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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesChildren Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 2. The Grandchildren Of The Ghetto - Chapter 6. Comedy Or Tragedy?
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Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 2. The Grandchildren Of The Ghetto - Chapter 6. Comedy Or Tragedy? Post by :Samoyedman Category :Long Stories Author :Israel Zangwill Date :May 2012 Read :2665

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Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 2. The Grandchildren Of The Ghetto - Chapter 6. Comedy Or Tragedy?


The weeks went on and Passover drew nigh. The recurrence of the feast brought no thrill to Esther now. It was no longer a charmed time, with strange things to eat and drink, and a comparative plenty of them--stranger still. Lack of appetite was the chief dietary want now. Nobody had any best clothes to put on in a world where everything was for the best in the way of clothes. Except for the speckled Passover cakes, there was hardly any external symptom of the sacred Festival. While the Ghetto was turning itself inside out, the Kensington Terrace was calm in the dignity of continuous cleanliness. Nor did Henry Goldsmith himself go prowling about the house in quest of vagrant crumbs. Mary O'Reilly attended to all that, and the Goldsmiths had implicit confidence in her fidelity to the traditions of their faith. Wherefore, the evening of the day before Passover, instead of being devoted to frying fish and provisioning, was free for more secular occupations; Esther, for example, had arranged to go to see the _debut of a new Hamlet with Addie. Addie had asked her to go, mentioned that Raphael, who was taking her, had suggested that she should bring her friend. For they had become great friends, had Addie and Esther, ever since Esther had gone to take that cup of tea, with the chat that is more essential than milk or sugar.

The girls met or wrote every week. Raphael, Esther never met nor heard from directly. She found Addie a sweet, lovable girl, full of frank simplicity and unquestioning piety. Though dazzlingly beautiful, she had none of the coquetry which Esther, with a touch of jealousy, had been accustomed to associate with beauty, and she had little of the petty malice of girlish gossip. Esther summed her up as Raphael's heart without his head. It was unfair, for Addie's own head was by no means despicable. But Esther was not alone in taking eccentric opinions as the touchstone of intellectual vigor. Anyhow, she was distinctly happier since Addie had come into her life, and she admired her as a mountain torrent might admire a crystal pool--half envying her happier temperament.

The Goldsmiths were just finishing dinner, when the expected ring came. To their surprise, the ringer was Sidney. He was shown into the dining-room.

"Good evening, all," he said. "I've come as a substitute for Raphael."

Esther grew white. "Why, what has happened to him?" she asked.

"Nothing, I had a telegram to say he was unexpectedly detained in the city, and asking me to take Addie and to call for you."

Esther turned from white to red. How rude of Raphael! How disappointing not to meet him, after all! And did he think she could thus unceremoniously be handed over to somebody else? She was about to beg to be excused, when it struck her a refusal would look too pointed. Besides, she did not fear Sidney now. It would be a test of her indifference. So she murmured instead, "What can detain him?"

"Charity, doubtless. Do you know, that after he is fagged out with upholding the _Flag from early morning till late eve, he devotes the later eve to gratuitous tuition, lecturing and the like."

"No," said Esther, softened. "I knew he came home late, but I thought he had to report communal meetings."

"That, too. But Addie tells me he never came home at all one night last week. He was sitting up with some wretched dying pauper."

"He'll kill himself," said Esther, anxiously.

"People are right about him. He is quite hopeless," said Percy Saville, the solitary guest, tapping his forehead significantly.

"Perhaps it is we who are hopeless," said Esther, sharply.

"I wish we were all as sensible," said Mrs. Henry Goldsmith, turning on the unhappy stockbroker with her most superior air. "Mr. Leon always reminds me of Judas Maccabaeus."

He shrank before the blaze of her mature beauty, the fulness of her charms revealed by her rich evening dress, her hair radiating strange, subtle perfume. His eye sought Mr. Goldsmith's for refuge and consolation.

"That is so," said Mr. Goldsmith, rubbing his red chin. "He is an excellent young man."

"May I trouble you to put on your things at once, Miss Ansell?" said Sidney. "I have left Addie in the carriage, and we are rather late. I believe it is usual for ladies to put on 'things,' even when in evening dress. I may mention that there is a bouquet for you in the carriage, and, however unworthy a substitute I may be for Raphael, I may at least claim he would have forgotten to bring you that."

Esther smiled despite herself as she left the room to get her cloak. She was chagrined and disappointed, but she resolved not to inflict her ill-humor on her companions.

She had long since got used to carriages, and when they arrived at the theatre, she took her seat in the box without heart-fluttering. It was an old discovery now that boxes had no connection with oranges nor stalls with costers' barrows.

The house was brilliant. The orchestra was playing the overture.

"I wish Mr. Shakspeare would write a new play," grumbled Sidney. "All these revivals make him lazy. Heavens! what his fees must tot up to! If I were not sustained by the presence of you two girls, I should no more survive the fifth act than most of the characters. Why don't they brighten the piece up with ballet-girls?"

"Yes, I suppose you blessed Mr. Leon when you got his telegram," said Esther. "What a bore it must be to you to be saddled with his duties!"

