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Children of the Ghetto: a study of a peculiar people online

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very buoyantly, not boisterously; the square dances symmet-
rically executed, every performer knowing his part ; the waltzing
full of rhythmic grace. When the music was popular they ac-
companied it on their voices. After supper their heels grew
lighter, and the laughter and gossip louder, but never beyond
the bounds of decorum. A few Dutch dancers tried to intro-
duce the more gymnastic methods in vogue in their own clubs,
where the kangaroo is dancing master, but the sentiment of the
floor was against them. Hannah danced little, a voluntary wall-
flower, for she looked radiant in tussore silk, and there was an
air of refinement about the slight, pretty girl that attracted the
beaux of the Club. But she only gave a duty dance to Sam, and
a waltz to Daniel Hyams, who had been brought by his sister,
though he did not boast a swallow-tail to match her flowing
draperies. Hannah caught a rather unamiable glance from pretty
Bessie Sugarman, whom poor Daniel was trying hard not to see
in the crush.

"Is your sister engaged yet?" Hannah asked, for want of
something to say.

"You would know it if she was," said Daniel, looking so

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troubled that Hannah reproached herself for the meaningless

" How well she dances!" she made haste to say.

" Not better than you," said Daniel, gallantly.

" I see compliments are among the fancy goods you deal in.
Do you reverse?" she added, as they came to an awkward

" Yes — but not my compliments," he said smiling. ** Miriam
taught me."

" She makes me think of Miriam dancing by the Red Sea,"
she said, laughing at the incongruous idea.

"She played a timbrel, though, didn't she?" he asked. **1
confess I don't quite know what a timbrel is."

"A sort of tambourine, I suppose," said Hannah merrily, "and
she sang because the children of Israel were saved."

They both laughed heartily, but when the waltz was over they
returned to their individual gloom. Towards supper-time, in the
middle of a square dance, Sam suddenly noticing Hannah's soli-
tude, brought her a tall bronzed gentlemanly young man in a
frock coat, mumbled an introduction and rushed back to the
arms of the exacting Leah.

"Excuse me, I am not dancing to-night," Hannah said coldly
in reply to the stranger's demand for her programme.

" Well, I'm not half sorry," he said, with a frank smile. " I
had to ask you, you know. But I should feel quite out of place
bumping such a lot of swells."

There was something unusual about the words and the man-
ner which impressed Hannah agreeably, in spite of herself. Her
face relaxed a little as she said :

" Why, haven't you been to one of these affairs before ? "

" Oh yes, six or seven years ago, but the place seems quite
altered. They've rebuilt it, haven't they? Very few of us
sported dress-coats here in the days before I went to the Cape.
I only came back the other day and somebody gave me a ticket
and so I've looked in for auld lang syne."

An unsympathetic hearer would have detected a note of con-
descension in the last sentence. Hannah detected it, for the


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announcement that the young man had returned from the Cape
froze all her nascent sympathy. She was turned to ice again.
Hannah knew him well — the young man from the Cape. He
was a higher and more disagreeable development of the young
man in the dress-coat. He had put South African money in his
purse — whether honestly or not, no one inquired — the fact re-
mained he had put it in his purse. Sometimes the law confis-
cated it, pretending he had purchased diamonds illegally, or
what not, but then the young man did not return from the Cape.
But, to do him justice, the secret of his success was less dis-
honesty than the opportunities for initiative energy in unex-
ploited districts. Besides, not having to keep up appearances,
he descended to menial occupations and toiled so long and terri-
bly that he would probably have made just as much money at
home, if he had had the courage. Be this as it may, there the
money was ; and, armed with it, the young man set sail literally
for England, home and beauty ; resuming his cast-ofF gentility
with several extra layers of superciliousness. Pretty Jewesses,
pranked in their prettiest clothes, hastened, metaphorically
speaking, to the port to welcome the wanderer ; for they knew
it was from among them he would make his pick. There were
several varieties of him — marked by financial ciphers — but
whether he married in his old station or higher up the scale, he
was always faithful to the sectarian tradition of the race, and this
less from religious motives than from hereditary instinct. Like
the young man in the dress-coat, he held the Christian girl to be
cold of heart, and unsprightly of temperament. He laid it down
that all Yiddishe girls possessed that warmth and chic which,
among Christians, were the birthright of a few actresses and
music-hall artistes — themselves, probably, Jewesses ! And on
things theatrical this young man spoke as one having authority.
Perhaps, though he was scarce conscious of it, at the bottom of
his repulsion was the certainty that the Christian girl could not
fry fish. She might be delightful for flirtation of all degrees,
but had not been formed to make him permanently happy. Such
was the conception which Hannah had formed for herself of
the young man from the Cape. This latest specimen of the

