech he had learnt up for his approaching marriage. The company roared with laughter, and pleasure and enjoyment of the fun made Leah's lovely, smiling cheeks flush to a livelier crimson. Badinage flew about from one end of the table to the other: burlesque congratulations were showered on the couple, flowing over even unto Mrs. Jacobs, who appeared to enjoy the episode as much as if her daughter were really off her hands. The little incident added the last touch of high spirits to the company and extorted all their latent humor. Samuel excelled himself in vivacious repartee, and responded comically to the toast of his health as drunk in coffee. Suddenly, amid the hubbub of chaff and laughter and the clatter of cutlery, a still small voice made itself heard. It same from old Hyams, who had been sitting quietly with brow corrugated under his black velvet _koppel_.

"Mr. Levine," he said, in low grave tones, "I have been thinking, and I am afraid that what you have done is serious."

The earnestness of his tones arrested the attention of the company. The laughter ceased.

"What do you mean?" said Samuel. He understood the Yiddish which old Hyams almost invariably used, though he did not speak it himself. Contrariwise, old Hyams understood much more English than he spoke.

"You have married Hannah Jacobs."

There was a painful silence, dim recollections surging in everybody's brain.

"Married Hannah Jacobs!" repeated Samuel incredulously.

"Yes," affirmed old Hyams. "What you have done constitutes a marriage according to Jewish law. You have pledged yourself to her in the presence of two witnesses."

There was another tense silence. Samuel broke it with a boisterous laugh.

"No, no, old fellow," he said; "you don't have me like that!"

The tension was relaxed. Everybody joined in the laugh with a feeling of indescribable relief. Facetious old Hyams had gone near scoring one. Hannah smilingly plucked off the glittering bauble from her finger and slid it on to Leah's. Hyams alone remained grave. "Laugh away!" he said. "You will soon find I am right. Such is our law."

"May be," said Samuel, constrained to seriousness despite himself. "But you forget that I am already engaged to Leah."

"I do not forget it," replied Hyams, "but it has nothing to do with the case. You are both single, or rather you _were both single, for now you are man and wife."

Leah, who had been sitting pale and agitated, burst into tears. Hannah's face was drawn and white. Her mother looked the least alarmed of the company.

"Droll person!" cried Malka, addressing Sam angrily in jargon. "What hast thou done?"

"Don't let us all go mad," said Samuel, bewildered. "How can a piece of fun, a joke, be a valid marriage?"

"The law takes no account of jokes," said old Hyams solemnly.

"Then why didn't you stop me?" asked Sam, exasperated.

"It was all done in a moment. I laughed myself; I had no time to think."

Sam brought his fist down on the table with a bang.

"Well, I'll never believe this! If this is Judaism----!"

"Hush!" said Malka angrily. "These are your English Jews, who make mock of holy things. I always said the son of a proselyte was----"

"Look here, mother," put in Michael soothingly. "Don't let us make a fuss before we know the truth. Send for some one who is likely to know." He played agitatedly with his complex pocket-knife.

"Yes, Hannah's father, Reb Shemuel is just the man," cried Milly Phillips.

"I told you my husband was gone to Manchester for a day or two," Mrs. Jacobs reminded her.

"There's the _Maggid of the Sons of the Covenant," said one of the company. "I'll go and fetch him."

The stooping, black-bearded _Maggid was brought. When he arrived, it was evident from his look that he knew all and brought confirmation of their worst fears. He explained the law at great length, and cited precedent upon precedent. When he ceased, Leah's sobs alone broke the silence. Samuel's face was white. The merry gathering had been turned to a wedding party.

"You rogue!" burst forth Malka at last. "You planned all this--you thought my Leah didn't have enough money, and that Reb Shemuel will heap you up gold in the hands. But you don't take me in like this."

"May this piece of bread choke me if I had the slightest iota of intention!" cried Samuel passionately, for the thought of what Leah might think was like fire in his veins. He turned appealingly to the _Maggid_; "but there must be some way out of this, surely there must be some way out. I know you _Maggidim can split hairs. Can't you make one of your clever distinctions even when there's more than a trifle concerned?" There was a savage impatience about the bridegroom which boded ill for the Law.

"Of course there's a way out," said the _Maggid calmly. "Only one way, but a very broad and simple one."

"What's that?" everybody asked breathlessly.

"He must give her _Gett_!"

"Of course!" shouted Sam in a voice of thunder. "I divorce her at once." He guffawed hysterically: "What a pack of fools we are! Good old Jewish law!"

Leah's sobs ceased. Everybody except Mrs. Jacobs was smiling once more. Half a dozen, hands grasped the _Maggid's_; half a dozen others thumped him on the back. He was pushed into a chair. They gave him a glass of brandy, they heaped a plate with fried fish. Verily the _Maggid_, who was in truth sore ahungered, was in luck's way. He blessed Providence and the Jewish Marriage Law.

"But you had better not reckon that a divorce," he warned them between two mouthfuls. "You had better go to Reb Shemuel, the maiden's father, and let him arrange the _Gett beyond reach of cavil."

"But Reb Shemuel is away," said Mrs. Jacobs.

"And I must go away, too, by the first train to-morrow," said Sam. "However, there's no hurry. I'll arrange to run up to town again in a fortnight or so, and then Reb Shemuel shall see that we are properly untied. You don't mind being my wife for a fortnight, I hope, Miss Jacobs?" asked Sam, winking gleefully at Leah. She smiled back at him and they laughed together over the danger they had just escaped. Hannah laughed too, in contemptuous amusement at the rigidity of Jewish Law.

"I'll tell you what, Sam, can't you come back for next Saturday week?" said Leah.

"Why?" asked Sam. "What's on?"

"The Purim Ball at the Club. As you've got to come back to give Hannah _Gett_, you might as well come in time to take me to the ball."

"Right you are," said Sam cheerfully.

Leah clapped her hands. "Oh that will be jolly," she said. "And we'll take Hannah with us," she added as an afterthought.

"Is that by way of compensation for losing my husband?" Hannah asked with a smile.

Leah gave a happy laugh, and turned the new ring on her finger in delighted contemplation.

"All's well that ends well," said Sam. "Through this joke Leah will be the belle of the Purim Ball. I think I deserve another piece of plaice, Leah, for that compliment. As for you, Mr. Maggid, you're a saint and a Talmud sage!"

The _Maggid's face was brightened by a smile. He intoned the grace with unction when the meal ended, and everybody joined in heartily at the specifically vocal portions. Then the _Maggid left, and the cards were brought out.

It is inadvisable to play cards _before fried fish, because it is well known that you may lose, and losing may ruffle your temper, and you may call your partner an ass, or your partner may call you an ass. To-night the greatest good humor prevailed, though several pounds changed hands. They played Loo, "Klobbiyos," Napoleon, Vingt-et-un, and especially Brag. Solo whist had not yet come in to drive everything else out. Old Hyams did not _spiel_, because he could not afford to, and Hannah Jacobs because she did not care to. These and a few other guests left early. But the family party stayed late. On a warm green table, under a cheerful gas light, with brandy and whiskey and sweets and fruit to hand, with no trains or busses to catch, what wonder if the light-hearted assembly played far into the new day?

Meanwhile the Redeemed Son slept peacefully in his crib with his legs curled up, and his little fists clenched beneath the coverlet.

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