B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

A fair Jewess online

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will make a note of it. The special purpose of my visit is to complete
and carry out to the last letter our client's instructions. The
conditions to which he bound himself were very liberal. With a
generous desire for the child's welfare in the event of her living and
marrying, he placed in our hands the sum of five hundred pounds as a
marriage dowry, to be paid over to her on her wedding day."

"A noble-minded gentleman," said Aaron.

Mr. Chesterman smiled. "Different people, different temperaments. In
the event of the child's death this five hundred pounds was to be paid
over to the party or parties who undertook the charge of her. The
child is dead; the five hundred pounds is to be paid over to you."

"But, sir," said Aaron in astonishment, "do you not understand that I
cannot accept this money?"

"It is not for us to understand; it is for us to carry out
instructions. I have brought the sum with me, and all I have to do is
to hand it over to you, and to take your receipt for it. Mr. Moss
hinted to me that you might raise objections; my reply was, Nonsense.
The money belongs to you by legal and moral right, and I decline to
listen to objections. If it is any satisfaction to you I may tell you
that our client can well afford to pay it, and that by its early
payment he is a considerable gainer, for he is no longer under the
obligation to pay a hundred a year for the child's maintenance. Here
is the receipt legally drawn out; oblige me by signing it."

It was in vain for Aaron to protest; the lawyer insisted, and at
length, fearing the consequences of a decided refusal, Aaron put his
name to the paper.

"Our business being concluded," said Mr. Chesterman, rising, "I have
the pleasure of wishing you good-day. Should in the future any
necessity for the statement arise I shall not hesitate to declare that
the child was placed in the care of an honorable gentleman who would
have faithfully performed his duty toward her."

"God forgive me," said Aaron when his visitor was gone, "for the sin I
have committed! God help me to atone for it!"

But he would have been less than human had he not felt grateful that
the means were placed in his hands to restore his beloved wife to
health and strength. Before a week had passed he and Rachel and the
child, accompanied by Prissy, were travelers to a milder clime.


A man upon whose face all that is noble and steadfast seems to have
set its seal, to give the world assurance that here was one who, had
his lot been so cast, would have ruled over men with justice, truth,
and honor. He is of a goodly height, and his features are large and
clearly defined. A sensitive, resolute mouth, calm, well-proportioned
lips, which close without restraint and are eloquent even when the
tongue is silent, a nose gently arched, with curved, indented
nostrils, a massive forehead, almost oval at the top, and with
projecting lower arches, the eyebrows near to the large brown
eyes, the chin and cheeks clothed in a handsome beard, in which
gray hairs are making themselves manifest. Powerful, benignant, and
self-possessed as is his appearance, there is an underlying sadness in
his eyes which could be variously construed - as born of a large
experience of human ways, and of the errors into which mortals are
prone to fall, or, maybe, of an ever-abiding remembrance of one moment
in his own life when he also was tempted and fell. But no such thought
as the latter ever entered the minds of those who knew him personally
and those who judged him by the repute he bore, which could only have
been earned by a man who walked unflinchingly and unerringly in the
straight path, and was just and merciful to all who came in contact
with him. This is Aaron Cohen, now close upon his fiftieth year.

A woman whose tranquil eyes never see the light of day, but in which,
nevertheless, there is no sign of repining or regret. Purity and
sweetness dwell in her face, and as she stands motionless, in a
listening attitude, her white hand resting on the table, no more
exquisite representation of peace and universal love and sympathy
could be found in living form or marble statue. She is fair almost to
whiteness, and although her figure is slight and there is no color in
her cheeks, she is in perfect health - only that sometimes during the
day she closes her eyes and sleeps in her armchair for a few minutes.
In those intervals of unconsciousness, and when she seeks her couch,
she sees fairer pictures, perhaps, than if the wonders of the visible
world were an open book to her. Her dreams are inspired by a soul of
goodness, and her husband's heart, as he gazes upon her in her
unconscious hours, is always stirred to prayer and thankfulness that
she is by his side to bless his days. Not only in the house is her
influence felt. She is indefatigable in her efforts to seek out
deserving cases of distress and to relieve them; and she does not
confine her charity to those of her faith. In this regard Jew and
Christian are alike to her, and not a week passes that she does not
plant in some poor home a seed which grows into a flower to gladden
and cheer the hearts of the unfortunate and suffering. Grateful eyes
follow her movements, and a blessing is shed upon her as she departs.
A ministering angel is she, whose words are balm, whose presence
brings sweet life into dark spaces. So might an invisible herald of
the Lord walk the earth, healing the sick, lifting up the fallen,
laying his hand upon the wounded breast, and whispering to all: "Be
comforted. God has heard your prayers, and has sent me to relieve
you." This is Rachel Cohen, Aaron's wife, in her forty-fourth year.