"Awful!" admitted Sidney gravely. "Besides, it interferes with my work."

"Work?" said Addie. "You know you only work by sunlight."

"Yes, that's the best of my profession--in England. It gives you such opportunities of working--at other professions."

"Why, what do you work at?" inquired Esther, laughing.

"Well, there's amusement, the most difficult of all things to achieve! Then there's poetry. You don't know what a dab I am at rondeaux and barcarolles. And I write music, too, lovely little serenades to my lady-loves and reveries that are like dainty pastels."

"All the talents!" said Addie, looking at him with a fond smile. "But if you have any time to spare from the curling of your lovely silken moustache, which is entirely like a delicate pastel, will you kindly tell me what celebrities are present?"

"Yes, do," added Esther, "I have only been to two first nights, and then I had nobody to point out the lions."

"Well, first of all I see a very celebrated painter in a box--a man who has improved considerably on the weak draughtsmanship displayed by Nature in her human figures, and the amateurishness of her glaring sunsets."

"Who's that?" inquired Addie and Esther eagerly.

"I think he calls himself Sidney Graham--but that of course is only a _nom de pinceau_."

"Oh!" said, the girls, with a reproachful smile.

"Do be serious!" said Esther. "Who is that stout gentleman with the bald head?" She peered down curiously at the stalls through her opera-glass.

"What, the lion without the mane? That's Tom Day, the dramatic critic of a dozen papers. A terrible Philistine. Lucky for Shakspeare he didn't flourish in Elizabethan times."

He rattled on till the curtain rose and the hushed audience settled down to the enjoyment of the tragedy.

"This looks as if it is going to be the true Hamlet," said Esther, after the first act.

"What do you mean by the true Hamlet?" queried Sidney cynically.

"The Hamlet for whom life is at once too big and too little," said Esther.

"And who was at once mad and sane," laughed Sidney. "The plain truth is that Shakspeare followed the old tale, and what you take for subtlety is but the blur of uncertain handling. Aha! You look shocked. Have I found your religion at last?"

"No; my reverence for our national bard is based on reason," rejoined Esther seriously. "To conceive Hamlet, the typical nineteenth-century intellect, in that bustling picturesque Elizabethan time was a creative feat bordering on the miraculous. And then, look at the solemn inexorable march of destiny in his tragedies, awful as its advance in the Greek dramas. Just as the marvels of the old fairy-tales were an instinctive prevision of the miracles of modern science, so this idea of destiny seems to me an instinctive anticipation of the formulas of modern science. What we want to-day is a dramatist who shall show us the great natural silent forces, working the weal and woe of human life through the illusions of consciousness and free will."

"What you want to-night, Miss Ansell, is black coffee," said Sidney, "and I'll tell the attendant to get you a cup, for I dragged you away from dinner before the crown and climax of the meal; I have always noticed myself that when I am interrupted in my meals, all sorts of bugbears, scientific or otherwise, take possession of my mind."

He called the attendant.

"Esther has the most nonsensical opinions," said Addie gravely. "As if people weren't responsible for their actions! Do good and all shall be well with thee, is sound Bible teaching and sound common sense."

"Yes, but isn't it the Bible that says, 'The fathers have eaten a sour grape and the teeth of the children are set on edge'?" Esther retorted.

Addie looked perplexed. "It sounds contradictory," she said honestly.

"Not at all, Addie," said Esther. "The Bible is a literature, not a book. If you choose to bind Tennyson and Milton in one volume that doesn't make them a book. And you can't complain if you find contradictions in the text. Don't you think the sour grape text the truer, Mr. Graham?"

"Don't ask me, please. I'm prejudiced against anything that appears in the Bible."

In his flippant way Sidney spoke the truth. He had an almost physical repugnance for his fathers' ways of looking at things.

"I think you're the two most wicked people in the world," exclaimed Addie gravely.

"We are," said Sidney lightly. "I wonder you consent to sit in the same box with us. How you can find my company endurable I can never make out."

Addie's lovely face flushed and her lip quivered a little.

"It's your friend who's the wickeder of the two," pursued Sidney. "For she's in earnest and I'm not. Life's too short for us to take the world's troubles on our shoulders, not to speak of the unborn millions. A little light and joy, the flush of sunset or of a lovely woman's face, a fleeting strain of melody, the scent of a rose, the flavor of old wine, the flash of a jest, and ah, yes, a cup of coffee--here's yours, Miss Ansell--that's the most we can hope for in life. Let us start a religion with one commandment: 'Enjoy thyself.'"

"That religion has too many disciples already," said Esther, stirring her coffee.

"Then why not start it if you wish to reform the world," asked Sidney. "All religions survive merely by being broken. With only one commandment to break, everybody would jump at the chance. But so long as you tell people they mustn't enjoy themselves, they will, it's human nature, and you can't alter that by Act of Parliament or Confession of Faith. Christ ran amuck at human nature, and human nature celebrates his birthday with pantomimes."

"Christ understood human nature better than the modern young man," said Esther scathingly, "and the proof lies in the almost limitless impress he has left on history."

"Oh, that was a fluke," said Sidney lightly. "His real influence is only superficial. Scratch the Christian and you find the Pagan--spoiled."

