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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 16. Love's Temptation
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Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 2. The Grandchildren Of The Ghetto - Chapter 16. Love's Temptation Post by :blakekr Category :Long Stories Author :Israel Zangwill Date :May 2012 Read :817

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Children Of The Ghetto: A Study Of A Peculiar People - Book 2. The Grandchildren Of The Ghetto - Chapter 16. Love's Temptation

BOOK II. THE GRANDCHILDREN OF THE GHETTO
CHAPTER XVI. LOVE'S TEMPTATION

Raphael walked out of the office, a free man. Mountains of responsibility seemed to roll off his shoulders. His Messianic emotions were conscious of no laceration at the failure of this episode of his life; they were merged in greater. What a fool he had been to waste so much time, to make no effort to find the lonely girl! Surely, Esther must have expected him, if only as a friend, to give some sign that he did not share in the popular execration. Perchance she had already left London or the country, only to be found again by protracted knightly quest! He felt grateful to Providence for setting him free for her salvation. He made at once for the publishers' and asked for her address. The junior partner knew of no such person. In vain Raphael reminded him that they had published _Mordecai Josephs_. That was by Mr. Edward Armitage. Raphael accepted the convention, and demanded this gentleman's address instead. That, too, was refused, but all letters would be forwarded. Was Mr. Armitage in England? All letters would be forwarded. Upon that the junior partner stood, inexpugnable.

Raphael went out, not uncomforted. He would write to her at once. He got letter-paper at the nearest restaurant and wrote, "Dear Miss Ansell." The rest was a blank. He had not the least idea how to renew the relationship after what seemed an eternity of silence. He stared helplessly round the mirrored walls, seeing mainly his own helpless stare. The placard "Smoking not permitted till 8 P.M.," gave him a sudden shock. He felt for his pipe, and ultimately found it stuck, half full of charred bird's eye, in his breast-pocket. He had apparently not been smoking for some hours. That completed his perturbation. He felt he had undergone too much that day to be in a fit state to write a judicious letter. He would go home and rest a bit, and write the letter--very diplomatically--in the evening. When he got home, he found to his astonishment it was Friday evening, when letter-writing is of the devil. Habit carried him to synagogue, where he sang the Sabbath hymn, "Come, my beloved, to meet the bride," with strange sweet tears and a complete indifference to its sacred allegorical signification. Next afternoon he haunted the publishers' doorstep with the brilliant idea that Mr. Armitage sometimes crossed it. In this hope, he did _not write the letter; his phrases, he felt, would be better for the inspiration of that gentleman's presence. Meanwhile he had ample time to mature them, to review the situation in every possible light, to figure Esther under the most poetical images, to see his future alternately radiant and sombre. Four long summer days of espionage only left him with a heartache, and a specialist knowledge of the sort of persons who visit publishers. A temptation to bribe the office-boy he resisted as unworthy.

Not only had he not written that letter, but Mr. Henry Goldsmith's edict and Mrs. Henry Goldsmith's invitation were still unacknowledged. On Thursday morning a letter from Addie indirectly reminded him both of his remissness to her hostess, and of the existence of _The Flag of Judah_. He remembered it was the day of going to press; a vision of the difficulties of the day flashed vividly upon his consciousness; he wondered if his ex-lieutenants were finding new ones. The smell of the machine-room was in his nostrils; it co-operated with the appeal of his good-nature to draw him to his successor's help. Virtue proved its own reward. Arriving at eleven o'clock, he found little Sampson in great excitement, with the fountain of melody dried up on his lips.--

"Thank God!" he cried. "I thought you'd come when you heard the news."

"What news?"

"Gideon the member for Whitechapel's dead. Died suddenly, early this morning."

"How shocking!" said Raphael, growing white.

"Yes, isn't it?" said little Sampson. "If he had died yesterday, I shouldn't have minded it so much, while to-morrow would have given us a clear week. He hasn't even been ill," he grumbled. "I've had to send Pinchas to the Museum in a deuce of a hurry, to find out about his early life. I'm awfully upset about it, and what makes it worse is a telegram from Goldsmith, ordering a page obituary at least with black rules, besides a leader. It's simply sickening. The proofs are awful enough as it is--my blessed editor has been writing four columns of his autobiography in his most original English, and he wants to leave out all the news part to make room for 'em. In one way Gideon's death is a boon; even Pinchas'll see his stuff must be crowded out. It's frightful having to edit your editor. Why wasn't he made sub?"