A younger woman, in her springtime, with life's fairest pages spread
before her. Darker than Rachel is she, with darker hair and eyes and
complexion, slim, graceful, and beautiful. It is impossible that she
should not have felt the influence of the home in which she has been
reared, and that she should not be the better for it, for it is a home
in which the domestic affections unceasingly display themselves in
their tenderest aspect, in which the purest and most ennobling lessons
of life are inculcated by precept and practice; but a profound student
of human nature, whose keen insight would enable him to plumb the
depths of passion, to detect what lay beneath the surface, to trace
the probable course of the psychological inheritance which all parents
transmit to their children, would have come to the conclusion that in
this fair young creature were instincts and promptings which were
likely one day to give forth a discordant note in this abode of peace
and love, and to break into rebellion. There is no outward indication
of such possible rebellion. To the friends and acquaintances of the
household she is a lovely and gracious Jewish maiden, who shall in
time become a mother in Judah. This is Ruth Cohen, in the eyes of all
the world the daughter of Aaron and Rachel.

A young man, Ruth's junior by a year, with his father's strength of
character and his mother's sweetness of disposition. He is, as yet,
too young for the full development of this rare combination of
qualities, the outcome of which is to be made manifest in the future,
but he is not too young to win love and respect. His love for his
parents is ardent, his faith in them indelible. To him his mother is a
saint, his father a man without blemish. Were he asked to express his
most earnest wishes he would answer, "When I am my father's age may I
be honored as he is; when I marry may my wife be as my mother is."
This is Joseph Cohen, the one other child of Aaron and Rachel.

A tall ungainly woman of thirty, working like a willing slave from
morning to night, taking pride and pleasure in the home, and
metaphorically prostrating herself before everyone who lives beneath
its roof. Esteemed and valued by her master and mistress, for whom she
is ready to sacrifice herself, and to undergo any privation;
especially watchful of her mistress, and tender toward her; jealous of
the good name of those whom she serves with devotion. This is Prissy,
the ever true, the ever faithful.


Eventful indeed to Aaron Cohen had been the twenty years since he left
Gosport. In the south of France, where they remained for a much longer
time than he intended, Rachel was restored to health, and Aaron had
the joy of seeing her move happily about the house and garden, and of
hearing her sing to her baby the songs and lullabys which, from a
mother's lips, are so fraught with melodious and tender meaning. It
almost seemed as if she had inward cause for thankfulness that
blindness had fallen upon her, for Aaron had never known her to be so
blithe and lighthearted as during those weeks of returning health.
Prissy was invaluable to them, and proved to be a veritable treasure.
The short time it took her to learn her duties, the swiftness and
eagerness with which they were performed, the delight she took in the
babe, who soon replaced Victoria Regina in her affections, and the
care and skill with which she guided her mistress' movements, amazed
Aaron. He had divined from the first that she was a shrewd, clever
girl, and he had the satisfaction of discovering that she was much
cleverer than he would have ventured to give her credit for. She was
tidier in her dress, too, and never presented herself unless she was
clean and neat. She became, in a sense, her mistress' teacher, and
Rachel was so apt a pupil that Aaron's apprehensions that she would
meet with an accident if she moved too freely about were soon

"Is it not wonderful, love?" she said. "I think I must have eyes at
the tips of my fingers. But it is Prissy I have to thank for it."

