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By Martha Wolfenstein
Peretz cast a cautious glance around
and drew from his bosom an old, torn HE quiet village street echoed book. with this taunting cry.
The “See," said he, holding it fondly, “this shouters were half-grown boys, is why I don't fight." running in pursuit of a taller one, who “ What is that ? What dost thou mean?” fled before them, casting strangely terrified questioned Yaikew. looks behind. At the corner of the street “ If I fight might they not tear my leading into the Jews' quarter, he ran full shirt and find it?" against a short, fat boy, bounding back as What,” cried Yaikew, “ for an old, though he had collided with a rubber torn book thou lettest them torment cushion. Thus stopped short, his pur- thee!” suers were upon him in a moment.
He took it in his hands, turned its yel“ Come on, let's fight 'em, Peretz !” low pages wonderingly, and finally added: cried the shorter boy. The other glared " What is this, anyhow? It isn't for a moment at his tormentors, breathed Hebrew." hard, clenched his fists, then suddenly “It's Greek,” whispered Peretz. grasped his companion by the arm and, Greek,” echoed Yaikew.
" Where dragging him along, ran down the Jews' didst thou get it?" quarter into the open doorway of the “Sh—sh,” warned the other, in fright. synagogue yard. He quickly slammed “ The schoolmaster who lived at the mill the gate and bolted it. The two boys last summer gave it to me, for blacking stood panting and glaring at each other. his boots and carrying water. In the “ They are right,” burst forth the shorter, evenings I taught him to read out of the “they are right that they call us Jews Pentateuch and he taught me out of this, cowards! Why didn't you fight 'em ?” the Iliad.”
For answer Peretz lunged forward, “Ili-ahd,” mimicked Yaikew, smiling. grasped his companion by the shirt and “ There must be fine things written in the belt of his trousers, tossed him up this book that thou wearest it in thy above his head, shook him as a dog would bosom.” a cat, and then gently laid him on the “God forgive me the sin,” cried Peretz, ground at his feet. The boy-his name "but there is naught so beautiful in all was Jacob, euphoniously called Yaikew our holy tongue as is written in this little in the Ghetto--lay for a moment as if book. I could not live without it. Wai! stunned.
my master would burn it in a minute, and “ What kind of craziness is this?” my mother, Yaikew—she is very pious. demanded he, hotly, scrambling to his feet. It would grieve her that I read profane “ Thou needst not show me what a strong books,” and he laid the volume carefully man thou art."
within his open shirt and pressed his “ Dost still think I was afraid?" cried hands lovingly upon it. the other, passionately. Then he turned suddenly away and hid his face against Peretz was fifteen years old, and for the the wall. Yaikew looked in amazement last two years apprenticed to the village and saw that he was trembling.
tailor. His widowed mother, the poorest “What ails thee, Peretz ?” he asked, woman in the “Gass” (Jews' street), more gently. “Has anybody done thee picked up a scanty living at any odd work a harm ?”
that she could find. She had sent him “ It is always so; the people all think to the Ghetto school until he was barmitzI'm a coward,” was the tremulous reply. vah (at the age of thirteen).
Yaikew shrugged his shoulders and “ 'Tis time that he begin to earn somereturned with a sage air : “ What should thing, and he has no head for learning," dethey think?"
cided the old teacher, for Peretz dreamed
idly over the fine, logical intricacies of the appeared in the doorway of the Count's Talmud text.
dressing-room. The great dry-goods merchant of the “ Thou damned rascally scoundrel !” ** Gass ” took him into his store to teach roared the Count, a thick-set man, with a him the business, but in a month Reb round face, now red with rage. " I have Noach sent him home with the message: a mind to have thee flogged, thee and thy “Tell thy mother thou art as fit for busi- master together. What does the man ness as I am for a tight-rope walker.” As mean by keeping me waiting? Tell thy Reb Noach had a club foot and weighed master that I'll have him run out of the some two hundred pounds, this likeness village. I'll ruin his trade. I won't pay was fully convincing.
him a kreutzer.” Peretz trembled at sight Although Peretz had been with his of the Count's rage. master, the tailor, almost two years, he “ It isn't my master's fault,” he stamhad as yet learned little of the craft. His mered. “ He sent me early in the afterprincipal occupation was that of minding noon. I forgot myself." the children and doing chores, for which “ So !" cried the Count, “ loafing in the select service he received no wages. tavern! Pitching pennies! What !"