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genus was prepossessing into the bargain. There was no deny-
ing he was weU built, with a shapely head and a lovely mous-
tache. Good looks alone were vouchers for insolence and
conceit, but, backed by the aforesaid purse — ! She turned
her head away and stared at the evolutions of the " Lancers "
with much interest.

"They've got some pretty girls in that set," he observed
admiringly. Evidently the young man did not intend to go

Hannah felt very annoyed. " Yes," she said, sharply, " which
would you like ? "

" I shouldnH care to make invidious distinctions," he replied
with a little laugh.

"Odious prig!" thought Hannah. "He actually doesnH see
Tm sitting on him!" Aloud she said, "No? But you can't
marry them all."

"Why should I marry any?" he asked in the same light
tone, though there was a shade of surprise in it.

"Haven't you come back to England to 'get a wife? Most
young men do, when they don't have one exported to them
in Africa."

He laughed with genuine enjoyment and strove to catch the
answering gleam in her eyes, but she kept them averted. They
were standing with their backs to the wall and he could only see
the profile and note the graceful poise of the head upon the
warm-colored neck that stood out against the white bodice.
The frank ring of his laughter mixed with the merry jingle of the
fifth figure —

"Well, I'm afraid I'm going to be an exception," he said.

"You think nobody good enough, perhaps," she could not
help saying.

" Oh ! Why should you think that? "

" Perhaps you're married already."

"Oh no, I'm not," he said earnestly. "You're not, either,
are you?"

" Me ? " she asked ; then, with a barely perceptible pause, she
said, " Of course I am."

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The thought of posing as the married woman she theoretically
was, flashed upon her suddenly and appealed irresistibly to
her sense of fun. The recollection that the nature of the
ring on her finger was concealed by her glove afforded her
supplementary amusement.

" Oh ! " was all he said. " I didn't catch your name

" I didn't catch yours," she replied evasively.

*• David Brandon," he said readily.

**It's a pretty name," she said, turning smilingly to him.
The infinite possibilities of making fiin of him latent in the
joke quite warmed her towards him. " How unfortunate for me
I have destroyed my chance of getting it."

It was the first time she had smiled, and he liked the play of
light round the curves of her mouth, amid the shadows of the
soft dark skin, in the black depths of the eyes.

" How unfortunate for me ! " he said, smiling in return.

"Oh yes, of course! " she said with a little toss of her head.
" There is no danger in saying that now."

" I wouldn't care if there was."

"It is easy to smooth down the serpent when the fangs are
drawn," she laughed back.

" What an extraordinary comparison ! " he exclaimed. " But
where are all the people going? It isn't all over, I hope."

" Why, what do you want to stay for? You're not dancing."

" That is the reason. Unless I dance with you."

" And then you would want to go ? " she flashed with mock

" I see you're too sharp for me," he said lugubriously.
" Roughing it among the Boers makes a fellow a bit dull in
• compliments."

" Dull indeed ! " said Hannah, drawing herself up with great
seriousness. " I think you're more complimentary than you
have a right to be to a married woman."

His face fell. " Oh, I didn't mean anything," he said apolo-

" So I thought," retorted Hannah.

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The poor fellow grew more red and confused than ever.
Hannah felt quite sympathetic with him now, so pleased was
she at the humiliated condition to which she had brought the
young man from the Cape.

"Well, ril say good-bye," he said awkwardly. "I suppose
I mustn^t ask to take you down to supper. I dare say your
husband will want that privilege."

" I dare say," replied Hannah smiling. ^ Although husbands
do not always appreciate their privileges."

" I shall be glad if yours doesn't," he burst forth.

" Thank you for your good wishes for my domestic happiness,"
she said severely.