She repaid the girl, be sure. Gradually Prissy's mode of expressing
herself underwent improvement; she did not use so many negatives, she
dropped fewer h's, she learned to distinguish between g's and k's, and
Aaron himself laid the first stone in her education by teaching her
the A B C. One thing Prissy would not learn; she obstinately refused
to have anything to do with the French language. She did make a
commencement, but when she was told that _chou_ (she scornfully turned
her back on _du_) was cabbage it was the last straw. "In course we
choo," she said; "wot do we put things in our mouth for?" She had
previously shied at _pain_, declaring that bread was pleasure. English
was good enough for her, she declared, and to the English tongue she
nailed her colors. Fond as she was of babies, she would not
countenance French babies, and said it was a shame to dress them so.
"I'm a troo bloo, sir," she said to Aaron; "please don't force me."
And with a hearty laugh he desisted.

He himself spoke French fluently, and to this may be ascribed the
first change in his fortunes. Easy in his mind respecting Rachel, easy
respecting money, he found himself at leisure to look about him and
observe. He made friends, and among them a poor French engineer of
great skill. In conversation one day this engineer mentioned that
tenders were invited for the construction of a local bridge. It was
not a very important matter; the lake it was to span was of no great
dimensions, and the bridge required was by no means formidable.

"There are only two contractors who will tender for it," said the
engineer, "and they are in each other's confidence. They will settle
privately the amount of their separate tenders, and the lowest will
obtain the contract. They will divide the profits between them. If I
had a little money to commence with I would tender for the work, and
my tender would be at least ten thousand francs below theirs. Then it
would be I who would construct the bridge, and public money would be

"What would be your profit?" asked Aaron.

"Twenty thousand francs," was the reply, "perhaps more."

"And the amount of your tender?"

"Eighty thousand francs. I have the plans and specifications, and
every detail of expense for material and labor, in my house. Will you
come and look over them?"

Aaron examined them, and submitting them to the test of inquiry
as to the cost of labor and material, found them to be correct. A
simple-minded man might have been taken in by a schemer who had
prepared complicated figures for the purpose of trading with another
person's money, and standing the chance of losing or winning; but
Aaron was not simple-minded, the poor engineer was not a schemer, and
the figures were honestly set down.

"It would not need a great amount of money," said the engineer. "If a
certain sum were deposited in the bank a further sum could be raised
upon the signed contract being given as security, and moreover, as the
work proceeds, specified payments will be made by the local

"How much would be required to commence operations, and to make
everything safe?"

"Ten thousand francs."

Roughly, that was four hundred pounds. The five hundred pounds he had
received from the lawyers were as yet untouched, for they lived very
economically, and they were in a part of the world where thrift was
part of the people's education. Aaron believed the project to be safe.

"If I advance it?" he asked.

"We would make it a partnership affair," replied the poor engineer

Upon that understanding the bridge was tendered for, and the tender
accepted. In four months the work was executed and passed by the
inspectors; they received the balance due to them, and a division of
the profits was made. After paying all his expenses Aaron was the
richer by two hundred pounds. He gave fifty pounds to the poor, which
raised him in the estimation of the people among whom he was
temporarily sojourning. He had not been idle during the four months
occupied by the building of the bridge; under the guidance of his
partner he had superintended the workmen and undertaken the
correspondence and management of the accounts; and new as these duties
were to him he had shown great intelligence and aptitude.

"We met on a fortunate day," said the engineer.

At about this time a new engineering project presented itself. It was
on a larger scale than the first, and the two men, emboldened by their
success, tendered for it. Again did fortune favor them; everybody,
with the exception of rival contractors, was on their side. In the
carrying out of their first contract there had not been a hitch; they
had paid their workmen better wages, they had behaved honestly and
liberally all around, and they had already achieved a reputation.
Moreover, people were talking of Rachel's kindness and of Aaron's
benevolence. Hats were lifted to them, women and children left flowers
at their door; rich was the harvest they gathered for their charity.