"He divined by genius what science is slowly finding out," said Esther, "when he said, 'Forgive them for they know not what they do'!--"

Sidney laughed heartily. "That seems to be your King Charles's head--seeing divinations of modern science in all the old ideas. Personally I honor him for discovering that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Strange he should have stopped half-way to the truth!"

"What is the truth?" asked Addie curiously.

"Why, that morality was made for man, not man for morality," said Sidney. "That chimera of meaningless virtue which the Hebrew has brought into the world is the last monster left to slay. The Hebrew view of life is too one-sided. The Bible is a literature without a laugh in it. Even Raphael thinks the great Radical of Galilee carried spirituality too far."

"Yes, he thinks he would have been reconciled to the Jewish doctors and would have understood them better," said Addie, "only he died so young."

"That's a good way of putting it!" said Sidney admiringly. "One can see Raphael is my cousin despite his religious aberrations. It opens up new historical vistas. Only it is just like Raphael to find excuses for everybody, and Judaism in everything. I am sure he considers the devil a good Jew at heart; if he admits any moral obliquity in him, he puts it down to the climate."

This made Esther laugh outright, even while there were tears for Raphael in the laugh. Sidney's intellectual fascination reasserted itself over her; there seemed something inspiring in standing with him on the free heights that left all the clogging vapors and fogs of moral problems somewhere below; where the sun shone and the clear wind blew and talk was a game of bowls with Puritan ideals for ninepins. He went on amusing her till the curtain rose, with a pretended theory of Mohammedology which he was working at. Just as for the Christian Apologist the Old Testament was full of hints of the New, so he contended was the New Testament full of foreshadowings of the Koran, and he cited as a most convincing text, "In Heaven, there shall be no marrying, nor giving in marriage." He professed to think that Mohammedanism was the dark horse that would come to the front in the race of religions and win in the west as it had won in the east.

"There's a man staring dreadfully at you, Esther," said Addie, when the curtain fell on the second act.

"Nonsense!" said Esther, reluctantly returning from the realities of the play to the insipidities of actual life. "Whoever it is, it must be at you."

She looked affectionately at the great glorious creature at her side, tall and stately, with that winning gentleness of expression which spiritualizes the most voluptuous beauty. Addie wore pale sea-green, and there were lilies of the valley at her bosom, and a diamond star in her hair. No man could admire her more than Esther, who felt quite vain of her friend's beauty and happy to bask in its reflected sunshine. Sidney followed her glance and his cousin's charms struck him with almost novel freshness. He was so much with Addie that he always took her for granted. The semi-unconscious liking he had for her society was based on other than physical traits. He let his eyes rest upon her for a moment in half-surprised appreciation, figuring her as half-bud, half-blossom. Really, if Addie had not been his cousin and a Jewess! She was not much of a cousin, when he came to cipher it out, but then she was a good deal of a Jewess!

"I'm sure it's you he's staring at," persisted Addie.

"Don't be ridiculous," persisted Esther. "Which man do you mean?"

"There! The fifth row of stalls, the one, two, four, seven, the seventh man from the end! He's been looking at you all through, but now he's gone in for a good long stare. There! next to that pretty girl in pink."

"Do you mean the young man with the dyed carnation in his buttonhole and the crimson handkerchief in his bosom?"

"Yes, that's the one. Do you know him?"

"No," said Esther, lowering her eyes and looking away. But when Addie informed her that the young man had renewed his attentions to the girl in pink, she levelled her opera-glass at him. Then she shook her head.

"There seems something familiar about his face, but I cannot for the life of me recall who it is."

"The something familiar about his face is his nose," said Addie laughing, "for it is emphatically Jewish."

"At that rate," said Sidney, "nearly half the theatre would be familiar, including a goodly proportion of the critics, and Hamlet and Ophelia themselves. But I know the fellow."

"You do? Who is he?" asked the girls eagerly.

"I don't know. He's one of the mashers of the _Frivolity_. I'm another, and so we often meet. But we never speak as we pass by. To tell the truth, I resent him."

"It's wonderful how fond Jews are of the theatre," said Esther, "and how they resent other Jews going."

"Thank you," said Sidney. "But as I'm not a Jew the arrow glances off."

"Not a Jew?" repeated Esther in amaze.

"No. Not in the current sense. I always deny I'm a Jew."

"How do you justify that?" said Addie incredulously.

"Because it would be a lie to say I was. It would be to produce a false impression. The conception of a Jew in the mind of the average Christian is a mixture of Fagin, Shylock, Rothschild and the caricatures of the American comic papers. I am certainly not like that, and I'm not going to tell a lie and say I am. In conversation always think of your audience. It takes two to make a truth. If an honest man told an old lady he was an atheist, that would be a lie, for to her it would mean he was a dissolute reprobate. To call myself 'Abrahams' would be to live a daily lie. I am not a bit like the picture called up by Abrahams. Graham is a far truer expression of myself."

"Extremely ingenious," said Esther smiling. "But ought you not rather to utilize yourself for the correction of the portrait of Abrahams?"

Sidney shrugged his shoulders. "Why should I subject myself to petty martyrdom for the sake of an outworn creed and a decaying sect?"