"That would have been just as trying for you," said Raphael with a melancholy smile. He took up a galley-proof and began to correct it. To his surprise he came upon his own paragraph about Strelitski's resignation: it caused him fresh emotion. This great spiritual crisis had quite slipped his memory, so egoistic are the best of us at times. "Please be careful that Pinchas's autobiography does not crowd that out," he said.

Pinchas arrived late, when little Sampson was almost in despair. "It is all right." he shouted, waving a roll of manuscript. "I have him from the cradle--the stupid stockbroker, the Man-of-the-Earth, who sent me back my poesie, and vould not let me teach his boy Judaism. And vhile I had the inspiration I wrote the leader also in the Museum--it is here--oh, vairy beautiful! Listen to the first sentence. 'The Angel of Death has passed again over Judaea; he has flown off vith our visest and our best, but the black shadow of his ving vill long rest upon the House of Israel.' And the end is vordy of the beginning. He is dead: but he lives for ever enshrined in the noble tribute to his genius in _Metatoron's Flames_."

Little Sampson seized the "copy" and darted with it to the composing-room, where Raphael was busy giving directions. By his joyful face Raphael saw the crisis was over. Little Sampson handed the manuscript to the foreman, then drawing a deep breath of relief, he began to hum a sprightly march.

"I say, you're a nice chap!" he grumbled, cutting himself short with a staccato that was not in the music.

"What have I done?" asked Raphael.

"Done? You've got me into a nice mess. The guvnor--the new guvnor, the old guvnor, it seems--called the other day to fix things with me and Pinchas. He asked me if I was satisfied to go on at the same screw. I said he might make it two pound ten. 'What, more than double?' says he. 'No, only nine shillings extra,' says I, 'and for that I'll throw in some foreign telegrams the late editor never cared for.' And then it came out that he only knew of a sovereign, and fancied I was trying it on."

"Oh, I'm so sorry," said Raphael, in deep scarlet distress.

"You must have been paying a guinea out of your own pocket!" said little Sampson sharply.

Raphael's confusion increased. "I--I--didn't want it myself," he faltered. "You see, it was paid me just for form, and you really did the work. Which reminds me I have a cheque of yours now," he ended boldly. "That'll make it right for the coming month, anyhow."

He hunted out Goldsmith's final cheque, and tendered it sheepishly.

"Oh no, I can't take it now," said little Sampson. He folded his arms, and drew his cloak around him like a toga. No August sun ever divested little Sampson of his cloak.

"Has Goldsmith agreed to your terms, then?" inquired Raphael timidly.

"Oh no, not he. But--"

"Then I must go on paying the difference," said Raphael decisively. "I am responsible to you that you get the salary you're used to; it's my fault that things are changed, and I must pay the penalty," He crammed the cheque forcibly into the pocket of the toga.

"Well, if you put it in that way," said little Sampson, "I won't say I couldn't do with it. But only as a loan, mind."

"All right," murmured Raphael.

"And you'll take it back when my comic opera goes on tour. You won't back out?"

"No."

"Give us your hand on it," said little Sampson huskily. Raphael gave him his hand, and little Sampson swung it up and down like a baton.

"Hang it all! and that man calls himself a Jew!" he thought. Aloud he said: "When my comic opera goes on tour."

They returned to the editorial den, where they found Pinchas raging, a telegram in his hand.

"Ah, the Man-of-the-Earth!" he cried. "All my beautiful peroration he spoils." He crumpled up the telegram and threw it pettishly at little Sampson, then greeted Raphael with effusive joy and hilarity. Little Sampson read the telegram. It ran as follows:

"Last sentence of Gideon leader. 'It is too early yet in this moment of grief to speculate as to his successor in the constituency. But, difficult as it will be to replace him, we may find some solace in the thought that it will not be impossible. The spirit of the illustrious dead would itself rejoice to acknowledge the special qualifications of one whose name will at once rise to every lip as that of a brother Jew whose sincere piety and genuine public spirit mark him out as the one worthy substitute in the representation of a district embracing so many of our poor Jewish brethren. Is it too much to hope that he will be induced to stand?' Goldsmith."