When it was known they had obtained another contract the best workmen
came to them for employment, and they learned what all employers of
labor may learn, that it is wise policy to pay generously for bone and
muscle. The hateful political economy of Ricardo, which would grind
labor down to starvation pittance, could never find lodgment in the
mind of such a man as Aaron Cohen. The new venture was entirely
successful, and being of greater magnitude than the first, the profits
were larger. Aaron was the possessor of two thousand pounds. He gave
two hundred pounds to the poor. He did more than this. The doctor who
had attended Rachel in Gosport had declined to accept a fee, and Aaron
now wrote him a grateful letter, inclosing in it a draught for a
hundred pounds, which he asked the doctor to distribute among the
local charities. That the receipt of this money afforded gratification
to the doctor was evidenced in his reply. "Everyone here," he said,
"has kind words for you and your estimable wife, and the general
feeling is that if you had continued to reside in Gosport it would
have been a source of pleasure to all of us. When I speak of your good
fortune all the townsfolk say, 'We are glad to hear it.'" Thus did
good spring out of evil.

Aaron felt that his foot was on the ladder. He entered into a three
years' partnership with his friend the engineer, and they executed
many public works, and never had a failure. The justness of their
trading, their consideration for the toilers who were helping to build
up a fortune for them, the honest wages they paid, earned for them an
exceptional reputation for rectitude and fair dealing. In these
matters, and in this direction, Aaron was the guiding spirit. He left
to his partner the technical working out of their operations, and took
himself the control of wages and finance.

Occasionally there were arguments between him and his partner, the
latter hinting, perhaps, that there was a cheaper market, and that so
much money could be saved by employing such and such middlemen, who
offered to supply labor and material at prices that were not equitable
from the point of view of the toilers and producers. Aaron would not
entertain propositions of this kind.

"We are doing well," he said, "we are making money, we are harvesting.
Be satisfied."

His partner gave way; Aaron's character was too strong for resistance.

"Clean and comfortable homes," said Aaron, "a good education for their
children, a modest enjoyment of the world's pleasures - these are the
laborers' due."

Hearing of this, some large employers called him quixotic and said he
was ruining trade, but he pursued the just and even tenor of his way,
satisfied that he was a savior and not a spoiler.

Upon the conclusion of each transaction, when the accounts were
balanced, he devoted a portion of his profits to benevolent purposes,
and he became renowned as a public benefactor. The thanks that were
showered upon him did not please him, but tended rather to humiliate
and humble him; he would not listen to expressions of gratitude; and
it will be presently seen that when he returned to England he took
steps to avoid the publicity which was distasteful to him.

Meanwhile Rachel throve. She walked with an elastic spring in her
feet, as though in response to nature's greeting, and joy and
happiness accompanied her everywhere. She was profoundly and devoutly
grateful for her husband's better fortune, and daily rendered up
thanks for it to the Giver of all good. She took pleasure in
everything; blind as she was, she enjoyed nature's gifts to the full.
In winter it was extraordinary to hear her describe the aspect of
woods and fields in their white feathery mantle; with deep-drawn
breath she inhaled the fresh cold air, and a glory rested on her face
as she trod the snow-clad paths.

When she visited the poor on those cold days Prissy accompanied her,
carrying a well-filled basket on her arm. Her sympathy with the sick
and suffering was divine, and in the bleakest hours, when the sky was
overcast and the light was hidden from shivering mortals, she was the
herald of sunshine. A priest met her on one of these journeys, and
gave her good-day.

"Good-day, father," she said.

"You know me!" he exclaimed, surprised.

"I heard your voice a fortnight ago," she replied, "in the cottage I
am going to now, and I never forget a voice. After you were gone the
poor woman told me you were her priest. I heard so much of you that
was beautiful."

She put forth her hand; he hesitated a moment, then took it and
pressed it.

"You are a Jewess?"

"Yes, father."

"Let me come and talk to you."

"Yes, father, come and talk to me of your poor, to whom you are so
good. You do so much; I, being blind, can do so little. If you will
allow me" - she offered him some gold pieces, and he accepted them.

"The Holy Mother have you in her keeping," he said: and went his way.