"We are not decaying," said Addie indignantly.

"Personally you are blossoming," said Sidney, with a mock bow. "But nobody can deny that our recent religious history has been a series of dissolving views. Look at that young masher there, who is still ogling your fascinating friend; rather, I suspect, to the annoyance of the young lady in pink, and compare him with the old hard-shell Jew. When I was a lad named Abrahams, painfully training in the way I wasn't going to go, I got an insight into the lives of my ancestors. Think of the people who built up the Jewish prayer-book, who added line to line and precept to precept, and whose whole thought was intertwined with religion, and then look at that young fellow with the dyed carnation and the crimson silk handkerchief, who probably drives a drag to the Derby, and for aught I know runs a music hall. It seems almost incredible he should come of that Puritan old stock."

"Not at all," said Esther. "If you knew more of our history, you would see it is quite normal. We were always hankering after the gods of the heathen, and we always loved magnificence; remember our Temples. In every land we have produced great merchants and rulers, prime-ministers, viziers, nobles. We built castles in Spain (solid ones) and palaces in Venice. We have had saints and sinners, free livers and ascetics, martyrs and money-lenders. Polarity, Graetz calls the self-contradiction which runs through our history. I figure the Jew as the eldest-born of Time, touching the Creation and reaching forward into the future, the true _blase of the Universe; the Wandering Jew who has been everywhere, seen everything, done everything, led everything, thought everything and suffered everything."

"Bravo, quite a bit of Beaconsfieldian fustian," said Sidney laughing, yet astonished. "One would think you were anxious to assert yourself against the ancient peerage of this mushroom realm."

"It is the bare historical truth," said Esther, quietly. "We are so ignorant of our own history--can we wonder at the world's ignorance of it? Think of the part the Jew has played--Moses giving the world its morality, Jesus its religion, Isaiah its millennial visions, Spinoza its cosmic philosophy, Ricardo its political economy, Karl Marx and Lassalle its socialism, Heine its loveliest poetry, Mendelssohn its most restful music, Rachael its supreme acting--and then think of the stock Jew of the American comic papers! There lies the real comedy, too deep for laughter."

"Yes, but most of the Jews you mention were outcasts or apostates," retorted Sidney. "There lies the real tragedy, too deep for tears. Ah, Heine summed it up best: 'Judaism is not a religion; it is a misfortune.' But do you wonder at the intolerance of every nation towards its Jews? It is a form of homage. Tolerate them and they spell 'Success,' and patriotism is an ineradicable prejudice. Since when have you developed this extraordinary enthusiasm for Jewish history? I always thought you were an anti-Semite."

Esther blushed and meditatively sniffed at her bouquet, but fortunately the rise of the curtain relieved her of the necessity far a reply. It was only a temporary relief, however, for the quizzical young artist returned to the subject immediately the act was over.

"I know you're in charge of the aesthetic department of the _Flag_," he said. "I had no idea you wrote the leaders."

"Don't be absurd!" murmured Esther.

"I always told Addie Raphael could never write so eloquently; didn't I, Addie? Ah, I see you're blushing to find it fame, Miss Ansell."

Esther laughed, though a bit annoyed. "How can you suspect me of writing orthodox leaders?" she asked.

"Well, who else _is there?" urged Sidney, with mock _naivete_. "I went down there once and saw the shanty. The editorial sanctum was crowded. Poor Raphael was surrounded by the queerest looking set of creatures I ever clapped eyes on. There was a quaint lunatic in a check suit, describing his apocalyptic visions; a dragoman with sore eyes and a grievance against the Board of Guardians; a venerable son of Jerusalem with a most artistic white beard, who had covered the editorial table with carved nick-nacks in olive and sandal-wood; an inventor who had squared the circle and the problem of perpetual motion, but could not support himself; a Roumanian exile with a scheme for fertilizing Palestine; and a wild-eyed hatchet-faced Hebrew poet who told me I was a famous patron of learning, and sent me his book soon after with a Hebrew inscription which I couldn't read, and a request for a cheque which I didn't write. I thought I just capped the company of oddities, when in came a sallow red-haired chap, with the extraordinary name of Karlkammer, and kicked up a deuce of a shine with Raphael for altering his letter. Raphael mildly hinted that the letter was written in such unintelligible English that he had to grapple with it for an hour before he could reduce it to the coherence demanded of print. But it was no use; it seems Raphael had made him say something heterodox he didn't mean, and he insisted on being allowed to reply to his own letter! He had brought the counter-blast with him; six sheets of foolscap with all the t's uncrossed, and insisted on signing it with his own name. I said, 'Why not? Set a Karlkammer to answer to a Karlkammer.' But Raphael said it would make the paper a laughing-stock, and between the dread of that and the consciousness of having done the man a wrong, he was quite unhappy. He treats all his visitors with angelic consideration, when in another newspaper office the very office-boy would snub them. Of course, nobody has a bit of consideration for him or his time or his purse."

"Poor Raphael!" murmured Esther, smiling sadly at the grotesque images conjured up by Sidney's description.

"I go down there now whenever I want models," concluded Sidney gravely.