"That's a cut above Henry," murmured little Sampson, who knew nearly everything, save the facts he had to supply to the public. "He wired to the wife, and it's hers. Well, it saves him from writing his own puffs, anyhow. I suppose Goldsmith's only the signature, not intended to be the last word on the subject. Wants touching up, though; can't have 'spirit' twice within four lines. How lucky for him Leon is just off the box seat! That queer beggar would never have submitted to any dictation any more than the boss would have dared show his hand so openly."

While the sub-editor mused thus, a remark dropped from the editor's lips, which turned Raphael whiter than the news of the death of Gideon had done.

"Yes, and in the middle of writing I look up and see the maiden--oh, vairy beautiful! How she gives it to English Judaism sharp in that book--the stupid heads,--the Men-of-the-Earth! I could kiss her for it, only I have never been introduced. Gideon, he is there! Ho! ho!" he sniggered, with purely intellectual appreciation of the pungency.

"What maiden? What are you talking about?" asked Raphael, his breath coming painfully.

"Your maiden," said Pinchas, surveying him with affectionate roguishness. "The maiden that came to see you here. She was reading; I walk by and see it is about America."

"At the British Museum?" gasped Raphael. A thousand hammers beat "Fool!" upon his brain. Why had he not thought of so likely a place for a _litterateur_?

He rushed out of the office and into a hansom. He put his pipe out in anticipation. In seven minutes he was at the gates, just in time--heaven be thanked!--to meet her abstractedly descending the steps. His heart gave a great leap of joy. He studied the pensive little countenance for an instant before it became aware of him; its sadness shot a pang of reproach through him. Then a great light, as of wonder and joy, came into the dark eyes, and glorified the pale, passionate face. But it was only a flash that faded, leaving the cheeks more pallid than before, the lips quivering.

"Mr. Leon!" she muttered.

He raised his hat, then held out a trembling hand that closed upon hers with a grip that hurt her.

"I'm so glad to see you again!" he said, with unconcealed enthusiasm. "I have been meaning to write to you for days--care of your publishers. I wonder if you will ever forgive me!"

"You had nothing to write to me," she said, striving to speak coldly.

"Oh yes, I had!" he protested.

She shook her head.

"Our journalistic relations are over--there were no others."

"Oh!" he said reproachfully, feeling his heart grow chill. "Surely we were friends?"

She did not answer.

"I wanted to write and tell you how much," he began desperately, then stammered, and ended--"how much I liked _Mordecai Josephs_."

This time the reproachful "Oh!" came from her lips. "I thought better of you," she said. "You didn't say that in _The Flag of Judah_; writing it privately to me wouldn't do me any good in any case."

He felt miserable; from the crude standpoint of facts, there was no answer to give. He gave none.

"I suppose it is all about now?" she went on, seeing him silent.

"Pretty well," he answered, understanding the question. Then, with an indignant accent, he said, "Mrs. Goldsmith tells everybody she found it out; and sent you away."

"I am glad she says that," she remarked enigmatically. "And, naturally, everybody detests me?"

"Not everybody," he began threateningly.

"Don't let us stand on the steps," she interrupted. "People will be looking at us." They moved slowly downwards, and into the hot, bustling streets. "Why are you not at the _Flag_? I thought this was your busy day." She did not add, "And so I ventured to the Museum, knowing there was no chance of your turning up;" but such was the fact.

"I am not the editor any longer, he replied.

"Not?" She almost came to a stop. "So much for my critical faculty; I could have sworn to your hand in every number."

"Your critical faculty equals your creative," he began.

"Journalism has taught you sarcasm."

"No, no! please do not be so unkind. I spoke in earnestness. I have only just been dismissed."

"Dismissed!" she echoed incredulously. "I thought the _Flag was your own?"

He grew troubled. "I bought it--but for another. We--he--has dispensed with my services."

"Oh, how shameful!"

The latent sympathy of her indignation cheered him again.

"I am not sorry," he said. "I'm afraid I really was outgrowing its original platform."

"What?" she asked, with a note of mockery in her voice. "You have left off being orthodox?"

"I don't say that, it seems to me, rather, that I have come to understand I never was orthodox in the sense that the orthodox understand the word. I had never come into contact with them before. I never realized how unfair orthodox writers are to Judaism. But I do not abate one word of what I have ever said or written, except, of course, on questions of scholarship, which are always open to revision."