With his lank limbs protruding from Peretz's pride was stung. his ragged clothes, an old rimless cap “I was reading, your Highness," repressed upon his black, curling hair, his plied he, quietly. pallid face and black eyes red-rimmed “WhatI reading! Liar! What wast with nightly reading, he was the butt and thou reading ? Show it to me ! Where jest of all mischievous boys. The little is the book ?” cowards took particular delight in tor- Peretz paled again. He had betrayed menting him as soon as they discovered his secret. He would lose his beloved that he would not fight.
book, perhaps his place, and be again a The very next day after the incident care and disgrace to his mother. He unrelated, Peretz's master sent him to de- did his ragged shirt, pulled out the tatliver a coat to Count Reichenberg, whose tered volume, and two great tears welled estate was an hour's walk from the village. up under his lids as he reluctantly held it Peretz went along, reciting to himself forth to the Count. The Count glanced at parts of his beloved Iliad. His memory the book, then at Peretz, and shook his failing him at a certain passage, he sat head incredulously. down and looked up the verse.
“ Dost mean to say, boy, that thou beautiful. So was the next and the fol- canst read this ?” lowing one, and in the combat of Hector All trace of anger had vanished from and Ajax he forgot his errand, his his face, which now shone with interest wretched life, and the whole world about and curiosity.
Noticing presently that the lines in “ Here," continued he, “let me hear. his book were growing dim, he looked up Read something," and he thrust the open and saw to his dismay that it was evening. volume into the boy's hands. He remembered that his master had par- Peretz grasped the book joyfully. Perticularly urged him to hasten, as the coat haps the Count would let him keep it, was for a fancy-dress ball which the Count after all. He began to read. Passage was to give that evening, and which after passage flowed glibly from his lips. the tailor had taken great pride in fresh- The Count listened, his face a mixture ening for the occasion. Peretz snatched of surprise, incredulity, and pleasure. up his parcel and ran at the top of his His guests were surprised presently to speed.
see him appear in earnest conversation Lamps were already twinkling on the with a ragged, barefooted Jewish boy, lawn when, frightened and panting, he whom he shook by the hand at parting as arrived at the palace. He delivered the if he were his equal. parcel, and was about to steal away when “ You seem to have discovered a new a valet appeared and ordered Peretz to species of game, Count,” remarked a follow him, as the Count wished to see the guest, laughingly. messenger.
“Hunting is not my pet vice, MaPeretz followed. Pale with fright, he dame," returned the Count. “Am I not
known as an inveterate collector of gems? and women whom he was teaching to read You may congratulate me. I have just and write. He sent his mother all of his discovered a rare diamond.”
earnings that he could spare, and begged
her not to work so hard. That same evening Schedel Neuer, with In two years Peretz was admitted to Peretz beside her, stood within the rabbi's the University, and after this he was able house, crying, eagerly :
to support his mother in ease and com“ Talk it out of him, Herr Rebbe fort. Leben ! He wants to go to Vienna. “ Nu, Schedel,” said her younger The Count wants to send him to the friends, “ dost still wish to have thy High School. Why should he become a Peretz home and minding the tailor's wise man? Will that bring money into children? Thou livest at thine ease like the house? If he learned nothing out of a countess.” our dear, holy books, will he learn out of But Schedel looked up sadly from her those without a word of Yiddish (Hebrew) knitting and complained, “What have I in them? He dare not go, Herr Rebbe of my son when he is in Vienna and I am Leben. We dare not take it from the here?" Goy (Gentile). There will no good come “ Schedel is a discontented old grumof it. Why should he learn all the wick- bler," they said of her; but the old people edness that is written in those books? sighed and said sympathetically, “She Not my father, peace be with him, nor has her cares.” my grandfather could read a word that was not written in the Prayer Book. They One day the neighbors found Schedel were pious men, but he has it from his with a letter clasped tightly in her hand, father. God forgive me that I must con- lying as if dead on the floor. They laid fess it."
her upon the bed and sent for old Dr. The rabbi, a young man, who had Pinkus, but in spite of all efforts she been but two years in the village, and had remained unconscious. Then they sent what the older people called “new no- for the rabbi, who read the letter. It tions in his head," at once sided with was as follows: Peretz.
My Beloved Mother: “ You may take my word for it, Frau
It near breaks my heart to write this, for I Neuer,” said he, “ there is much wisdom
know how it will grieve thee. Didst thou but contained in those books that you so de- know what pain and struggle I have gone spise. It would be better if more in the through, thou wouldst pity and not condemn
What I am about to do must be, or all Gass' should devote themselves to their
my striving all my life were in vain. study.”