"Well, it is only right to hear what those poor people have to say," Addie observed. "What is a paper for except to right wrongs?"

"Primitive person!" said Sidney. "A paper exists to make a profit."

"Raphael's doesn't," retorted Addie.

"Of course not," laughed Sidney. "It never will, so long as there's a conscientious editor at the helm. Raphael flatters nobody and reserves his praises for people with no control of the communal advertisements. Why, it quite preys upon his mind to think that he is linked to an advertisement canvasser with a gorgeous imagination, who goes about representing to the unwary Christian that the _Flag has a circulation of fifteen hundred."

"Dear me!" said Addie, a smile of humor lighting up her beautiful features.

"Yes," said Sidney, "I think he salves his conscience by an extra hour's slumming in the evening. Most religious folks do their moral book-keeping by double entry. Probably that's why he's not here to-night."

"It's too bad!" said Addie, her face growing grave again. "He comes home so late and so tired that he always falls asleep over his books."

"I don't wonder," laughed Sidney. "Look what he reads! Once I found him nodding peacefully over Thomas a Kempis."

"Oh, he often reads that," said Addie. "When we wake him up and tell him to go to bed, he says he wasn't sleeping, but thinking, turns over a page and falls asleep again."

They all laughed.

"Oh, he's a famous sleeper," Addie continued. "It's as difficult to get him out of bed as into it. He says himself he's an awful lounger and used to idle away whole days before he invented time-tables. Now, he has every hour cut and dried--he says his salvation lies in regular hours."

"Addie, Addie, don't tell tales out of school," said Sidney.

"Why, what tales?" asked Addie, astonished. "Isn't it rather to his credit that he has conquered his bad habits?"

"Undoubtedly; but it dissipates the poetry in which I am sure Miss Ansell was enshrouding him. It shears a man of his heroic proportions, to hear he has to be dragged out of bed. These things should be kept in the family."

Esther stared hard at the house. Her cheeks glowed as if the limelight man had turned his red rays on them. Sidney chuckled mentally over his insight. Addie smiled.

"Oh, nonsense. I'm sure Esther doesn't think less of him because he keeps a time-table."

"You forget your friend has what you haven't--artistic instinct. It's ugly. A man should be a man, not a railway system. If I were you, Addie, I'd capture that time-table, erase lecturing and substitute 'cricketing.' Raphael would never know, and every afternoon, say at 2 P.M., he'd consult his time-table, and seeing he had to cricket, he'd take up his stumps and walk to Regent's Park."

"Yes, but he can't play cricket," said Esther, laughing and glad of the opportunity.

"Oh, can't he?" Sidney whistled. "Don't insult him by telling him that. Why, he was in the Harrow eleven and scored his century in the match with Eton; those long arms of his send the ball flying as if it were a drawing-room ornament."

"Oh yes," affirmed Addie. "Even now, cricket is his one temptation."

Esther was silent. Her Raphael seemed toppling to pieces. The silence seemed to communicate itself to her companions. Addie broke it by sending Sidney to smoke a cigarette in the lobby. "Or else I shall feel quite too selfish," she said. "I know you're just dying to talk to some sensible people. Oh, I beg your pardon, Esther."

The squire of dames smiled but hesitated.

"Yes, do go," said Esther. "There's six or seven minutes more interval. This is the longest wait."

"Ladies' will is my law," said Sidney, gallantly, and, taking a cigarette case from his cloak, which was hung on a peg at the back of a box, he strolled out. "Perhaps," he said, "I shall skip some Shakspeare if I meet a congenial intellectual soul to gossip with."

He had scarce been gone two minutes when there came a gentle tapping at the door and, the visitor being invited to come in, the girls were astonished to behold the young gentleman with the dyed carnation and the crimson silk handkerchief. He looked at Esther with an affable smile.

"Don't you remember me?" he said. The ring of his voice woke some far-off echo in her brain. But no recollection came to her.

"I remembered you almost at once," he went on, in a half-reproachful tone, "though I didn't care about coming up while you had another fellow in the box. Look at me carefully, Esther."

The sound of her name on the stranger's lips set all the chords of memory vibrating--she looked again at the dark oval face with the aquiline nose, the glittering eyes, the neat black moustache, the close-shaved cheeks and chin, and in a flash the past resurged and she murmured almost incredulously, "Levi!"

The young man got rather red. "Ye-e-s!" he stammered. "Allow me to present you my card." He took it out of a little ivory case and handed it to her. It read, "Mr. Leonard James."

An amused smile flitted over Esther's face, passing into one of welcome. She was not at all displeased to see him.

"Addie," she said. "This is Mr. Leonard James, a friend I used to know in my girlhood."

"Yes, we were boys together, as the song says," said Leonard James, smiling facetiously.

Addie inclined her head in the stately fashion which accorded so well with her beauty and resumed her investigation of the stalls. Presently she became absorbed in a tender reverie induced by the passionate waltz music and she forgot all about Esther's strange visitor, whose words fell as insensibly on her ears as the ticking of a familiar clock. But to Esther, Leonard James's conversation was full of interest. The two ugly ducklings of the back-pond had become to all appearance swans of the ornamental water, and it was natural that they should gabble of auld lang syne and the devious routes by which they had come together again.

