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Transcriber's Notes:

1. Page scan source:
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2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].

3. Author's full name is Salomon Kohn.






COLLECTION

OF

GERMAN AUTHORS.

VOL. 14.

* * * * *

GABRIEL,

A STORY OF THE JEWS IN PRAGUE

IN ONE VOLUME.






GABRIEL,

A STORY OF THE JEWS IN PRAGUE



BY
S. KOHN.



FROM THE GERMAN
BY
ARTHUR MILMAN, M.A.




LEIPZIG 1869
BERNHARD TAUCHNITZ.
LONDON: SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON, SEARLE & RIVINGTON.
CROWN BUILDINGS, 188, FLEET STREET.
PARIS: C. REINWALD & CIE, 15, RUE DES SAINTS P√ИRES.






GABRIEL.




I.


It was the morning of a wintry autumnal day in the year 1620, when a
young man stepped slowly and thoughtfully through the so-called
Pinchas-Synagogue Gate into the Jews' quarter in the city of Prague. A
strange scene presented itself. The morning service was just over in
the synagogues, and whilst numerous crowds were still streaming out of
the houses of prayer, others, mostly women with heavy bunches of keys
in their hands, were already hurrying to the rag-market situated
outside of the Ghetto. The shops too and stalls within the Ghetto were
now opened, and even in the open street an activity never seen in the
other quarters of the city displayed itself. Here, for instance,
dealers - in truth of the lowest class - were offering their wares
consisting of pastry, wheat-bread, fruits, cheese, cabbage, boiled peas
and more of such kind of stuff to the passers-by. Here and there too in
spite of the early hour emerged some peripatetic cooks, in peaceful
competition extolling loudly the products of their kitchen, bits of
liver, eggs, meat and puddings, and whilst in one hand they held a tin
plate, in the other a two-pronged fork, - a very unnecessary article for
most of their guests, - devoted their attention chiefly to the foreign
students of the Talmud. To them also the greatest attention was paid by
those cobblers who less wealthy than their colleagues in the so-called
Golden St. offered their services to the students in open street, and
most assiduously, while the owners were obliged to wait in the street
or a neighbouring house, mended their shoes at a very moderate price,
but, it must also be allowed, in a very inefficient manner.

The young man who had just stepped into the Jew's quarter, gazed
earnestly and observantly at this busy stir, and did not seem to
notice, that he himself had become an object of common attention. His
appearance was however fully calculated to excite observation. His form
was powerful and commanding; his dress that of a Talmud-student, cloak
and cap. Out of his pale face shadowed by a dark beard, under heavy
arching eyebrows there shone two black eyes of uncommon brilliance;
raven locks fell in waves from his head; the fingers of a white sinewy
hand, that held close the silken cloak, were covered with golden rings;
his thick ruff was of spotless purity and smoothness. Had not the
stranger by the elegance of his appearance, perhaps also by his
gigantic make, struck a little awe into the curious dealers in the
street, of a surety at his first appearance, a whole heap of questions
would have been addressed to him. "Who or what he wanted? What could
they do for him?" and such like.... Under the circumstances, however,
it was Abraham, a cobbler, who sat on a bench by the Pinchas-Synagogue
that after some consideration mustered up courage and as he laid down a
shoe that had been committed to his artistic skill, began to ask: "dear
student! whom are you seeking? Certainly not me, that I can see from
your beautifully made shoes with their glittering silver buckles;
_they_ were not made at Prague." - This was put in more for the benefit
of those about him and himself than the stranger. - "You are surely a
stranger here? pardon me, you are perhaps a German, a Moravian or a
Viennese? do you wish to go to a lecture upon the Talmud, or perchance
to the Rabbi, or to Reb Lippman Heller? Who do you want to go to? I
will gladly shew you the way to the Talmud-lecturers - or, perhaps, you
are looking out for a lodging? I can very likely procure you a
convenient one." "I _am_ a stranger here," replied the student, "and
must, indeed, first of all look about me for a lodging. If you happen
to know of an apartment where I could pursue my studies undisturbed I
shall thankfully avail myself of your offer: but the apartment must be
large, light and cheerful."

