HANNUKAH LIGHTS

Somewhere in transit he had lost all his letters, papers, credentials,
cards—all belongings, in fact, that might have established his identity.
He said he was David Parnes, and that he had come from Pesth. And, as he
was tall and straight, with fine black eyes and curling black hair, a
somewhat dashing presence, and the most charming manners, he soon made
friends, particularly among the women, for, in Houston Street, as
elsewhere, the fair sex rarely looks behind a pleasing personality for
credentials of character.

Eulie, the waitress and maid-of-all-work in Weiss’s coffee house, felt
the blood surge to her face when first she beheld him, and when, for the
first time, he gave her _Trinkgeld_ and a smile, all the blood rushed
back to her heart. After that Eulie was his slave. All day long she
waited for him to come. When he had gone the place seemed dark, and the
music of the gipsy band grated upon her. While he was there—usually
sitting alone and sipping coffee and staring into vacancy like a man
whose mind is busy with many schemes—her heart beat faster, and life
seemed glad. Eulie was plain—painfully plain—but there was a charm about
her that had won the admiration of many of the patrons of the place,
some of whom had even offered her marriage. But she had only laughed,
and had declared that she would never marry.

Sometimes these incidents came to the ear of Esther, the daughter of the
proprietor, and made her heart burn; for Esther was fair to look upon,
and yet had reached and passed her twentieth year without a single offer
of marriage. With all her beauty the girl was absolutely devoid of
charm; there was something even in the tone of her voice that repelled
men; probably a reflection of her arrogance and selfishness. Then, one
day, Eulie beheld her talking to David; saw that her face was animated,
and that David’s eyes were fastened intently upon her. In Esther’s eyes
she read that story which, between woman and woman, is an open book.
When her work was finished that night Eulie hastened to her room, and,
throwing herself upon the bed, burst into a flood of weeping.

The affair progressed rapidly. There were times when Eulie, after
serving him with coffee, would stand silently behind David, gazing upon
him intently, yearning to throw her arms around that curly head and cry,
“I love you! I am your slave!” But these became rarer and rarer, for
Esther demanded more and more of his presence, and it was seldom that he
sat alone in the coffee house. Eulie had never seen him manifest any of
those lover-like demonstrations toward Esther that might have been
expected under the circumstances, but she attributed this to his pride.
Probably, she thought, when they were alone, beyond the reach of prying
eyes, he kissed her and caressed her to her heart’s content. The thought
of it wore on her spirit. And when, one day, Esther told her that they
were to be married at the end of a month Eulie turned pale and trembled,
and then hurried to her room.

A few days after this announcement had been publicly made, and
congratulations had begun to pour in from the many patrons of the
establishment, who had known Esther from childhood, Eulie observed a
change in David’s demeanour. He seemed suddenly to have become worried.
He would come to the coffee house late at night, after Esther had
retired, and sit alone over his coffee, brooding. Eulie’s duties
permitted her to leave at nine o’clock, but if David had not come at
that hour, she continued to work, even until midnight, the closing time,
in the hope that she would see him enter. He rarely spoke to her, rarely
noticed her, in fact, but Eulie, in her heart, had established an
intimacy between them. An intimacy? Rather a world of love and devotion,
in which, alas! she lived alone with a shadow.

She was quick to see the change that had come over him, and she longed
to speak to him—to implore him to confide in her. Was it money? She had
led a frugal life, and had saved the greater part of her earnings for
years. She would not trust her pittance to the banks. It was all in a
trunk in her room, and he was welcome to it. Was it service that he
needed? She was a slave ready to do his bidding. The tears came into her
eyes to see that face upon which light and laughter sat so gracefully
now cast down with gloom. But David worried on in silence, and left the
place without a word.

Then, for several days, he did not come at all. Esther told her that he
had been called out of town on business.

“Did—did he not look worried when last you saw him?” Eulie asked,
timidly. Esther’s eyes opened in surprise.

“Why, no. I did not notice that he looked any different.”