"You see, I'm like you, Esther," explained the young man. "I'm not fitted for the narrow life that suits my father and mother and my sister. They've got no ideas beyond the house, and religion, and all that sort of thing. What do you think my father wanted me to be? A minister! Think of it! Ha! ha! ha! Me a minister! I actually did go for a couple of terms to Jews' College. Oh, yes, you remember! Why, I was there when you were a school-teacher and got taken up by the swells. But our stroke of fortune came soon after yours. Did you never hear of it? My, you must have dropped all your old acquaintances if no one ever told you that! Why, father came in for a couple of thousand pounds! I thought I'd make you stare. Guess who from?"

"I give it up," said Esther.

"Thank you. It was never yours to give," said Leonard, laughing jovially at his wit. "Old Steinwein--you remember his death. It was in all the papers; the eccentric old buffer, who was touched in the upper story, and used to give so much time and money to Jewish affairs, setting up lazy old rabbis in Jerusalem to shake themselves over their Talmuds. You remember his gifts to the poor--six shillings sevenpence each because he was seventy-nine years old and all that. Well, he used to send the pater a basket of fruit every _Yomtov_. But he used to do that to every Rabbi, all around, and my old man had not the least idea he was the object of special regard till the old chap pegged out. Ah, there's nothing like Torah, after all."

"You don't know what you may have lost through not becoming a minister," suggested Esther slily.

"Ah, but I know what I've gained. Do you think I could stand having my hands and feet tied with phylacteries?" asked Leonard, becoming vividly metaphoric in the intensity of his repugnance to the galling bonds of orthodoxy. "Now, I do as I like, go where I please, eat what I please. Just fancy not being able to join fellows at supper, because you mustn't eat oysters or steak? Might as well go into a monastery at once. All very well in ancient Jerusalem, where everybody was rowing in the same boat. Have you ever tasted pork, Esther?"

"No," said Esther, with a faint smile.

"I have," said Leonard. "I don't say it to boast, but I have had it times without number. I didn't like it the first time--thought it would choke me, you know, but that soon wears off. Now I breakfast off ham and eggs regularly. I go the whole hog, you see. Ha! ha! ha!"

"If I didn't see from your card you're not living at home, that would have apprised me of it," said Esther.

"Of course, I couldn't live at home. Why the guvnor couldn't bear to let me shave. Ha! ha! ha! Fancy a religion that makes you keep your hair on unless you use a depilatory. I was articled to a swell solicitor. The old man resisted a long time, but he gave in at last, and let me live near the office."

"Ah, then I presume you came in for some of the two thousand, despite your non-connection with Torah?"

"There isn't much left of it now," said Leonard, laughing. "What's two thousand in seven years in London? There were over four hundred guineas swallowed up by the premium, and the fees, and all that."

"Well, let us hope it'll all come back in costs."

"Well, between you and me," said Leonard, seriously, "I should be surprised if it does. You see, I haven't yet scraped through the Final; they're making the beastly exam. stiffer every year. No, it isn't to that quarter I look to recoup myself for the outlay on my education."

"No?" said Esther.

"No. Fact is--between you and me--I'm going to be an actor."

"Oh!" said Esther.

"Yes. I've played several times in private theatricals; you know we Jews have a knack for the stage; you'd be surprised to know how many pros are Jews. There's heaps of money to be made now-a-days on the boards. I'm in with lots of 'em, and ought to know. It's the only profession where you don't want any training, and these law books are as dry as the Mishna the old man used to make me study. Why, they say to-night's 'Hamlet' was in a counting-house four years ago."

"I wish you success," said Esther, somewhat dubiously. "And how is your sister Hannah? Is she married yet?"

"Married! Not she! She's got no money, and you know what our Jewish young men are. Mother wanted her to have the two thousand pounds for a dowry, but fortunately Hannah had the sense to see that it's the man that's got to make his way in the world. Hannah is always certain of her bread and butter, which is a good deal in these hard times. Besides, she's naturally grumpy, and she doesn't go out of her way to make herself agreeable to young men. It's my belief she'll die an old maid. Well, there's no accounting for tastes."

"And your father and mother?"

"They're all right, I believe. I shall see them to-morrow night--Passover, you know. I haven't missed a single _Seder at home," he said, with conscious virtue. "It's an awful bore, you know. I often laugh to think of the chappies' faces if they could see me leaning on a pillow and gravely asking the old man why we eat Passover cakes." He laughed now to think of it. "But I never miss; they'd cut up rough, I expect, if I did."

"Well, that's something in your favor," murmured Esther gravely.

He looked at her sharply; suddenly suspecting that his auditor was not perfectly sympathetic. She smiled a little at the images passing through her mind, and Leonard, taking her remark for badinage, allowed his own features to relax to their original amiability.

"You're not married, either, I suppose," he remarked.

"No," said Esther. "I'm like your sister Hannah."

He shook his head sceptically.

"Ah, I expect you'll be looking very high," he said.

"Nonsense," murmured Esther, playing with her bouquet.