" Oh, why will you misconstrue ever)rthing I say ? " he pleaded.
"You must think me an awfiil Shlemihl, putting my foot into
it so often. Anyhow I hope I shall meet you again some-

^ The world is very small," she reminded him.

" I wish I knew your husband," he said ruefully.

"Why?" said Hannah, innocently.

" Because I could call on him," he replied, smiling.

" Well, you do know him," she could not help saying.

" Do I ? Who is it ? I don't think I do," he exclaimed.

"Well, considering he introduced you to me ! "

" Sam ! " cried David startled.


" But — " said David, half incredulously, half in surprise. He
certainly had never credited Sam with the wisdom to select or
the merit to deserve a wife like this.

" But what ? " asked Hannah with charming naivetL

" He said — I — I -^ at least I think he said — I — I — under-
stood that he introduced me to Miss Solomon, as his intended

Solomon was the name of Malka's first husband, and so of

" Quite right," said Hannah simply.

" Then — what — how ? " he stammered.

" She was his intended wife," explained Hannah as if she were

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telling the most natural thing in the world. " Before he married
me, you know."

" I — I beg your pardon if I seemed to doubt you. I really
thought you were joking."

"Why, what made you think so?"

" Well," he blurted out. " He didn't mention he was married,
and seeing him dancing with her the whole time — "

" I suppose he thinks he owes her some attention," said Han-
nah indifferently. "By way of compensation probably. I
shouldn't be at all surprised if he takes her down to supper in-
stead of me."

"There he is, struggling towards the buifet. Yes, he has her
on his arm."

" You speak as if she were his phylacteries," said Hannah,
smiling. " It would be a pity to disturb them. So, if you like,
you can have me on your arm, as you put it."

The young man's face lit up with pleasure, the keener that it
was unexpected.

" I am very glad to have such phylacteries on my arm, as you
put it," he responded. " I fancy I should be a good dtdX f roomer
if my phylacteries were like that."

" What, aren't yoMfroom f " she said, as they joined the hungry
procession in which she noted Bessie Sugarman on the arm of
Daniel Hyams.

" No, I'm a regular wrong'un," he replied. " As for phylac-
teries, I almost forget how to lay them."

" That is bad," she admitted, though he could not ascertain
her own point of view from the tone.

" Well, everybody else is just as bad," he said cheerfully. "All
the old piety seems to be breaking down.' It's Purim, but how
many of us have been to hear the — the what do you call it ? —
the Megillah read? There is actually a minister here to-night
bare-headed. And how many of us are going to wash our hands
before supper or bensh afterwards, I should like to know. Why,
it's as much as can be expected if the food's kosher^ and there's
no ham sandwiches on the dishes. Lord! how my old dad, God
rest his soul, would have been horrified by such a party as this ! "

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" Yes, it's wonderful how ashamed Jews are of their religion
outside a synagogue!" said Hannah musingly. ^ My father, if
he were here, would put on his hat after supper and benshy though
there wasn't another man in the room to follow his example."

"And I should admire him for it," said David, earnestly,
" though I admit I shouldn't follow his example myself. I sup-
pose he's one of the old school."

" He is Reb Shemuel," said Hannah, with dignity.

"Oh, indeed!" he exclaimed, not without surprise, "I know
him well. He used to bless me when I was a boy, and it used to
cost him a halfpenny a time. Such a jolly fellow ! "

" I'm so glad you think so," said Hannah flushing with

" Of course I do. Does he still have all those Greeners com-
ing to ask him questions ? "

" Oh, yes. Their piety is just the same as ever."

" They're poor," observed David. " It's always those poorest
in worldly goods who are richest in religion."

"Well, isn't that a compensation?" returned Hannah, with a
little sigh. " But from my father's point of view, the truth is
rather that those who have most pecuniary difficulties have most
religious difficulties."

" Ah, I suppose they come to your father as much to solve the
first as the second."

" Father is very good," she said simply.

They had by this time obtained something to eat, and for a
minute or so the dialogue became merely dietary.

" Do you know," he said in the course of the meal, " I feel I
ought not to have told you what a wicked person I am ? I put
my foot into it there, too."

"No, why?"

" Because you are Reb Shemuel's daughter."

" Oh, what nonsense! I like to hear people speak their minds.
Besides, you mustn't fancy I'm zsfroom as my father."