Eulie sighed. That night there came to one of her tables a brisk,
sharp-eyed little man, whose manner and accent betokened a new arrival
from Hungary. He bowed politely to Eulie, praised her skill in waiting
upon him, and complimented her upon her hair, which she wore flat upon
her head after the fashion of the peasant girls of Hungary. He gave her
liberal _Trinkgeld_, and bowed courteously when he departed. The next
evening he returned and greeted her as a newly made acquaintance. They
chatted pleasantly a while—he had much news from the mother country that
interested her—and then, quite by-the-way—Did she happen to know a young
man, tall and straight—quite good-looking, black eyes and curling hair,
a very pleasant chap, extremely popular with the girls? A friend had
told him that he would find this young man somewhere in the Hungarian
colony—did she know anyone who answered that description? His eyes were
turned from her—he was watching the gipsies playing—it was all quite
casual.

It is said that love creates a sixth sense. In a flash Eulie’s whole
nature shrank from this man, and stood at arms ready for battle. This
was no friend in search of a boon companion. This was an enemy—a mortal
enemy of David. She felt it, knew it as positively as if she had seen
him fly at David’s throat. Fortunately the man had not observed the
pallor that overspread her countenance.

“No. I do not remember having seen such a man. He never comes here, or I
would have remembered him.”

That night was the beginning of the feast of Hanukkah—the only feast at
which the penitential psalms are omitted, lest they might mar the
joyfulness of the celebration. Esther was away, and it was Eulie’s duty
to light the candles in the living room overhead. The sun was fast
sinking, but the light of day still lingered in the sky. Eulie felt that
it might be sacrilegious to hasten so holy a function, but a sudden
nervous dread had come over her, and there was fear in her heart.

“I will light the candles now,” she said. “Then I will wait outside in
the street, and if he comes I will warn him.”

Swiftly, lightly, she sped up the stairs to the living room. The door
was open, and the light from the hall lamp shone dimly into the furthest
corner, where, with his back turned to the door, stood, or rather knelt,
David Parnes before a desk in which the coffee house proprietor kept his
money. Eulie recoiled, shocked, horrified. Then, swift as a lightning
stroke came full revelation. He was a thief! She had always suspected
something like that. And she loved him—adored him more than ever at this
moment! Eulie was an honest girl, an honest peasant girl, descended from
a long line of peasants, all as honest as the day. But the world was
against the man she loved. Honesty? To the winds with honesty! With a
rush she was at his side.

“Listen!” she whispered, excitedly. “There is the key. Over there on the
wall. The money is in the top drawer. Take it and fly. There is a man
below from Hungary looking for you. I told him you did not come here.
You can get away before he finds you. I will never tell. I swear I will
never tell. Quick! You must fly!”

The young man had turned quickly when she entered, but after that he had
not moved. He was still upon one knee. Had a thunderbolt fallen from the
ceiling he could not have been more astonished. He looked at Eulie in
bewilderment.

“Wait!” she cried. “I will be back in a second. Open the desk and take
all the money, and then I will be back.”

It seemed to him but an instant—Eulie had gone and had returned. He was
still kneeling—almost petrified with amazement. Eulie held out an old,
stained, leather pocketbook.

“It is all mine,” she whispered. “Take it. Run! You must not wait!”

Slowly he rose to his feet. Once or twice he passed his hand over his
eyes as if he feared he was dreaming.

“Eulie?”

There was a world of incredulity, of bewilderment, of questioning in his
voice.

“Oh, do not stay!” cried the poor girl. “They will be looking for you.
Go, before it is too late. Go far away. They will never find you.”

“I do not understand,” he said, slowly. “What does it mean?”

A sudden weakness overcame Eulie, and she burst into tears. He advanced
toward her.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked. Eulie could not speak. Her frame was
convulsed with sobbing; the tears were streaming down her cheeks; David,
open-mouthed, stood gazing at her. The pocketbook had fallen from her
hand, and a small heap of bank notes had slipped from it. David looked
at them; then at her. Slowly he advanced to where she stood. As gently
as he could he drew her hands from her face and turned her head toward
the light in the hall.