A flash passed across his face, but he went on in the same tone. "Ah, don't tell me. Why shouldn't you? Why, you're looking perfectly charming to-night."

"Please, don't," said Esther, "Every girl looks perfectly charming when she's nicely dressed. Who and what am I? Nothing. Let us drop the subject."

"All right; but you _must have grand ideas, else you'd have sometimes gone to see my people as in the old days."

"When did I visit your people? You used to come and see me sometimes." A shadow of a smile hovered about the tremulous lips. "Believe me, I didn't consciously drop any of my old acquaintances. My life changed; my family went to America; later on I travelled. It is the currents of life, not their wills, that bear old acquaintances asunder."

He seemed pleased with her sentiments and was about to say something, but she added: "The curtain's going up. Hadn't you better go down to your friend? She's been looking up at us impatiently."

"Oh, no, don't bother about her." said Leonard, reddening a little. "She--she won't mind. She's only--only an actress, you know, I have to keep in with the profession in case any opening should turn up. You never know. An actress may become a lessee at any moment. Hark! The orchestra is striking up again; the scene isn't set yet. Of course I'll go if you want me to!"

"No, stay by all means if you want to," murmured Esther. "We have a chair unoccupied."

"Do you expect that fellow Sidney Graham back?"

"Yes, sooner or later. But how do you know his name?" queried Esther in surprise.

"Everybody about town knows Sidney Graham, the artist. Why, we belong to the same club--the Flamingo--though he only turns up for the great glove-fights. Beastly cad, with all due respect to your friends, Esther. I was introduced to him once, but he stared at me next time so haughtily that I cut him dead. Do you know, ever since then I've suspected he's one of us; perhaps you can tell me, Esther? I dare say he's no more Sidney Graham than I am."

"Hush!" said Esther, glancing warningly towards Addie, who, however, betrayed no sign of attention.

"Sister?" asked Leonard, lowering his voice to a whisper.

Esther shook her head. "Cousin; but Mr. Graham is a friend of mine as well and you mustn't talk of him like that."

"Ripping fine girl!" murmured Leonard irrelevantly. "Wonder at his taste." He took a long stare at the abstracted Addie.

"What do you mean?" said Esther, her annoyance increasing. Her old friend's tone jarred upon her.

"Well, I don't know what he could see in the girl he's engaged to."

Esther's face became white. She looked anxiously towards the unconscious Addie.

"You are talking nonsense," she said, in a low cautious tone. "Mr. Graham is too fond of his liberty to engage himself to any girl."

"Oho!" said Leonard, with a subdued whistle. "I hope you're not sweet on him yourself."

Esther gave an impatient gesture of denial. She resented Leonard's rapid resumption of his olden familiarity.

"Then take care not to be," he said. "He's engaged privately to Miss Hannibal, a daughter of the M.P. Tom Sledge, the sub-editor of the _Cormorant_, told me. You know they collect items about everybody and publish them at what they call the psychological moment. Graham goes to the Hannibals' every Saturday afternoon. They're very strict people; the father, you know, is a prominent Wesleyan and she's not the sort of girl to be played with."

"For Heaven's sake speak more softly," said Esther, though the orchestra was playing _fortissimo now and they had spoken so quietly all along that Addie could scarcely have heard without a special effort. "It can't be true; you are repeating mere idle gossip."

"Why, they know everything at the _Cormorant_," said Leonard, indignantly. "Do you suppose a man can take such a step as that without its getting known? Why, I shall be chaffed--enviously--about you two to-morrow! Many a thing the world little dreams of is an open secret in Club smoking-rooms. Generally more discreditable than Graham's, which must be made public of itself sooner or later."

To Esther's relief, the curtain rose. Addie woke up and looked round, but seeing that Sidney had not returned, and that Esther was still in colloquy with the invader, she gave her attention to the stage. Esther could no longer bend her eye on the mimic tragedy; her eyes rested pityingly upon Addie's face, and Leonard's eyes rested admiringly upon Esther's. Thus Sidney found the group, when he returned in the middle of the act, to his surprise and displeasure. He stood silently at the back of the box till the act was over. Leonard James was the first to perceive him; knowing he had been telling tales about him, he felt uneasy under his supercilious gaze. He bade Esther good-bye, asking and receiving permission to call upon her. When he was gone, constraint fell upon the party. Sidney was moody; Addie pensive, Esther full of stifled wrath and anxiety. At the close of the performance Sidney took down the girls' wrappings from the pegs. He helped Esther courteously, then hovered over his cousin with a solicitude that brought a look of calm happiness into Addie's face, and an expression of pain into Esther's. As they moved slowly along the crowded corridors, he allowed Addie to get a few paces in advance. It was his last opportunity of saying a word to Esther alone.

"If I were you, Miss Ansell, I would not allow that cad to presume on any acquaintance he may have."

All the latent irritation in Esther's breast burst into flame at the idea of Sidney's constituting himself a judge.

"If I had not cultivated his acquaintance I should not have had the pleasure of congratulating you on your engagement," she replied, almost in a whisper. To Sidney it sounded like a shout. His color heightened; he was visibly taken aback.

"What are you talking about?" he murmured automatically.

"About your engagement to Miss Hannibal."