" I don't fancy that. Not quite," he laughed. " I know there's
some blessed old law or other by which women haven't got the
same chance of distinguishing themselves that way as men. I

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have a vague recollection of saying a prayer thanking God for
not having made me a woman."

" Ah, that must have been a long time ago," she said slyly.

**Yes, when I was a boy," he admitted. Then the oddity
of the premature thanksgiving struck them both and they

" YouVe got a different form provided for you, haven't you ? "
he said.

" Yes, I have to thank God for having made me according to
His will."

"You don't seem satisfied for all that," he said, struck by
something in the way she said it.

"How can a woman be satisfied?" she asked, looking up
frankly. "She has no voice in her destinies. She must shut
her eyes and open her mouth and swallow what it pleases God
to send her."

" All right, shut your eyes," he said, and putting his hand over
them he gave her a titbit and restored the conversation to a
more flippant level.

" You mustn't do that," she said. " Suppose my husband were
to see you."

" Oh, bother! " he said. " I don't know why it is, but I don't
seem to realize you're a married woman."

" Am I playing the part so badly as all that ? "

" Is it a part?" he cried eagerly.

She shook her head. His face fell again. She could hardly
fail to note the change.

" No, it's a stern reality," she said. " I wish it wasnt."

It seemed a bold confession, but it was easy to understand.
Sam had been an old school-fellow of his, and David had not
thought highly of him. He was silent a moment.

" Are you not happy ? " he said gently.

" Not in my marriage."

" Sam must be a regular brute! " he cried indignantly. " He
doesn't know how to treat you. He ought to have his head
punched the way he's going on with that fat thing in red."

" Oh, don't run her down," said Hannah, struggling to repress

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her emotions, which were not purely of laughter. " She's my
dearest friend."

" They always are," said David oracularly. " But how came
you to marry him ? "

" Accident," she said indifferently.

" Accident!" he repeated, open-eyed.

" Ah, well, it doesn't matter," said Hannah, meditatively con-
veying a spoonful of trifle to her mouth. " I shall be divorced
from him to-morrow*. Be careful! You nearly broke that

David stared at her, open-mouthed.

" Going to be divorced from him to-morrow ? "

" Yes, is there anything odd about it ? "

" Oh," he said, after staring at her impassive face for a full
minute. "Now Fm sure youVe been making fun of me all

" My dear Mr. Brandon, why will you persist in making me
out a liar?"

He was forced to apologize again and became such a model
of perplexity and embarrassment that Hannah's gravity broke
down at last and her merry peal of laughter mingled with the
clatter of plates and the hubbub of voices.

" I must take pity on you and enlighten you," she said, " but
promise me it shall go no further. It's only our own little circle
that knows about it and I don't want to be the laughing-stock
of the Lane."

" Of course I will promise," he said eagerly.

She kept his curiosity on the qui vive to amuse herself a little
longer, but ended by telling him all, amid frequent exclamations
of surprise.

"Well, I never! " he said when it was over. " Fancy a relig-
ion in which only two per cent, of the people who profess it
have ever heard of its laws. I suppose we're so mixed up with
the English, that it never occurs to us we've got marriage laws
of our own — like the Scotch. Anyhow I'm real glad and I
congratulate you."

"On what?"

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"On not being really married to Sam."

" Well, youYe a nice friend of his, I must say. I donH con-
gratulate myself, I can tell you."

" You don't? " he said in a disappointed tone.

She shook her head silently.

"Why not?" he inquired anxiously.

"Well, to tell the truth, this forced marriage was my only
chance of getting a husband who wasn't pious. Don't look so
puzzled. I wasn't shocked at your wickedness — you mustn't be
at mine. You know there's such a lot of religion in our house
that I thought if I ever did get married I'd like a change."

" Ha! ha! ha! So you're as the rest of us. Well, it's plucky
of you to admit it."

" Don't see it. My living doesn't depend on religion, thank
Heaven. Father's a saint, I know, but he swallows everything
he sees in his books just as he swallows everything mother and
I put before him in his plate — and in spite of it all — " She
was about to mention Levi's shortcomings but checked herself
in time. She had no right to unveil anybody's soul but her own
and she didn't know why she was doing that.

" But you don't mean to say your father would forbid you to
marry a man you cared for, just because he wasn'tyr^^w/"

" I'm sure he would."