“Eulie?”

The blood coursed to her cheeks. Her gaze fell. She tore herself from
his clasp.

“For God’s sake, go!” she cried. He restored the money to the pocketbook
and placed it in her hands. Then he started toward the door.

“You will not take it?” she asked, piteously. “It is all mine. I give it
to you freely. Borrow it if you like. Some day you can send it back.”

He shook his head, stood irresolute for a moment, then returned to her.

“Eulie,” he whispered. “My mother is dead. But in heaven she is blessing
you!”

Then he kissed her upon the forehead and walked determinedly out of the
room. Eulie stood swaying to and fro, for a moment, then tottered and
fell to the floor. David stood on the stairs a full minute, breathing
heavily, like a man who has been running. Then his teeth clicked tightly
together, he drew a long breath, walked briskly down the steps, and
strode into the brilliantly lighted coffee house.

He knew the man at once. He had never seen him before, but unerring
instinct pointed out his pursuer. He walked straight toward him.

“When do we start for Pesth?” he asked.

The man eyed him narrowly, gazed at him thoughtfully for a moment, then
his face lit up.

“By the next steamer, if you like,” was all he said.

David nodded.

“Good,” he said. Then, after a moment’s hesitation:

“Will you come upstairs with me for a moment?”

Without a word the man accompanied him. They found Eulie, pale as a
ghost, standing at the mantel, lighting the Hannukah candles. When she
beheld David with his captor, she screamed, and would have fallen had
not David sprung forward and caught her in his arms.

“Listen,” he said, speaking rapidly. “I am going back. My name is not
David Parnes. I will write in a few days and tell you everything. They
will send me to prison. In two or three years I shall be free. Then I am
coming back for you.”

He held her in his arms for one brief moment, kissed her again on the
forehead, and was gone. Then the tears came afresh to Eulie’s eyes. But
through her veins coursed a tumult of joy.

Continue Reading

THE AMERICANISATION OF SHADRACH COHEN

There is no set rule for the turning of the worm; most worms, however,
turn unexpectedly. It was so with Shadrach Cohen.

He had two sons. One was named Abel and the other Gottlieb. They had
left Russia five years before their father, had opened a store on Hester
Street with the money he had given them. For reasons that only business
men would understand they conducted the store in their father’s
name—and, when the business began to prosper and they saw an opportunity
of investing further capital in it to good advantage, they wrote to
their dear father to come to this country.

“We have a nice home for you here,” they wrote. “We will live happily
together.”

Shadrach came. With him he brought Marta, the serving-woman who had
nursed his wife until she died, and whom, for his wife’s sake, he had
taken into the household. When the ship landed he was met by two
dapper-looking young men, each of whom wore a flaring necktie with a
diamond in it. It took him some time to realise that these were his two
sons. Abel and Gottlieb promptly threw their arms around his neck and
welcomed him to the new land. Behind his head they looked at each other
in dismay. In the course of five years they had forgotten that their
father wore a gaberdine—the loose, baglike garment of the Russian
Ghetto—and had a long, straggling grey beard and ringlets that came down
over his ears—that, in short, he was a perfect type of the immigrant
whose appearance they had so frequently ridiculed. Abel and Gottlieb
were proud of the fact that they had become Americanised. And they
frowned at Marta.

“Come, father,” they said. “Let us go to a barber, who will trim your
beard and make you look more like an American. Then we will take you
home with us.”

Shadrach looked from one to the other in surprise.

“My beard?” he said; “what is the matter with my beard?”

“In this city,” they explained to him, “no one wears a beard like yours
except the newly landed, Russian Jews.”

Shadrach’s lips shut tightly for a moment. Then he said:

“Then I will keep my beard as it is. I am a newly landed Russian Jew.”
His sons clinched their fists behind their backs and smiled at him
amiably. After all, he held the purse-strings. It was best to humour
him.