Mother, dear, 'it is only a form-an empty But Schedel was firm in her opposition. nothing: My soul still clings to thee, to our “ There will no good come of it,” she dear “Gass,” to the beloved friends at home.
But wouldst thou that I come back and go to insisted. “We dare not take it from the
work for the tailor again ; or at best earn a Gentile."
scanty living by teaching at ten kreutzers an The younger folks sided with Peretz. hour? Shall 1, like Dr. Pinkus, smother my
“Wilt thou trample thy good fortune brain, my body, my soul, within the Ghetto under foot ? Times have changed, and
walls? Were he not a Jew he could to-day be
Professor at the medical college here. And the Jew and Christian are now equal,” poor Aaron Silberstein—is he not grown bent they urged. The old people shook their and gray and miserable in his wretched little heads wisely, and sighed:
shop? He might to-day be upon the Supreme “ The Jew and the Christian can never
Bench of Austria had he but consented to be
baptized. I tell thee it is obstinacy, nothing agree. There will no good come of it.” but obstinacy! A short ceremony, a few drops
But the outcome was that Peretz went of water-can they change the soul? Or does to Vienna to study, under the protection true religion consist in what one eats, or in of Count Reichenberg.
the strap one binds upon the forehead, or that one prays in Hebrew? In the end they
are all alike— Judaism and Christianity-both His letters were full of hope and hap- for the betterment, the happiness of mankind. piness; everything was pleasant and easy;
All the rest is trifling-empty form. But we he was already beginning to earn money, have prejudices and insist that we become
cannot transform the world. If the majority for he had formed a class of factory men Christians, it is absurd to stand like petulant
children. It is madness to try to run our women” were in readiness; but towards heads through a stone wall. Obstinacy, I say, evening the wrinkle on the old doctor's sheer obstinacy! And I cannot sacrifice position, ease, comfort, wealth, hope, ambition, forehead began to smooth out, for Schedel aye, fame (thou dost not dream of the heights opened her eyes and said: to which I may aspire)--for an empty form. Why do you sit here, Herr Doctor As a Jew in Vienna I cannot earn my salt. Leben, waiting for me to die ? I shall Moreover, my beloved friend and benefactor, Count Reichenberg, is being constantly re
not die yet.' proached for his protection of a Jew, and must “ It all lies with you," replied he. leave me to my fate unless I change. A thou- “ I tell you I will live!” assured Schedel. sand times rather death than back to the
“ She will live," said the doctor, and Ghetto! It is useless to try to dissuade me. The first steps are already taken. God help went home to his bed. He had hardly thee to see it in the right light. We shall yet closed the door when Schedel said to the be happy together, darling mother, till a hun- woman who was watching with her: dred years. Dost remember how thou didst
" Bele Leben, bring me that gold piece. laugh and wonder that the Countess has her breakfast in bed ? Thou wilt live like the
The woman gave her the coin, and Countess, mother, with a maid to save thy Schedel placed it under her pillow. The dear, tired feet every step, and silken dresses, next morning she breakfasted on bread and and a new Sabbath cap for every week in the
Write that thou forgivest and still lovest Every seventh day following this a thy affectionate son till death,
letter containing a gold piece arrived, and
PERETZ. with each new coin Schedel seemed to P. S.-My letters are to be addressed to Father Ignatius Becker, at the Brother House gain strength. Yet she grew thinner and of St. Benedictine.
paler every day; only her eyes seemed to
live, and they gleamed with a strange, The news spread like wildfire through wild energy. She kept the coins carethe “Gass.” The younger folks shrugged fully wrapped in an old piece of silk, and their shoulders, sighed, and looked wise. when she looked at them she would laugh
“Wai !" lamented the old folks, wring- a low, mirthless laugh that terrified those ing their hands. “A traitor in Israel. who heard her. She who had proudly Poor Schedel I”
refused all their help during her days of The doctor said there was no hope for bitterest poverty now lived upon the the old woman. She would take neither soups and invalid dishes the neighbors food nor drink, and lay for days in a deep sent her. lethargy. On the seventh day of her ill- “Let me buy thee a bit of roasting ness another letter arrived. In fear and meat," urged her neighbor Bele one day. apprehension, yet half hoping to arouse “ Thou needest it for thy strength." her, the doctor took her hand and said: “ Have I money for roasting meat ?"
"Frau Schedel, here is a letter for you.” replied Schedel in surprise. Bele flushed
Schedel for the first time opened her red with anger. eyes.