"Then I only know of one in the whole town, at my superior attendant
Reb Schlome's, I mean the superior attendant of my synagogue, the
Old-Synagogue, he lives close to the synagogue; there is a beautiful
room there - and besides, Reb Schlome is very learned in the Talmud, and
has got a beautiful library, - in a word that or none is the lodging for
you."

While this short conversation was going on, the cobbler's neighbours
had as it were accidentally got nearer, so as to overhear a few words;
and the group that for some minutes had been hazarding the most
ingenious opinions and conjectures about the stranger, formed, perhaps
without noticing it, a complete circle round the two talkers. This was
now suddenly broken through, and a shabbily dressed old man thrust
himself up impetuously against the stranger.

"Peace be with you," he cried, "you are then just arrived, be so good
as to come with me, I have a question to put to you, it will do you no
harm, and me good, come with me."

The stranger gazed in astonishment at the singular figure. "What do you
want of me? How can I, a stranger, whom you have surely never seen,
give you any tidings? perhaps, however, you do know me?"

"Sir," whispered Cobbler Abraham, standing on tiptoe so as to reach
up to the stranger's ear, "Jacob is out of his mind; ten years ago,
when he came to live at Prague, he used to put the strangest questions
to everybody that came in his way; when the small boys came out
of the school, he used to examine them in the Bible, and however
correctly they answered, would ever become furious and cry: False!
False! - grown-up people too he used to catechise, fathers, students, in
short every one; but as he has now put his questions to almost
everybody in the whole community, he has kept quite quiet for a long
while. He is only unsociable, refuses to give any information about
himself, and never answers a question; but he is a good harmless
fellow, and as the students say, must be a very great Talmudist - I
wonder that he begins again." -

"Don't be led astray by what that man there is whispering to you,"
cried the old man in anguish; "only come with me, I pray you most
instantly to do so - you, only you can give me peace; I will believe
your answers, all the rest lie to me, a poor old man! Come home with
me, believe me, you will do a real good deed."

The stranger cast a penetrating searching glance at the old man, as
though he would sound the whole depths of this troubled human soul.
Contrary to all expectation he replied after short reflection: "only
unloose my cloak; hold me not so nervously, I will verily go with you.
But to you," he turned to the cobbler, "I will soon come back, and will
then beg you to conduct me to the man who has the room to let. Accept
this in the meanwhile for your friendly sympathy" - as he spoke he drew
out of his doublet an embroidered purse full of gold and silver pieces,
and laid a large silver coin on the cobbler's bench. "That is too
much," said Abraham highly surprised and pleased, "God strengthen you,
your Honour, Reb - I don't know what's your name!" -

Without answering these further questions, the stranger stepped by the
side of the old man out of the circle, which now once more began loudly
and without circumlocution to utter its conjectures.

"I know what he is: - he is a fool," suggested a dealer in liver as she
arranged her stores on a board - "and what's more a big fool! gives
Abraham a piece of silver, what for? goes home with the madman, why?"

"My dear Mindel," urged another huckster, "it seems to me you are very
envious of Abraham; that's why the handsome stranger student is a fool.
If you'd got the money, he would have been wise!" -

Most of the hucksters, and hucksteresses, seemed fully to concur in the
opinion of the fish-monger - such was the speaker - for Mother Mindel was
in truth what one would in these days in popular parlance call a dog in
the manger. But Mother Mindel was not the sort of person in a war of
words to leave the lists in a hurry, and own herself vanquished. She
answered therefore sharply: "Say you so, Hirsch, what did you get from
him. Come now, tell the truth." These last words spoken in a somewhat
high key, can only be understood when it is explained, that Hirsch, the
fish-monger, was too often addicted to the bad habit, when he told a
story, of passing off in fullest measure the exaggerations and
embellishments of his copious imagination; of treating, on the other
hand, an actual fact in a very step-motherish fashion, a circumstance
that compelled even his best friends to admit that he was a little
given to exaggeration; while impartial persons were fond of applying to
him the well-deserved predicate of 'liar.'