“What shall we do with Marta?” they asked. “We have a servant. We will
not need two.”

“Marta,” said the old man, “stays with us. Let the other servant go.
Come, take me home. I am getting hungry.”

They took him home, where they had prepared a feast for him. When he
bade Marta sit beside him at the table Abel and Gottlieb promptly turned
and looked out of the window. They felt that they could not conceal
their feelings. The feast was a dismal affair. Shadrach was racking his
brains to find some explanation that would account for the change that
had come over his sons. They had never been demonstrative in their
affection for him, and he had not looked for an effusive greeting. But
he realised immediately that there was a wall between him and his sons;
some change had occurred; he was distressed and puzzled. When the meal
was over Shadrach donned his praying cap and began to recite the grace
after meals. Abel and Gottlieb looked at each other in consternation.
Would they have to go through this at every meal? Better—far better—to
risk their father’s displeasure and acquaint him with the truth at once.
When it came to the response Shadrach looked inquiringly at his sons. It
was Abel who explained the matter:

“We—er—have grown out of—er—that is—er—done away with—er—sort of fallen
into the habit, don’t you know, of leaving out the prayer at meals. It’s
not quite American!”

Shadrach looked from one to the other. Then, bowing his head, he went on
with his prayer.

“My sons,” he said, when the table had been cleared. “It is wrong to
omit the prayer after meals. It is part of your religion. I do not know
anything about this America or its customs. But religion is the worship
of Jehovah, who has chosen us as His children on earth, and that same
Jehovah rules supreme over America even as He does over the country that
you came from.”

Gottlieb promptly changed the subject by explaining to him how badly
they needed more money in their business. Shadrach listened patiently
for a while, then said:

“I am tired after my long journey. I do not understand this business
that you are talking about. But you may have whatever money you need.
After all, I have no one but you two.” He looked at them fondly. Then
his glance fell upon the serving-woman, and he added, quickly:

“And Marta.”

“Thank God,” said Gottlieb, when their father had retired, “he does not
intend to be stingy.”

“Oh, he is all right,” answered Abel. “After he gets used to things he
will become Americanised like us.”

To their chagrin, however, they began to realise, after a few months,
that their father was clinging to the habits and customs of his old life
with a tenacity that filled them with despair. The more they urged him
to abandon his ways the more eager he seemed to become to cling to them.
He seemed to take no interest in their business affairs, but he
responded, almost cheerfully, to all their requests for money. He began
to feel that this, after all, was the only bond between him and his
sons. And when they had pocketed the money, they would shake their heads
and sigh.

“Ah, father, if you would only not insist upon being so old-fashioned!”
Abel would say.

“And let us fix you up a bit,” Gottlieb would chime in.

“And become more progressive—like the other men of your age in this
country.”

“And wear your beard shorter and trimmed differently.”

“And learn to speak English.”

Shadrach never lost his temper; never upbraided them. He would look from
one to the other and keep his lips tightly pressed together. And when
they had gone he would look at Marta and would say:

“Tell me what you think, Marta. Tell me what you think.”

“It is not proper for me to interfere between father and sons,” Marta
would say. And Shadrach could never induce her to tell him what she
thought. But he could perceive a gleam in her eyes and observed a
certain nervous vigour in the way she cleaned the pots and pans for
hours after these talks, that fell soothingly upon his perturbed spirit.

* * * * *

As we remarked before, there is no rule for the turning of the worm.
Some worms, however, turn with a crash. It was so with Shadrach Cohen.

Gottlieb informed his father that he contemplated getting married.

“She is very beautiful,” he said. “The affair is all in the hands of the
Shadchen.”

His father’s face lit up with pleasure.

“Gottlieb,” he said, holding out his hand, “God bless you! It’s the very
best thing you could do. Marta, bring me my hat and coat. Come,
Gottlieb. Take me to see her. I cannot wait a moment. I want to see my
future daughter-in-law at once. How happy your mother would be if she
were alive to-day!”

Gottlieb turned red and hung back.