“ Hast thou not thy pocket heaped full “ Isn't he done yet ?” moaned she, of gold so that one hears it jingle a mile feebly. “ Read! read!" The doctor off !” she cried. opened the letter. It contained only a Schedel looked at her quietly for a few lines and a ten-gulden gold piece. moment, then said: He laid them both within her hand. “If I were lying out on the street and Schedel slowly lifted her hand and looked dying, and one should say, For a penny of with dim, bleared eyes at the coin. Then that gold thou canst buy a drop of water suddenly, with a cry, she sat up in bed. to save thy life, I would not buy it.”
“From him !" she cried with a shrill “Would one believe," said the people, voice.“ Does he think he can buy me contemptuously," that Schedel should as they have bought him—with a piece turn out such a miser?” of gold I” And she Aung the coin from her “ One does not become a miser over with such force that it crashed through night,” said Dr. Pinkus. There is some the window and rolled on the pavement thing wrong with Schedel. She is planoutside.
ning something." The neighbors stood around awaiting The morning after the sixth gold piece her death; the friends wept ; the “pious had arrived the “Gass ” awoke to the
astounding news that Schedel was gone It was done! The people were about and her house locked up.
to withdraw when a shrill voice in the Two weeks later an old woman, hag- congregation cried suddenly, “Wait!” gard, footsore, and travel-stained, joined An old woman, disheveled, trembling, a great throng crowding into the portals and wild-eyed, scrambled over the low of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. altar rail.
“ Art sure," asked she of the Jewish lad “ Wait !" she cried, with a low, mad who was leading her by the hand, “ that laugh. “ I've a gift for the newly baphe who is to be baptized to-day is the tized child. I've come afoot all the way young man Neuer? It must be a mis- from Maritz to bring it. See,” she added, take.'
extending her tattered shoe, “not enough “ Shall I not know, when nothing else leather there to cut a little patch." has been talked about for a month ? * She is mad,” whispered the priests, Think not it is for him that all these peo- and darted forward to seize her. But in ple have come. Only last month, when a moment Peretz stood beside her with the old law came in again and we Jews uplifted hand. were forbidden to own land, three got · She is my mother,” he murmured. baptized, but not a cock crowed about At sight of him the old woman uttered them. The people have come to see the a fearful shriek. Kaiser. He himself is to be godfather, “ Did you see him, all of you—did you on account of his friend the Count. Such see him kiss the crucifix ? Phui! Thou a thing has never been before. My wretch! accursed Meshummed! [renemother says she doesn't know whether it gade). Here thou hast thy dirty gold,” is an honor or a disgrace for the Jews. and she flung a handful of coin full into Anyhow, it will be a fine sight;" and the the young man's face. The blows seamed boy, stimulated by the promise of ten the flesh with livid white, which in a mokreutzers, began elbowing his way through ment turned purple. The people stared. the crowd, and dragged the old woman “ A maniac,” “ She raves,” “ Bind her," with him into the Kaiser Chapel, already buzzed the crowd. crowded to suffocation, where the cere- But she had flung herself on her son's mony was to take place.
neck, and was wailing, In front, near the altar, on which a “ Have I hurt thee, Peretz, my life? thousand candles glittered, were invited I did not mean it. Oh, the poor bruised guests of the nobility, and in a place of face," and she stroked the red spots gently honor Count Reichenberg and his family. with her withered fingers. “God forgive Suddenly a glorious burst of organ music me! I am a wicked mother," she sobbed. shook the air, the chancel door opened, Lifting her in his arms, Peretz carried and forth came the cardinal and bishops her out into the vestry, where she lost and a procession of priests, followed by consciousness. choir-boys, some swinging censers. Then When she again opened her eyes, she came the convert, led by two acolytes. looked around in stupid amazement at He was covered from the neck to the the strangers, the priests, and the choirground by a sweeping robe of white, his boys. face pale as death, his black eyes down. What are
we doing here, Peretz?” cast.
she complained, querulously. “Come,
, When all were assembled, the chancel let's go home. It seems to me," she door again opened ; a handsome, pleas- whispered in his ear with scorn, “ these ant-faced young man entered and stood here are nothing but Goyim (Gentiles].” beside the convert. The church was hushed with awe. It was the Emperor Two days later the “Gass” was in the Franz Josef of Austria !
ecstasy of excitement when a special Now the chant began, which the car- coach from Seldau brought Peretz Neuer dinal himself intoned. Then all again and the corpse of Schedel, his mother. was silence, while the convert uttered the On the evening of the next day, when confession of faith, bowed his head to they buried her beside her husband, Peretz receive the holy water, raised a crucifix disappeared from the village. on high and pressed it to his lips.
For years he was never mentioned in