"If I'm to tell the truth," continued Hirsch, apparently not observing
that which was injurious in his neighbour's manner of expressing
herself, "If I'm to tell the truth I'm not so envious as some people,
who seem to have been created so by the dear God, probably as a
punishment; I should, however, have been more pleased if Pradel, the
pastry-cook, had got the money, she has five children, her husband, the
bass-singer in the Old-Synagogue, is away, lying ill at home for the
last four months - _she_ would have made a better use of the money - but
if it had rained gold the good woman would not have been at the place,
and if she had, what would have been the use? would _she_ have had the
impudence at once coolly to accost a stranger with gold rings on his
fingers like a prince as if he was a nobody? Why did we all hold our
tongues? I was only curious to see how far Cobbler Abrabam would
go. A very little more and he'd have asked him the name of his
great-grandfathers, how long it was since his thirteenth birthday, and
what chapter out of the prophets had at that time been read on the
Sabbath." -

These words seemed to show that the brave Hirsch in addition to his
unpleasant habit of exaggeration could not be altogether absolved from
the failing of his neighbour Mindel. - In the bosom of Cobbler Abraham
who had listened to all these gibes in silence some significant idea
seemed striving for utterance. He moved uneasily on his stool and
rubbed his hands with a singular smile.

"Good people!" he cried at length, "I'll show you that none of you yet
know Cobbler Abraham, although for now more than twenty years he has
enjoyed the great honour in your society of mending shoes for the
scholars at the high school of Prague, and for more than twenty years
has had the privilege of listening to your lies, Hirsch, and to your
tattle, Mindel. None of you yet know Cobbler Abraham. The money I shall
consider as if it was not mine. It belongs to Pradel the pastry-cook,
or rather to her sick husband Simche, he's my bass, that is, bass of my
synagogue, has never in his life got a new year's or other present from
me. I'm a bachelor, he's a married man with five children: I'm, thank
God, in good health, he's ill. I for once will be a prince, he shall
have the money from me, at once, to-day, as a dedicatory gift, and as
to your insinuation Hirsch, that none of you had the impudence to
accost the stranger, perhaps, you would be more justified in saying
that none of you had had the sense to do it; and now, seeing that I'll
have none of the money, leave me alone, let me get on with my work, and
sell your sweet fish and roast liver." So saying he caught briskly up
the shoes that were before him, and began industriously to cobble.

"Ah, there's some sense in that, I knew you had a good heart;" even
Mother Mindel was obliged to join in the loud applause of the
neighbours, whereupon she tried to secure an honourable retreat out of
the wordy skirmish by kindling with the whole strength of her lungs
into a bright glow the fading flame of her charcoal pan; whilst,
Hirsch, after he too had in an embarrassed way recognised Abraham's
noble feeling, availed himself of that very moment as the most
favourable to recommend his fish to the passers-by, as especially
excellent. - But the three neighbours were of a very placable
disposition, and in spite of the fact that they had for the last ten
years followed the laudable custom, of jeering as opportunity offered,
yet in time of need and wretchedness they had mutually stood by one
another, and so it came to pass, that half an hour after, they had
forgotten the little dispute, but not its cause; and the three
neighbours were laying their heads together to ventilate anew their,
doubtless very interesting surmises about the stranger.

He meanwhile was walking in silence by the side of his strange
companion, and though he looked about inquisitively, still found time
to observe Jacob more closely. It was difficult to fix the old man's
age. His pale countenance was sorrow-stricken, and furrowed by care. It
might once have been beautiful but was transformed into something
different, strange, scarce akin to a human face by a grizzly white
untended beard, that entangled with the disordered hair, which fell in
waves from his head, formed with it a shapeless mass; but especially by
the weird glittering of his eyes that protruded far out of their
sockets. His thin form crushed by the weight of misery, seemed once to
have been gigantic, and the scantiness of his clothing completed the
singular impression caused by his appearance. At the Hahn-alley the old
man stopped before a small house, and begged the stranger to follow him
across the court to his little room. It was poorly furnished, and
situated on the ground floor, abutting the burial-ground, so that
one could without difficulty pass through the low window into the
burial-ground. Besides an arm-chair there was only one stool in the
room. The old man pushed both up silently to the table, and signed to
the stranger to take a seat.