"But what is to become of me--of my conversion?" she said, with mock piteousness.

"You need no conversion!" he answered passionately, abandoning without a twinge all those criteria of Judaism for which he had fought with Strelitski. "You are a Jewess not only in blood, but in spirit. Deny it as you may, you have all the Jewish ideals,--they are implied in your attack on our society."

She shook her head obstinately.

"You read all that into me, as you read your modern thought into the old naive books."

"I read what is in you. Your soul is in the right, whatever your brain says." He went on, almost to echo Strelitski's words, "Selfishness is the only real atheism; aspiration, unselfishness, the only real religion. In the language of our Hillel, this is the text of the Law; the rest is commentary. You and I are at one in believing that, despite all and after all, the world turns on righteousness, on justice"--his voice became a whisper--"on love."

The old thrill went through her, as when first they met. Once again the universe seemed bathed in holy joy. But she shook off the spell almost angrily. Her face was definitely set towards the life of the New World. Why should he disturb her anew?

"Ah, well, I'm glad you allow me a little goodness," she said sarcastically. "It is quite evident how you have drifted from orthodoxy. Strange result of _The Flag of Judah_! Started to convert me, it has ended by alienating you--its editor--from the true faith. Oh, the irony of circumstance! But don't look so glum. It has fulfilled its mission all the same; it _has converted me--I will confess it to you." Her face grew grave, her tones earnest "So I haven't an atom of sympathy with your broader attitude. I am full of longing for the old impossible Judaism."

His face took on a look of anxious solicitude. He was uncertain whether she spoke ironically or seriously. Only one thing was certain--that she was slipping from him again. She seemed so complex, paradoxical, elusive--and yet growing every moment more dear and desirable.

"Where are you living?" he asked abruptly. "It doesn't matter where," she answered. "I sail for America in three weeks."

The world seemed suddenly empty. It was hopeless, then--she was almost in his grasp, yet he could not hold her. Some greater force was sweeping her into strange alien solitudes. A storm of protest raged in his heart--all he had meant to say to her rose to his lips, but he only said, "Must you go?"

"I must. My little sister marries. I have timed my visit so as to arrive just for the wedding--like a fairy godmother." She smiled wistfully.

"Then you will live with your people, I suppose?"

"I suppose so. I dare say I shall become quite good again. Ah, your new Judaisms will never appeal like the old, with all its imperfections. They will never keep the race together through shine and shade as that did. They do but stave off the inevitable dissolution. It is beautiful--that old childlike faith in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, that patient waiting through the centuries for the Messiah who even to you, I dare say, is a mere symbol." Again the wistful look lit up her eyes. "That's what you rich people will never understand--it doesn't seem to go with dinners in seven courses, somehow."

"Oh, but I do understand," he protested. "It's what I told Strelitski, who is all for intellect in religion. He is going to America, too," he said, with a sudden pang of jealous apprehension.

"On a holiday?"

"No; he is going to resign his ministry here."

"What! Has he got a better offer from America?"

"Still so cruel to him," he said reprovingly. "He is resigning for conscience' sake."

"After all these years?" she queried sarcastically.

"Miss Ansell, you wrong him! He was not happy in his position. You were right so far. But he cannot endure his shackles any longer. And it is you who have inspired him to break them."

"I?" she exclaimed, startled.

"Yes, I told him why you had left Mrs. Henry Goldsmith's--it seemed to act like an electrical stimulus. Then and there he made me write a paragraph announcing his resignation. It will appear to-morrow."

Esther's eyes filled with soft light. She walked on in silence; then, noticing she had automatically walked too much in the direction of her place of concealment, she came to an abrupt stop.

"We must part here," she said. "If I ever come across my old shepherd in America, I will be nicer to him. It is really quite heroic of him--you must have exaggerated my own petty sacrifice alarmingly if it really supplied him with inspiration. What is he going to do in America?"

"To preach a universal Judaism. He is a born idealist; his ideas have always such a magnificent sweep. Years ago he wanted all the Jews to return to Palestine."

Esther smiled faintly, not at Strelitski, but at Raphael's calling another man an idealist. She had never yet done justice to the strain of common-sense that saved him from being a great man; he and the new Strelitski were of one breed to her.