“I think, father,” he said, “you had better not go just yet. Let us wait
a few days until the Shadchen has made all the arrangements. She is an
American girl. She—she won’t—er—understand your ways—don’t you know? And
it may spoil everything.”

Crash! Marta had dropped an iron pot that she was cleaning. Shadrach was
red in the face with suppressed rage.

“So!” he said. “It has come to this. You are ashamed of your father!”
Then he turned to the old servant:

“Marta,” he said, “to-morrow we become Americanised—you and I.”

There was an intonation in his voice that alarmed his son.

“You are not angry——” he began, but with a fierce gesture his father cut
him short.

“Not another word. To bed! Go to bed at once.”

Gottlieb was dumbfounded. With open mouth he stared at his father. He
had not heard that tone since he was a little boy.

“But, father——” he began.

“Not a word. Do you hear me? Not a word will I listen to. In five
minutes if you are not in bed you go out of this house. Remember, this
is my house.”

Then he turned to Abel. Abel was calmly smoking a cigar.

“Throw that cigar away,” his father commanded, sternly.

Abel gasped and looked at his father in dismay.

“Marta, take that cigar out of his mouth and throw it into the fire. If
he objects he goes out of the house.”

With a smile of intense delight Marta plucked the cigar from Abel’s
unresisting lips, and incidentally trod heavily upon his toes. Shadrach
gazed long and earnestly at his sons.

“To-morrow, my sons,” he said, slowly, “you will begin to lead a new
life.”

In the morning Abel and Gottlieb, full of dread forebodings, left the
house as hastily as they could. They wanted to get to the store to talk
matters over. They had hardly entered the place, however, when the
figure of their father loomed up in the doorway. He had never been in
the place before. He looked around him with great satisfaction at the
many evidences of prosperity which the place presented. When he beheld
the name “Shadrach Cohen, Proprietor” over the door he chuckled. Ere his
sons had recovered from the shock of his appearance a pale-faced clerk,
smoking a cigarette, approached Shadrach, and in a sharp tone asked:

“Well, sir, what do you want?” Shadrach looked at him with considerable
curiosity. Was he Americanised, too? The young man frowned impatiently.

“Come, come! I can’t stand here all day. Do you want anything?”

Shadrach smiled and turned to his sons.

“Send him away at once. I don’t want that kind of young man in my
place.” Then turning to the young man, upon whom the light of revelation
had quickly dawned, he said, sternly:

“Young man, whenever you address a person who is older than you, do it
respectfully. Honour your father and your mother. Now go away as fast as
you can. I don’t like you.”

“But, father,” interposed Gottlieb, “we must have someone to do his
work.”

“Dear me,” said Shadrach, “is that so? Then, for the present, you will
do it. And that young man over there—what does he do?”

“He is also a salesman.”

“Let him go. Abel will take his place.”

“But, father, who is to manage the store? Who will see that the work is
properly done?”

“I will,” said the father. “Now, let us have no more talking. Get to
work.”

Crestfallen, miserable, and crushed in spirit, Abel and Gottlieb began
their humble work while their father entered upon the task of
familiarising himself with the details of the business. And even before
the day’s work was done he came to his sons with a frown of intense
disgust.

“Bah!” he exclaimed. “It is just as I expected. You have both been
making as complete a mess of this business as you could without ruining
it. What you both lack is sense. If becoming Americanised means becoming
stupid, I must congratulate you upon the thoroughness of your work.
To-morrow I shall hire a manager to run this store. He will arrange your
hours of work. He will also pay you what you are worth. Not a cent more.
How late have you been keeping this store open?”

“Until six o’clock,” said Abel.

“H’m! Well, beginning to-day, you both will stay here until eight
o’clock. Then one of you can go. The other will stay until ten. You can
take turns. I will have Marta send you some supper.”