" But that would be cruel."

" He wouldn't think so. He'd think he was saving my soul,
and you must remember he can't imagine any one who has been
taught to see its beauty not loving the yoke of the Law. He's
the best father in the world — but when religion's concerned, the
best-hearted of mankind are liable to become hard as stone.
You don't know my father as I do. But apart from that, I
wouldn't marry a man, myself, who might hurt my father's posi-
tion. I should have to keep a kosher house or look how people
would talk!"

" And wouldn't you if you had your own way ? "

" I don't know what I would do. It's so impossible, the idea
of my having my own way. I think I should probably go in
for a change, I'm so tired — so tired of this eternal ceremony.

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Always washing up plates and dishes. I dare say it*s all for our
good, but I am so tired."

" Oh, I don't see much difficulty about Koshers, 1 always eat
kosher meat myself when I can get it, providing it's not so
beastly tough as it has a knack of being. Of course it's absurd
to expect a man to go without meat when he's travelling up
country, just because it hasn't been killed with a knife instead
of a pole-axe. Besides, don't we know well enough that the
folks who are most particular about those sort of things don't
mind swindling and setting their houses on fire and all manner
of abominations ? I wouldn't be a Christian for the world, but I
should like to see a little more common-sense introduced into
our religion ; it ought to be more up to date. If ever I marry, I
should like my wife to be a girl who wouldn't want to keep any-
thing but the higher parts of Judaism. Not out of laziness,
mind you, but out of conviction."

David stopped suddenly, surprised at his own sentiments,
which he learned for the first time. However vaguely they
might have been simmering in his brain, he could not honestly
accuse himself of having ever bestowed any reflection on " the
higher parts of Judaism " or even on the religious convictions
apart from the racial aspects of his future wife. Could it be that
Hannah's earnestness was infecting him ?

"Oh, then you would xnsLrry a Jewess! " said Hannah.

" Oh, of course," he said in astonishment. Then as he looked
at her pretty, earnest face the amusing recollection that she was
married already came over him with a sort of shock, not wholly
comical. There was a minute of silence, each pursuing a sep-
arate train of thought. Then David wound up, as if there had
been no break, with an elliptical, " wouldn't you ? "

Hannah shrugged her shoulders and elevated her eyebrows in
a gesture that lacked her usual grace.

" Not if I had only to please myself," she added.

"Oh, come! Don't say that," he said anxiously. "I don't
believe mixed marriages are a success. Really, I don't. Besides,
look at the scandal ! "

Again she shrugged her shoulders, defiantly this time.

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" I don't suppose I shall ever get married," she said. " I
never could marry a man father would approve of, so that a
Christian would be no worse than an educated Jew."

David did not quite grasp the sentence; he was trying to,
when Sam and Leah passed them. Sam winked in a friendly if
not very refined manner.

" I see you two are getting on all right," he said.

"Good gracious!" said Hannah, starting up with a blush.
^* Everybody's going back. They will think us greedy. What a
pair of fools we are to have got into such serious conversation
at a ball."

" Was it serious ? " said David with a retrospective air. " Well,
I never enjoyed a conversation so much in my life."

" You mean the supper," Hannah said lightly.

"Well, both. It's your fault that we don't behave more

" How do you mean? "

" You won't dance."

"Do you want to?"

^^ Rather."

^* I thought you were afraid of all the swells."

^* Supper has given me courage."

" Oh, very well if you want to, that's to say if you really can

" Try me, only you must allow for my being out of practice.
I didn't get many dances at the Cape, I can tell you."

"The Cape!" Hannah heard the words without making her
usual grimace. She put her hand lightly on his shoulder, he
encircled her waist with his arm and they surrendered them-
selves to the intoxication of the slow, voluptuous music.

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The " Sons of the Covenant " sent no representatives to the
club balls, wotting neither of waltzes nor of dress-coats^ and pre-
ferring death to the embrace of a strange dancing woman. They
were the congregation of which Mr. Belcovitch was President
and their synagogue was the ground floor of No. i Royal Street
— two large rooms knocked into one, and the rear partitioned
off for the use of the bewigged, heavy-jawed women who might

Online LibraryIsrael ZangwillChildren of the Ghetto: a study of a peculiar people → online text (page 13 of 48)