"That blackguard told you!" he whispered angrily, half to himself. "Well, what of it? I am not bound to advertise it, am I? It's my private business, isn't it? You don't expect me to hang a placard round my breast like those on concert-room chairs--'Engaged'!"

"Certainly not," said Esther. "But you might have told your friends, so as to enable them to rejoice sympathetically."

"You turn your sarcasm prettily," he said mildly, "but the sympathetic rejoicing was just what I wanted to avoid. You know what a Jewish engagement is, how the news spreads like wildfire from Piccadilly to Petticoat Lane, and the whole house of Israel gathers together to discuss the income and the prospects of the happy pair. I object to sympathetic rejoicing from the slums, especially as in this case it would probably be exchanged for curses. Miss Hannibal is a Christian, and for a Jew to embrace a Christian is, I believe, the next worse thing to his embracing Christianity, even when the Jew is a pagan." His wonted flippancy rang hollow. He paused suddenly and stole a look at his companion's face, in search of a smile, but it was pale and sorrowful. The flush on his own face deepened; his features expressed internal conflict. He addressed a light word to Addie in front. They were nearing the portico; it was raining outside and a cold wind blew in to meet them; he bent his head down to the delicate little face at his side, and his tones were changed.

"Miss Ansell," he said tremulously, "if I have in any way misled you by my reticence, I beg you to believe it was unintentionally. The memory of the pleasant quarters of an hour we have spent together will always--"

"Good God!" said Esther hoarsely, her cheeks flaming, her ears tingling. "To whom are you apologising?" He looked at her perplexed. "Why have you not told Addie?" she forced herself to say.

In the press of the crowd, on the edge of the threshold, he stood still. Dazzled as by a flash of lightning, he gazed at his cousin, her beautifully poised head, covered with its fleecy white shawl, dominating the throng. The shawl became an aureole to his misty vision.

"Have you told her?" he whispered with answering hoarseness.

"No," said Esther.

"Then don't tell her," he whispered eagerly.

"I must. She must hear it soon. Such things must ooze out sooner or later."

"Then let it be later. Promise me this."

"No good can come of concealment."

"Promise me, for a little while, till I give you leave."

His pleading, handsome face was close to hers. She wondered how she could ever have cared for a creature so weak and pitiful.

"So be it," she breathed.

"Miss Leon's carriage," bawled the commissionaire. There was a confusion of rain-beaten umbrellas, gleaming carriage-lamps, zigzag rejections on the black pavements, and clattering omnibuses full inside. But the air was fresh.

"Don't go into the rain, Addie," said Sidney, pressing forwards anxiously. "You're doing all my work to-night. Hallo! where did _you spring from?"

It was Raphael who had elicited the exclamation. He suddenly loomed upon the party, bearing a decrepit dripping umbrella. "I thought I should be in time to catch you--and to apologize," he said, turning to Esther.

"Don't mention it," murmured Esther, his unexpected appearance completing her mental agitation.

"Hold the umbrella over the girls, you beggar," said Sidney.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," said Raphael, poking the rim against a policeman's helmet in his anxiety to obey.

"Don't mention it," said Addie smiling.

"All right, sir," growled the policeman good-humoredly.

Sidney laughed heartily.

"Quite a general amnesty," he said. "Ah! here's the carriage. Why didn't you get inside it out of the rain or stand in the entrance--you're wringing wet."

"I didn't think of it," said Raphael. "Besides, I've only been here a few minutes. The 'busses are so full when it rains I had to walk all the way from Whitechapel."

"You're incorrigible," grumbled Sidney. "As if you couldn't have taken a hansom."

"Why waste money?" said Raphael. They got into the carriage.

"Well, did you enjoy yourselves?" he asked cheerfully.

"Oh yes, thoroughly," said Sidney. "Addie wasted two pocket-handkerchiefs over Ophelia; almost enough to pay for that hansom. Miss Ansell doated on the finger of destiny and I chopped logic and swopped cigarettes with O'Donovan. I hope you enjoyed yourself equally."

Raphael responded with a melancholy smile. He was seated opposite Esther, and ever and anon some flash of light from the street revealed clearly his sodden, almost shabby, garments and the weariness of his expression. He seemed quite out of harmony with the dainty pleasure-party, but just on that account the more in harmony with Esther's old image, the heroic side of him growing only more lovable for the human alloy. She bent towards him at last and said: "I am sorry you were deprived of your evening's amusement. I hope the reason didn't add to the unpleasantness."

"It was nothing," he murmured awkwardly. "A little unexpected work. One can always go to the theatre."

"Ah, I am afraid you overwork yourself too much. You mustn't. Think of your own health."

His look softened. He was in a harassed, sensitive state. The sympathy of her gentle accents, the concern upon the eager little face, seemed to flood his own soul with a self-compassion new to him.

"My health doesn't matter," he faltered. There were sweet tears in his eyes, a colossal sense of gratitude at his heart. He had always meant to pity her and help her; it was sweeter to be pitied, though of course she could not help him. He had no need of help, and on second thoughts he wondered what room there was for pity.

"No, no, don't talk like that," said Esther. "Think of your parents--and Addle."

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