URIM AND THUMMIM

The hall was packed to the point of suffocation, with thousands of
gaunt, hollow-eyed strikers, who hung upon the speaker’s impassioned
words with breathless interest. He was an eloquent speaker, with a pale,
delicate face, and dark eyes that shone like burning coals.

He had been speaking for an hour, exhorting the strikers to stand firm,
and to bear in patience their burden of suffering. When he dwelt on the
prospect of victory, and portrayed the ultimate moment of triumph that
would be theirs, if only they stood steadfast, a wave of enthusiasm
surged through the audience, and they burst into wild cheers.

“Remember, fellow-workmen,” he went on, “that we have fought before.
Remember that we have suffered before. And remember that we have won
before.

“How many are there of you who can look back to the famous strike of ten
years ago? Do you not remember how, for two months, we fought with
unbroken ranks, and after privation and distress far beyond what we are
passing through to-day, triumphed over our enemies and won a glorious
victory? It was but a pittance that we were striking for, but the life
of our union was at stake. With one exception, not a man faltered. The
story of our sufferings only God remembers! But we bore them without a
murmur, without complaint. There was one dastard—one traitor, recreant
to his oath—but we triumphed in spite of him. Oh, my fellow-workers, let
us——”

But now a mist gathered before my eyes; the sound of his voice died
away, and all that assemblage faded from my sight.

The speaker’s words had awakened in my mind the memory of Urim and
Thummim; all else was instantly forgotten.

* * * * *

Urim was a doll that had lost both legs and an arm, but its cheeks, when
I first saw it, were still pink, and, in spite of its misfortunes, it
wore a smile that never faded. Thummim was also a doll, somewhat more
rugged than Urim, but gloomy and frowning, in spite of its state of
preservation. Koppel and Rebecca agreed that Urim was by far the more
interesting of the two, but the two had come into the household
together, and to discard Thummim was altogether out of the question.

Koppel was a cloakmaker, and it was during the big strike that I first
met him. Of all the members of that big trades-union he alone had
continued to work when the strike was declared, and they all cursed him.
Pleading and threats alike were of no avail to induce him to leave the
shop; for the paltry pittance that he could earn he abandoned his union
and violated his oath of affiliation.

At every meeting he was denounced, his name was hissed, he was an
outcast among his kind.

When I tapped upon his door there was no response. I opened it and
beheld a child with raven hair, so busily occupied with undressing a
doll that she did not look up until I asked:

“Is Mr. Koppel in?”

She turned with a start and gazed at me in astonishment. Her big, brown
eyes were opened wide at the apparition of a stranger, yet she did not
seem at all alarmed. After a moment’s hesitation—the door was still
open—she approached me and held out the doll.

“Urim!” she said. I took it, and with a happy smile she ran to a corner
of the room, where, from under a table, she dragged another doll.

“T’ummim!” she said, holding it out to me.

Then Koppel entered the room. He knew me, although I had never seen him
before, and readily guessed the object of my errand.

“You are from the newspaper,” he said. “You want to know why I did not
strike.”

When the lamplight fell upon his countenance I saw that he was a
miserable-looking creature, servile in his manner, and repulsive to the
eye. He did not appear to be very strong, and the climb of the stairs
seemed to have exhausted him. He sat down, and the girl climbed upon his
knee. She threw her arm around his neck, and, looking up at me with a
pretty smile, said:

“Urim—T’ummim—mine!”

Koppel stroked her head, and a look of deep love came into his eyes, and
then I began to understand.

“She has no mother,” he said. “I must pay a woman to give her food. I—I
can’t strike—can I?”

One of the dolls slipped from my hand and fell to the floor.

“Urim!” cried the little one, slipping hastily from her father’s knee to
pick it up. Tenderly she examined the doll’s head; it was unscathed.
Then she looked up at me and held out her arms, and her mouth formed
into a rosebud. It was a charming picture, altogether out of
place—naïve, picturesque, utterly delightful.

“You must go to bed,” said her father, sternly. “The foolish thing wants
you to kiss her.”

We became friends—Koppel, Rebecca, Urim, Thummim, and I.

“I was reading the Pentateuch aloud one night,” explained Koppel, “and
she caught the words Urim and Thummim. They pleased her, and she has not
forgotten them.”

I have not said that Rebecca was pretty. She was more than pretty; there
was a light in her baby face that bespoke a glorious womanhood. There
was a quiet dignity in her baby manners that can be found only among the
children of the Orient. She was a winsome child, and during the day,
when her father was at work, the children from far and near would come
to make a pet of her.

The strike was at an end, and Koppel was discharged. When I came to the
house a few days later Rebecca was eating a piece of dry bread, saving a
few crumbs for Urim and Thummim. Koppel, in gloomy silence, was watching
her.

“She is not well,” he said. “She has had nothing to eat but bread for
three days. I must send her to an institution.”




The next morning the doctor was there, prescribing for her in a
perfunctory way, for it was merely a charity case. She smiled feebly
when she saw me, and handed me a doll that lay beside her.

“It’s Thummim,” I said. “Won’t you give me Urim?”

She shook her head and smiled. She was holding Urim against her breast.

* * * * *

It happened ten years ago, and it seems but yesterday. The day was warm
and sultry—almost as close as this crowded hall. The streets of the
Ghetto were filled with the market throng, and the air hummed with the
music of life. The whole picture rises clearly, now—as clearly as the
platform from which the enthusiastic speaker’s voice resounds through
the hall.

A white hearse stands before the house. The driver, unaided, bears a
tiny coffin out of the gloomy hallway into the bright sunshine. The
group of idlers make way for him, and look on with curiosity, as he
deposits his burden within the hearse.

There are no carriages. There are no flowers. Koppel walks slowly out of
the house, his eyes fastened upon the sidewalk, his lips moving as if he
were muttering to himself. In his hand he carries two broken dolls.
Without looking to right or left, he climbs beside the driver, and the
hearse rattles down the street.

I mounted the stairs to his home, and found everything as it had been
when I was there last—everything save Koppel and Rebecca, and Urim and
Thummim, and these I never saw again.