* * * * *

To the amazement of Abel and Gottlieb the business of Shadrach Cohen
began to grow. Slowly it dawned upon them that in the mercantile realm
they were as children compared with their father. His was the true
money-maker spirit; there was something wonderful in the swiftness with
which he grasped the most intricate phases of trade; and where
experience failed him some instinct seemed to guide him aright. And
gradually, as the business of Shadrach Cohen increased, and even the
sons saw vistas of prosperity beyond their wildest dreams, they began to
look upon their father with increasing respect. What they had refused to
the integrity of his character, to the nobility of his heart, they
promptly yielded to the shrewdness of his brain. The sons of Shadrach
Cohen became proud of their father. He, too, was slowly undergoing a
change. A new life was unfolding itself before his eyes, he became
broader-minded, more tolerant, and, above all, more flexible in his
tenets. Contact with the outer world had quickly impressed him with the
vast differences between his present surroundings and his old life in
Russia. The charm of American life, of liberty, of democracy, appealed
to him strongly. As the field of his business operations widened he came
more and more in contact with American business men, from whom he
learned many things—principally the faculty of adaptability. And as his
sons began to perceive that all these business men whom, in former days,
they had looked upon with feelings akin to reverence, seemed to show to
their father an amount of deference and respect which they had never
evinced toward the sons, their admiration for their father increased.

And yet it was the same Shadrach Cohen.

From that explosive moment when he had rebelled against his sons he
demanded from them implicit obedience and profound respect. Upon that
point he was stern and unyielding. Moreover, he insisted upon a strict
observance of every tenet of their religion. This, at first, was the
bitterest pill of all. But they soon became accustomed to it. When life
is light and free from care, religion is quick to fly; but when the sky
grows dark and life becomes earnest, and we feel its burden growing
heavy upon our shoulders, then we welcome the consolation that religion
brings, and we cling to it. And Shadrach Cohen had taught his sons that
life was earnest. They were earning their bread by the sweat of their
brow. No prisoner, with chain and ball, was subjected to closer
supervision by his keeper than were Gottlieb and Abel.

“You have been living upon my charity,” their father said to them: “I
will teach you how to earn your own living.”

And he taught them. And with the lesson they learned many things;
learned the value of discipline, learned the beauty of filial reverence,
learned the severe joy of the earnest life.

One day Gottlieb said to his father:

“May I bring Miriam to supper to-night? I am anxious that you should see
her.”

Shadrach turned his face away so that Gottlieb might not see the joy
that beamed in his eyes.

“Yes, my son,” he answered. “I, too, am anxious to see if she is worthy
of you.”

Miriam came, and in a stiff, embarrassed manner Gottlieb presented her
to his father. The girl looked in surprise at the venerable figure that
stood before her—a picture of a patriarch from the Pentateuch, with a
long, straggling beard, and ringlets of hair falling over the ears, and
clad in the long gaberdine of the Russian Ghettos. And she saw a pair of
grey eyes bent keenly upon her—eyes of shrewdness, but soft and tender
as a woman’s—the eyes of a strong man with a kind heart. Impulsively she
ran toward him and seized his hands. And, with a smile upon her lips,
she said:

“Will you not give me your blessing?”

* * * * *

When the evening meal had ended, Shadrach donned his praying cap, and
with bowed head intoned the grace after meals:

“We will bless Him from whose wealth we have eaten!” And in fervent
tones rose from Gottlieb’s lips the response:

“Blessed be He!”

Continue Reading

THE STORY OF SARAI

It was the idle hour of the mart, and the venders of Hester Street were
busy brushing away the flies. Mother Politsky had arranged her
patriarchal-looking fish for at least the twentieth time, and was
wondering whether it might not be better to take them home than to wait
another hour in the hope of a chance customer being attracted to her
stand. Suddenly a shadow fell across the fish. She looked up and beheld
a figure that looked for all the world as if it had just stepped out of
the pages of the Pentateuch. The venerable grey beard, the strong
aquiline nose, the grave blue eyes, and, above all, the air of
unutterable wisdom, completed a picture of one of Israel’s prophets.

“God be with the Herr Rabbi!” greeted Mother Politsky.

