THE SADER GUEST

Rosnofsky was explaining to me his theory of the lost blue with which
the ancient Hebrew priests dyed the talith, when the door opened and
lanky Lazarus entered, hat in hand. He entered cautiously, keeping one
hand on the doorknob, and one foot firmly planted for a backward spring.
He seemed rather embarrassed to find a third person present, but the
matter that he had on his mind was weighty—so weighty, in fact, that,
after a moment’s hesitation, he plunged right into the heart of it.

“Mr. Rosnofsky,” he said, “I love your daughter.”

Rosnofsky’s eyes opened wide, and his mouth shut tight.

“And she loves me,” Lazarus went on.

Rosnofsky’s eyes contracted, until they gleamed through the tiniest kind
of a slit between the lids. His hand fumbled behind his back among a
number of tailor’s tools that lay on the table.

“And I have come to ask your consent to our marriage.”

Crash! Rosnofsky’s aim was bad. The shears, instead of reaching Lazarus,
shattered the window pane. Lazarus was flying rapidly down the street.
Then Rosnofsky turned to me.

“And this mixture, as I was saying, will produce exactly the same blue
that the Talmud describes.”

It was worth while to become acquainted with Rosnofsky. When aroused, or
crossed, or seriously annoyed, he had a frightful temper, and the man
whose misfortune it had been to stir him up was the object of a
malediction as bitter as it was fierce, extending through all his family
for, usually, a dozen generations. Then, in startling contrast to this,
he was a devout son of Abraham, and, in moments of serious reflection,
would be almost overcome by a feeling of piety, and at such times all
that was good and noble in his nature asserted itself. It was a strange
blending of the prosaic with the patriarchal.

“How came the original colour to be lost?” I asked. Rosnofsky looked at
me for a moment. Then he shook his head.

“That scamp has upset me completely,” he said. “Some other time I will
tell you. Just now I can think of nothing but the effrontery of that
scoundrel.”

“What makes you so bitter toward him?” I ventured to ask.

“Bitter! Bitter! He wants to marry Miriam. The audacity of the wretch!
My only child. And here he practically tells me to my face that he has
been making love to her, and that he has ascertained that she is in love
with him. And I never knew it. Never even suspected it. A curse on the
scamp! Sneaking into my home to steal my daughter from me. The
dishonourable villain! I trusted him. The viper. May he suffer a million
torments! May the fiends possess him!”

I ventured to suggest that it was the way of the world. I departed.
Somewhat hastily. I did not like the way he glared at me.

The next time I saw Rosnofsky he was walking excitedly up and down his
shop, tearing his hair _en route_. When he saw me he sprang forward and
clutched me by the shoulder.

“Here!” he cried. “I will leave it to you. You were here when he had the
audacity to confess his guilt to my face. Read this.” He thrust a
crumpled piece of paper into my hand. “Read it, and tell me if there is
another such villain upon this earth. Oh, I shall go mad!”

I read it. It was from Lazarus.

“I told you that I loved your daughter,” he wrote. “I told you that she
loved me. And, like an honest man, I asked you to consent to our
marriage. You refused. I now appeal to you again. You will make us both
very happy by giving your consent, as we would like you to be present at
the wedding. If you do not give your consent, we will not invite you.
But we will get married, anyway. We will elope at the first opportunity.
The only way to stop it is to keep Miriam locked in the house. Then I
shall call in the police.”

It was signed, “Lovingly, your son-in-law-to-be.”

“How can I punish him?” asked Rosnofsky. I promised to think it over. I
had called merely to tell Rosnofsky that I would accept his invitation
to supper on Sader night, and to thank him.

“You know the law,” he said. “When you come bring with you a plan to
punish this scoundrel.”

* * * * *

It was the eve of the Passover, and I stood in the gloomy hallway
tapping at Rosnofsky’s door. Dimly through the darkness I saw a
quivering shadow, but in the labyrinths of tenement corridors it is
unwise to investigate shadows. The door opened, and Rosnofsky, with
“praying cap” upon his head, welcomed me to the feast of the Sader.

Miriam was as sweet as a rose. I have not told you how pretty she was,
nor shall I begin now, for it is a very tempting subject, such as would
be likely to beguile a man into forgetting the thread of his story, and
it was too dangerous for me to enter upon. Suffice it that her eyes were
as glorious as—but there!

The table was arranged for four, Rosnofsky, Miriam, and myself, and
opposite Miriam’s seat was the chair for the Stranger.

Now the custom of celebrating this feast, according to the ritual, is
like this:

Holding aloft the unleavened bread, the head of the house must say:

“This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of
Egypt. Let all those who are hungry enter and eat thereof; and all who
are in distress come and celebrate the Passover.”




And the youngest-born must arise and open the door so that the Stranger
may enter and take his place at the table, and, even though he slew one
of their kin, that night he is a sacred guest.

And—as you have no doubt already opined—hardly had Miriam opened the
door when, with pale face, but with lips that were pressed in grim
determination, in walked Lazarus. Now, to this day I do not know whether
Miriam expected him, or what her feelings were when he entered. She has
refused to tell me. It needed but one glance to assure me that if there
was any secret Rosnofsky had not been in it.

With a cry of rage he sprang to his feet, and I feared that he would
hurl a knife at the intruder. But an instant later he recovered himself,
and with a gurgling, choking sound sank into his chair.

“The grace of God be with you all,” saluted Lazarus, still very pale.
Then,

“Am I a welcome guest?”

Rosnofsky seemed to be on the point of exploding with rage, but at this
question he started as if he had been struck. After a moment’s silence
he arose with great dignity—and holding out his hand—the strength of his
piety never more forcibly illustrated—said:

“Forgive my anger, my son. You are welcome to the Feast of the
Passover.”

And resuming his seat he chanted:

“Blessed art Thou, O Eternal, our God, King of the Universe, Creator of
the fruit of wine!”

It was the beginning of the service. Lazarus, with his eyes upon the
table, chanted the responses, and I, who knew nothing of the ritual,
looked at Miriam, who, I assure you, was delightful to behold,
particularly when her eyes twinkled as they did now.

By the time he had finished the Sader, Rosnofsky’s troubled spirit had
become soothed, and the final grace was delivered in a voice so calm and
with a manner so soothing, that when he looked up Lazarus was emboldened
to speak.

“You are angry with me, Father Rosnofsky,” he ventured.

“Let us not speak of unpleasant things this night,” replied the tailor,
gently. “This is a holy night.”

Lazarus, in no way abashed, deftly led the old man to expound some of
the intricate sayings of the rabbis upon the Passover, which Rosnofsky,
who was something of a theologian, did with great eagerness. Now, how it
came about I cannot tell, but Lazarus was so greatly interested in this
discussion, and Rosnofsky was so determined to prove that the old rabbis
were all in the wrong on this one point, that when the meal was over he
declared that if Lazarus would call the next night he would have a book
that would convince him. Lazarus had the discretion to take his
departure. When he had gone Rosnofsky puffed his pipe in silence for
some moments. Then, with a quaint smile, he turned to me and said:

“The young rogue!”

And then he gazed at Miriam until she grew red.