Dogs and horses were her friends, and looked wistfully for recognition
when she was near them. She scattered food for the birds, and they
grew to know her; some would even pick crumbs from her hands. "I do
not think," she said, "they would trust me so if I were not blind.
They know I cannot see, and cannot harm them." Aaron thought
differently; not a creature that drew breath could fail to trust and
love this sweet woman whom God had spared to him.

Whom God had spared to him! When the thought thus expressed itself he
raised his eyes to heaven in supplication.

She was the first to taste the sweet breath of spring.

"Spring is coming," she said; "the birds are trilling the joyful news.
How busy they are over their nests! In a little while we shall see the

She invariably spoke of things as if she could see them, as doubtless
she did with spiritual sight, investing them with a beauty which was
not of this world. It was her delight in summer to sit beneath the
branches of a favorite cherry tree, and to follow with her ears the
gambols of her children. For she had two now.

A year after they left Gosport another child was born to them, Joseph,
to whom Aaron clave with intense and passionate love. It was not that
he was cold to Ruth, that he was not unremitting in showing her
affection, but in his love for his son there was a finer quality of
which no one but himself was conscious. He had prayed for another
child, and the blessing was bestowed upon him.

In the first flush of his happiness he was tempted to regard this gift
of God as a token that his sin was forgiven, but he soon thrust this
reflection aside, refusing to accept his own interpretation of his sin
as an atonement for its committal. It was presumptuous in man to set
lines and boundaries to the judgment of the Eternal. It was to Rachel
that this blessing was vouchsafed, for a time might come when she
would find in it a consolation for a revelation that would embitter
the sweet waters of life. Both the children were pretty and engaging,
and had winning and endearing ways, which in the mother's sightless
eyes were magnified a thousandfold.

In the following year a picture by a famous painter was exhibited by
the Paris Salon; it was entitled "A Jewish Mother," and represented a
woman sitting beneath a cherry tree in flower, with two young children
gamboling on the turf at her feet. In the background were two men,
the curé of the village and a Jew, the latter being the woman's
husband, and looking like a modern Moses. The faces of the men - one
full-flushed, with massive features and a grand beard, the other
spare and lean, with thin, clear-cut features and a close-shaven
face - formed a fine contrast. But although the points of this contrast
were brought out in masterly fashion, and although the rustic scene
was full of beauty, the supreme attraction of the picture lay in the
woman's face. It dwelt in the minds of all who beheld it, and it is
not too much to say that it carried with it an influence for good.

So is it also with a pure poem and story; the impression they leave is
an incentive to kindly act and tolerant judgment; they soften, they
ameliorate, they bring into play the higher attributes of human
nature, and in their practical results a benefit is conferred equally
upon the sufferer by the wayside and the Samaritan who pours oil upon
his wounds.

"Who is the woman?" asked the critics, and no one could answer the
question except the painter, and he held his tongue.

The secret was this: The famous painter, passing through the village
with the subject of his next great picture in his mind, saw Rachel,
and was spellbound by the purity and grace of her face and figure.
Traveling under an assumed name, in order that he should not be
disturbed by the trumpet blasts of fame - a proof (clear to few men)
that there is pleasure in obscurity - he cast aside the subject he had
intended to paint, and determined to take Rachel in its stead. He made
himself acquainted with her story, was introduced to Aaron, and
contrived to make himself welcome in their home - no difficult matter,
for Aaron was ever ready to appreciate intellect.

Many an evening did this painter pass with them, sometimes in company
with the curé, and many a friendly argument did they have. He did not
ask Rachel and Aaron to be his models, but he made innumerable
sketches of them, and remained in the village long enough to
accumulate all the principal points and accessories for his picture.
Then he departed and painted his masterpiece elsewhere.

Some time afterward he revisited the village with the intention of
making acknowledgment for the inspiration, but Aaron and his family
had departed, and the painter's secret was undivulged.

As it was with Rachel in winter and spring so was it in summer and
autumn. The flowers, the butterflies, the fragrant perfumes of garden

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Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonA fair Jewess → online text (page 14 of 23)