A YIDDISH IDYLL

In German they call it “Die Liebe.” The French, as every school-girl
knows, call it “L’Amour.” It is known to the Spanish and the Italians,
and, unless I am greatly mistaken, it was known even in Ur of the
Chaldeans, the city that was lost before the dawn of ancient Greece.

The sky has sung of it, the bright stars have sung of it, the birds and
the flowers and the green meadows have sung of it. And far from the
brightness and the sunshine of the world I can lead you to a dark room
where, night and day, the air is filled with the whirring and buzzing
and droning and humming of sewing machines, and if you listen intently
you can hear the song they sing: “Love! Love! Love!”

_Die Liebe ist eine alte Geschichte._

It is a foolish song, and somehow or other it has become sadly entangled
with the story of Erzik and Sarah, which is a foolish story that has
neither beginning nor end. Nor has it a plot or a meaning or anything at
all, for that matter, save the melody of spring and the perfume of
flowers.

You see, Sarah’s eyes were brown and Erzik’s were blue, and they sat
side by side in the sweatshop where the sewing machines whirred and
buzzed and droned and hummed. And side by side they had sat for almost a
year, speaking hardly a dozen words a day, for they are silent people,
those Eastern Jews, and each time that Sarah looked up she could see
that Erzik’s eyes were blue, and she saw a light in them that brought
the blood to her cheeks and filled her with a strange joy and a resolve
not to look up again.

And Erzik, wondering at the gladness in his heart, would smile, whereat
the sweater would frown, and the machines would whirr and buzz and drone
and hum more briskly.

It was the fault of the black thread—or was it the white thread? One of
them, at least, had become entangled in the bobbin of Sarah’s sewing
machine, and in disentangling it the needle’s point pierced her skin,
drawing—a tiny drop of blood. Erzik turned pale, and tearing a strip
from his handkerchief—a piece of extravagance which exasperated the
sweater beyond all bounds—hastened to bind it around the wound. Then
Sarah laughed, and Erzik laughed, too, and of course he must hold the
finger close to his eyes to adjust the bandage, and then, before the
whole room, he kissed her hand. Then she slapped him upon one cheek,
whereupon he quickly offered the other, and they laughed, and all the
room laughed, save Esther, whose face was always white and pinched.

Is it not a foolish story? That very night Erzik told Sarah that he
loved her, and she cried and told him she loved him, and then he cried,
and they both were happy. And on the next day they told the sweater that
they were soon going to be married, which did not interest him at all.

It was gossip for half a day, and then it fell into the natural order of
things. The machines went on whirring and buzzing and droning and
humming, and Erzik and Sarah frequently looked up from their work and
gazed smilingly into each other’s eyes. Of this they never tired, and
through the spring their love grew stronger and deeper, and the machines
in the room never ceased to sing of it; even the sparrows that perched
upon the telegraph wires close by the windows chirped it all day long.

Esther grew whiter and whiter, and her face became more and more
pinched. And one day she was not in her place. But neither Erzik nor
Sarah missed her. Another day and another, she was absent, and on the
following day they buried her. The rabbi brought a letter to Erzik.

“She said it was for your wedding.”

Carefully folded in a clean sheet of note paper lay three double eagles;
it was Esther’s fortune.

_Die Liebe ist eine alte Geschichte._

Erzik and Sarah have been married a year, and they still sit side by
side in the sweatshop. Spring has come again, and the sewing machines
whirr and buzz and drone and hum, and through it all you can hear that
foolish old song. When they look up from their work and their eyes meet,
they smile. They are content with their lot in life, and they love each
other.

The story runs in my head like an old song, and when the sky is blue,
and the birds sing, the melody is sweet beyond all words. Sometimes,
when the sky is grey and the air is heavy with a coming storm, it seems
as if there is a note of sadness in the song, as if a heart were crying.
But the sunshine makes it right again.

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