"What do you wish?" the stranger now asked. The old man looked
cautiously about to see if anyone was listening, closed the door, then
the window-shutters and lit a lamp. "See," he now began, "see, as I
looked at you, it affected me so differently, impressed me so far
otherwise than when I look at any other strange student. I know you are
not so wicked as the others are, all, all of them, that despise, ill
use, unsparingly laugh to scorn a poor old man; they know no pity, have
no mercy, are not aware what it is to suffer as I suffer. They bring me
to naught, they have all sworn together against me, and whom ever I
question, he answers falsely, falsely, falsely!" -

The old man spoke with frightful excitement, all the blood that flowed
through his withered body seemed to have gathered itself into his
cheeks flushed with a hectic red, the veins of his forehead swelled to
an unnatural size. "Tell me, tell me, tell me truly," he whispered,
suddenly becoming again quite humble. "Do you know the ten
commandments? but I conjure you by the God of Israel, that made heaven
and earth, by the head of your father, by your mother's salvation, by
your portion in the world to come, answer truly, without deceit."

"My good old man," said the stranger quietly, "I will do all that you
desire, I will repeat to you the ten commandments, all the six hundred
and thirteen laws, provided always, I can still recollect them, I will
be entirely at your service, for I see, that you are a poor worn-out
man - you live pretty well alone here in this narrow room, you receive
no visits?" asked the student after a short pause.

"Since I have found out that no one will come home with me, to read me
the ten commandments out of my small Bible, I let no one in. Many too
are afraid - no one comes to me, no one, you are the first that for many
years has set foot in my hovel. - But now be so good, let me hear the
ten commandments, quickly, I implore you!"

The young man passed his hand over his forehead, as though he would
call back to memory something long forgotten, and then began in a loud
powerful voice to utter by heart those ten sayings of the Lord, that
were revealed on Sinai. The old man sat resting his head which he bent
forward upon both hands - as though greedily to suck up every word that
fell from his lips - and gazed into the face of the stranger. All the
blood seemed to flow back slowly to his heart, his face became deadly
pale, his eyes seemed bursting from their wide opened lids, and the
longer the stranger spoke, the deeper blue became his thin
spasmodically quivering lips. Had not the beating of the tortured old
man's heart been audible, one must have believed that life was extinct
in that frail body. The stranger went quietly on, but as he uttered the
seventh commandment '_Thou shalt not commit adultery_' a fearfully
horrible cry, a cry that made the very bones creep, escaped from the
breast of the poor tormented creature, a cry shrill as that which, a
bird of prey sore wounded by an arrow, launches through the air in its
death struggles, a cry, such as naught but the deepest most unspeakable
grief of the soul can tear from a man's breast. The stranger stopped,
the old man sank in a heap, covering his face with both hands. There
was a moment of deepest silence, at length the old man broke forth into
loud sobbing. -

"You too! I had hope of you. Oh, how I would have loved you, how I
would have honoured you, how I would have worshipped you, if you had
read differently to the others, but no, no, no! _he_ read. Thou shalt
not commit adultery. "_Thou shalt not commit adultery_.' Lord of the
World, have I suffered too little, repented too little, done
insufficient penitence? And yet Thou still lettest it stand in Thy holy
scripture? Must I for ever be tormented in this world and the next? But
Thou art righteous, and I a sinner - I have sinned, I have gone astray,
I have" - then beating his breast he muttered the whole confession of
sins.

"I grieve to have been the cause of pain to you, but see" - the student
at these words opened a Bible that was lying on the table at the
passage in point - "see, it is as I have read it." The characters were
quite effaced by the marks of tears, and it was clear that this
especial page had been read and reread countless times.

"Yes, yes, so is it written," cried the old man in a tone of the
profoundest dejection and despair. "You were right, _my brother_ was
right, all were right, the students, the little boys from school,
all, all read it so - all are right, except me, except me, - I am
guilty!" - and again he began, striking both his clenched hands upon his
breast, to utter the confession.