"He will make Jews no happier and Christians no wiser," she said sceptically. "The great populations will sweep on, as little affected by the Jews as this crowd by you and me. The world will not go back on itself--rather will Christianity transform itself and take the credit. We are such a handful of outsiders. Judaism--old or new--is a forlorn hope."

"The forlorn hope will yet save the world," he answered quietly, "but it has first to be saved to the world."

"Be happy in your hope," she said gently. "Good-bye." She held out her little hand. He had no option but to take it.

"But we are not going to part like this," he said desperately. "I shall see you again before you go to America?"

"No, why should you?"

"Because I love you," rose to his lips. But the avowal seemed too plump. He prevaricated by retorting, "Why should I not?"

"Because I fear you," was in her heart, but nothing rose to her lips. He looked into her eyes to read an answer there, but she dropped them. He saw his opportunity.

"Why should I not?" he repeated.

"Your time is valuable," she said faintly.

"I could not spend it better than with you," he answered boldly.

"Please don't insist," she said in distress.

"But I shall; I am your friend. So far as I know, you are lonely. If you are bent upon going away, why deny me the pleasure of the society I am about to lose for ever?"

"Oh, how can you call it a pleasure--such poor melancholy company as I am!"

"Such poor melancholy company that I came expressly to seek it, for some one told me you were at the Museum. Such poor melancholy company that if I am robbed of it life will be a blank."

He had not let go her hand; his tones were low and passionate; the heedless traffic of the sultry London street was all about them.

Esther trembled from head to foot; she could not look at him. There was no mistaking his meaning now; her breast was a whirl of delicious pain.

But in proportion as the happiness at her beck and call dazzled her, so she recoiled from it. Bent on self-effacement, attuned to the peace of despair, she almost resented the solicitation to be happy; she had suffered so much that she had grown to think suffering her natural element, out of which she could not breathe; she was almost in love with misery. And in so sad a world was there not something ignoble about happiness, a selfish aloofness from the life of humanity? And, illogically blent with this questioning, and strengthening her recoil, was an obstinate conviction that there could never be happiness for her, a being of ignominious birth, without roots in life, futile, shadowy, out of relation to the tangible solidities of ordinary existence. To offer her a warm fireside seemed to be to tempt her to be false to something--she knew not what. Perhaps it was because the warm fireside was in the circle she had quitted, and her heart was yet bitter against it, finding no palliative even in the thought of a triumphant return. She did not belong to it; she was not of Raphael's world. But she felt grateful to the point of tears for his incomprehensible love for a plain, penniless, low-born girl. Surely, it was only his chivalry. Other men had not found her attractive. Sidney had not; Levi only fancied himself in love. And yet beneath all her humility was a sense of being loved for the best in her, for the hidden qualities Raphael alone had the insight to divine. She could never think so meanly of herself or of humanity again. He had helped and strengthened her for her lonely future; the remembrance of him would always be an inspiration, and a reminder of the nobler side of human nature.

All this contradictory medley of thought and feeling occupied but a few seconds of consciousness. She answered him without any perceptible pause, lightly enough.

"Really, Mr. Leon, I don't expect _you to say such things. Why should we be so conventional, you and I? How can your life be a blank, with Judaism yet to be saved?"

"Who am I to save Judaism? I want to save you," he said passionately.

"What a descent! For heaven's sake, stick to your earlier ambition!"

"No, the two are one to me. Somehow you seem to stand for Judaism, too. I cannot disentwine my hopes; I have come to conceive your life as an allegory of Judaism, the offspring of a great and tragic past with the germs of a rich blossoming, yet wasting with an inward canker, I have grown to think of its future as somehow bound up with yours. I want to see your eyes laughing, the shadows lifted from your brow; I want to see you face life courageously, not in passionate revolt nor in passionless despair, but in faith and hope and the joy that springs from them. I want you to seek peace, not in a despairing surrender of the intellect to the faith of childhood, but in that faith intellectually justified. And while I want to help you, and to fill your life with the sunshine it needs, I want you to help me, to inspire me when I falter, to complete my life, to make me happier than I had ever dreamed. Be my wife, Esther. Let me save you from yourself."

"Let me save you from yourself, Raphael. Is it wise to wed with the gray spirit of the Ghetto that doubts itself?"

And like a spirit she glided from his grasp and disappeared in the crowd.

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