The rabbi poked a patriarchal finger into the fish, and grunted in
approbation of their firmness.

“Are they fresh?” he asked, giving no heed to her salutation.

“They were swimming in the sea this very day, Herr Rabbi. They could not
be fresher if they were alive. And the price is—oh, you’ll laugh at me
when I tell you—only twelve cents a pound.”

The rabbi laughed, displaying fine, wide teeth.

“Come, come, my good mother. Tell me without joking what they cost. This
big one, and that little one over there.”

“But, Herr Rabbi, you surely cannot mean that that is too much! Well,
well—an old friend—eleven cents, we’ll say. Will you take the big one or
the little one?”

The rabbi was still smiling.

“My dear mother, you remind me of Sarai.”

“And who was she?” asked Mother Politsky with interest.

“Sarai was the beautiful daughter of the famous Rabbiner Emanuel ben
Achad, who lived many hundreds of years ago. She was famed for her
beauty, and likewise for her exceeding shrewdness. Yes, Sarai was very,
very clever.”

“And I remind you of her? Well, well. What a beautiful thing it is to be
a rabbi and know so much about the past! Come, now, I’ll say ten cents,
and you can have your choice. Shall I wrap up the big——”

“This Sarai,” the rabbi went on, “had many lovers, but of them all she
liked only two. One of these was the favourite of her father; the other
was a poor but handsome youth who was apprenticed to a scribe. For a
long time Sarai hesitated between the two. Each was handsome, each was a
devoted lover, each was gifted with no ordinary intelligence, and each
was brave. Yet she was undecided upon which to bestow her heart and her
hand.”

The rabbi had picked up the big fish, and now paused to sniff at it.

“And what did she do?” asked Mother Politsky.

“Ten cents?” said the rabbi, and then, with a sigh, he laid down the
fish, as if it were hopelessly beyond his reach.

“Nine, then, and take it, but what did Sarai do?”

The rabbi looked long and intently at the fish, and then, shaking his
head sadly, resumed his narrative.

“Sarai pondered over the matter for many, many weeks, and finally
decided to put them to a test. Now the name of her father’s favourite
was Ezra, while the poor youth was called Joseph. ‘Father,’ she said one
day, ‘what is the most difficult task that a man can be put to?’ ‘The
most difficult thing that I know of,’ her father promptly replied, ‘is
to grasp the real meaning of the Talmud.’

“Thereupon Sarai called Ezra and Joseph before her, and said to them:
‘He that brings to me the real meaning of the Talmud shall have my
hand.’ Was that not clever of her?”

“Yes! Yes! But who brought the true answer?” asked Mother Politsky, with
breathless interest. The rabbi was looking longingly at the fish.

“How much did you say?”

“Eight cents, eight cents. I don’t want any profit, but who——”

“Neither of the young men,” the rabbi went on, with his eyes still upon
the fish, “knew anything about the Talmud, but Joseph, who was well
versed in Hebrew, began at once to study it, wherein he had the
advantage over Ezra, who knew not a word of Hebrew.”

“Poor Ezra!” murmured Mother Politsky.

“But Ezra was a shrewd young man, and, without wasting any time upon
studying, he went straight to Sarai’s father and said to him: ‘Rabbi,
you are the greatest scholar of the world to-day. Can you tell me the
real meaning of the Talmud?’”

“Poor Joseph!” murmured Mother Politsky.

“‘My son,’ said Rabbi ben Achad, ‘all the wisdom of the human race since
the days of Moses has not been able to answer that question!’”

The rabbi had taken up the big fish and the small one, and was carefully
balancing them.

“Eight, you say. I know a place where I can get them——”

“Seven, then. And Joseph?”

“——for six.”

“Seven is the lowest. But Jo——”

The rabbi turned to move away.

“All right. Six cents. But finish the story. What did Joseph do?”

“Joseph studied many years and came to the same conclusion. I’ll take
the small one.”

“But which of them married Sarai?”

“The story does not say. You’re sure it is fresh?”

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