The student had risen from his seat, and paced the chamber up and down.
The old man's illimitable grief seemed to awaken a slight feeling of
sympathy in him. "Every one is not like thee, a giant in spirit and
thought," said he softly to himself, "every one cannot like thee strip
off his faith like a raiment that has become useless, and rouse a new
life from the inner fire of the soul." The man was not always mad, a
milder light must once have shone out of those weird dark eyes - _but he
sank through his own guilt!_ One bold flight of his free spirit had
saved him from everlasting night, but he would not! Was he constrained
to give credence to a dead word out of the Bible? Did he stand upon
flaming Sinai, when the words were thundered down upon humanity? Could
not he free himself from the blind faith of his fathers? Must that
appear to him true and holy, that appeared true and holy to his father
and forefathers? His fathers ecstatically smiling could mount the
smoking pyres, and while flames consumed their body, sing psalms and
hymns of praise, _they_ could do all this for they looked for the bliss
of Paradise in a world they hoped to come: and what is the bitterest,
saddest moment of torment compared with an eternity that never ends!
His fathers could breath out their lives with a smile under the axe of
the persecutor; with faith they had life's highest gift, Hope. But this
fool? He has sinned, good! - tear then from thy lacerated and bleeding
heart the foolish faith, that torments thee, what good does it do
thee, thou poor lost one, in this world or the next? - Yet there is a
mighty too constraining power in Faith! - - "How if _I_ tried yet to
believe? - the sweet fable can heal wounds too! - but I, I cannot, I
cannot - they have cast me forth, they have compelled me to it, the
Bible, men - all, all - I, indeed, _I_ could not otherwise."

Then he stopped again suddenly before the old man, who without paying
further attention to his guest, had lapsed into a gloomy brooding.

"Of course, you are a Talmudist?" asked the student aloud, "you are!
Now then, know you not the sentence of the pious king Chiskia? Though a
sharp sword lyeth at the neck of man, yet may he not despair of God's
infinite mercy! Do not forget: in the same chapter in which it is
written 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' it is also written: 'The Lord,
the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering and abundant in
goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and
transgression and sin!'" -

"But he visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon
the children's children unto the third and to the fourth generation!"
said Jacob in continuation. "Do not despair! If the gates of prayer
have been closed since the destruction of the sanctuary in Jerusalem,
the gates of repentance have not been closed. Do not despair, poor
Jacob, consider what the Bible says: 'For man's heart is wicked even
from his youth up.' Consider the saying: 'As I live, saith the Lord
God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked
turn from his way and live'; consider that well and do not despair!" -

The student broke off suddenly, as if astonished at the compassion that
had been stirred up in him, it seemed to have surprised himself. But
Jacob in the excess of his emotion clapsed the strangers' hand
convulsively and pressed it to his lips.

"Ah, what good you do me," he cried; "how you drop balm into my
irremediable wounds! For years no one has spoken to me thus; God bless
you for it!" "You see, Jacob," said the student preparing to depart, "I
have obeyed your request and have done you such service as I could. - It
is now my turn to ask a favour of you. - No one comes to see you, you
are often alone, suffer me occasionally to visit you and study the
Talmud here. Perhaps I may be able to banish the evil spirit that at
times seizes you."

"Oh, a wicked, wicked spirit, you are right. - Yes, you with your
beautiful eyes you do me good. - Ah, once I too was as you are, tall,
handsome, strong. When I gaze on you, I call to remembrance my own
happy youth, my brother's! Yes, come to me often, often."

"That I will, and now farewell."

"God bless you."

The student stepped out of the house; then stood lost in thought. "I
shall consider the chance a fortunate one," he softly said, "that led
to my encounter with this madman; he may be useful to me, may put me
upon the right track in my sublime chace. But it is inexplicable to me!
I thought that I had quenched all compassion, all pity in my soul, and
lo! this old man wakens feelings in me, that I would have banished for
ever from my soul. Every one rejects him, and I, I who bear so bitter,
so deadly a hatred against all those that hang on Bible texts, I let
him immediately, before I saw my advantage therefrom, gain his end and
placed myself at his disposal. Alas, in spite of the maddest hatred,
the most raging fury, there is still too much of the good old Jew left


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