THE COMPACT

The paper lies before me as I write. The bitterness has all passed. As a
matter of fact it was Sorkin who told it to me as a good story. The
paper read thus:

“_Agreement between Ignatz Sorkin and Nathan Bykowsky, made in
Wilna, Russia, December 10, 1861: Sorkin goes to Germany and
Bykowsky goes to America, in New York. In twenty years all the
money they have is put together and each takes half because the
lucky one loves his old friend. We swear it on the Torah._

“_Ignatz Sorkin._
“_Nathan Bykowsky._”

It is Sorkin’s story:

“The twenty years went by and I came to New York. My heart was heavy. I
had not heard from Bykowsky for five years. Why had he not written? If
he was poor, surely he must have heard that I was rich, and that half of
all I had belonged to him. And if he was rich, did he mean to break the
agreement? In either case it was bad for me. If it had not been for that
last clause—‘we swear it on the Torah’! I cannot say. Perhaps I would
not have come. For things had gone well with me in Germany. I owned
twelve thousand dollars. And I might have forgotten the agreement. But I
had sworn it on the Torah! I could not forget it.

“Still, what was the use of taking too many chances? I brought only
three thousand dollars with me. The rest I left in government bonds on
the other side. If Bykowsky was a poor man he should have half of three
thousand dollars. Surely that was enough for a poor man. I had not sworn
on the Torah to remember the nine thousand dollars.

“So I came here. I looked for Bykowsky, but could not find him. He had
worked as a tailor, and I went from one shop to another asking
everybody, ‘Do you know my old friend Bykowsky?’ At last I found a man
who kept a tailor shop. He was a fine man. He had a big diamond in his
shirt. Bykowsky? Yes, he remembered Bykowsky. Bykowsky used to work for
him. And where was he now? He did not know. But when Bykowsky left his
shop he went to open one for himself and became a boss. A boss? What was
a boss? ‘I am a boss,’ the man said. Then I took a good look at his
diamond. ‘Maybe,’ I thought, ‘if Bykowsky is a boss, he too has a
diamond like that.’ So I went out to look for Bykowsky the boss.

“Then I thought to myself, ‘Why shall I be stingy? I will tell Bykowsky
that I have five thousand dollars and I will give him half. He was a
good friend of mine. I will be liberal.’ So I looked and looked
everywhere, but nobody seemed to remember Bykowsky the boss. At last I
met a policeman. He knew Bykowsky. He did not know where he lived, but
he knew him when he was a tailor boss. ‘Is he not a tailor boss any
more?’ I asked him. ‘Oh, no,’ he said. ‘He sold his tailor shop and
opened a saloon.’ ‘Is that a better business than a tailor shop?’ I
asked him. The policeman laughed at me and said, ‘Sure. A good saloon is
better than a dozen tailor shops.’

“H’m! I was very sorry that he did not know where Bykowsky kept his
saloon. I made up my mind that I would go to every saloon in the city
until I found him. And when I found him I would say, ‘Bykowsky, I have
come to keep the agreement. I have saved seven thousand dollars. Half is
yours.’ Because I liked Bykowsky. We were the very best of friends.

“I went from saloon to saloon. I am not a drinking man. But as I did not
like to ask so many questions for nothing I bought a cigar in every
place. Soon I had all my pockets full of cigars. I do not smoke. I kept
the cigars for Bykowsky. He is a great smoker. Then I met a man who had
once been in Bykowsky’s saloon. He told me what a place it was. Such
looking-glasses! Such fancy things! And he was making so much money that
he had to hire a man to do nothing but sit at a desk all day and put the
money in a drawer. So I says to myself, ‘Ah, ha! Dear friend Bykowsky,
you are playing a joke on your dear old friend Sorkin. You want to wait
until he comes and then fill him with joy by giving him half of that
fine saloon business!’ So I asked the man where that saloon was. ‘Oh,’
he said, ‘that was several years ago. Bykowsky made so much money that
he gave up the saloon and went into the real-estate business.’

“H’m! I began to understand it. Bykowsky had been making money so fast
that he never had time to write to me. But never mind. I would go to
him. I would grasp him by the hand and I would say, ‘Dearest friend of
my boyhood, I have come to you with ten thousand dollars that I have
saved. Half is yours. My only hope is that you are poor, so that I can
have the pleasure of sharing with you all my wealth.’ Then he will be
overcome and he will get red in the face, and he will tell me that he
has got many hundreds of thousands of dollars to share with me. Ah, yes!

“There are not so many people in the real-estate business as in the
saloon business. And soon I found a man who knew all about my friend
Bykowsky. ‘The last I heard of him,’ he said, ‘he went out of the
real-estate business. He took all his money and bought a fine row of
houses. And he said he was not going to work any more.’

“That was just like dear old Bykowsky. He was a regular aristocrat. As
long as he had enough money to live on he did not care to work. But he
would be glad to see his dear old friend. I would pretend that I did not
know how rich he was. I would be open and honest with him. I would keep
the letter and the spirit of the agreement. I would not keep back a
single cent. ‘Bykowsky,’ I would say, ‘dear, good, old Bykowsky. Here I
am. I have three thousand dollars in my pocket. I have nine thousand
dollars in good government bonds in Germany. I also have a fine gold
watch, and a gold chain and a ring, but the ring is not solid gold. Half
of what I have is yours.’ And we will fall on each other’s shoulders and
be, oh, so glad!

“I found Bykowsky. He was not at home where he lived. But I found him in
a café. He was playing pinochle with the proprietor. I took a good long
look at him. He did not know me, but I recognised him right away. I went
over and held out my hand. ‘It is my old friend Bykowsky!’ I said. He
looked at me and got very red in the face. ‘Ah, ha!’ I said to myself.
‘I have guessed right.’ Then he cried, ‘Sorkin!’ and we threw our arms
around each other. ‘Bykowsky,’ I said, ‘I have come many thousand miles
to keep our boyhood agreement. Maybe you and I might have forgotten it,
but we swore on the Torah, and I know that you could not forget it any
more than I could. I have three thousand dollars in my pocket. I have
nine thousand dollars in good government bonds in Germany. I have a fine
gold watch and a gold chain and a ring, but the ring is not solid gold.
Half of what I have is yours. I hope—oh, Bykowsky, I am so selfish—I
hope that you are poor so that I can have the pleasure of dividing with
you.’ Then Bykowsky said, ‘Let me see the ring!’

“I showed him the ring, and he shook his head very sadly. ‘You are
right, Sorkin,’ he said. ‘It is not solid gold.’

“‘Well, dear friend,’ I said, ‘how has the world gone with you?’

“‘Very badly,’ he said. ‘Let me see the watch and the chain.’

“Something told me he was joking. So I said, ‘Please keep the watch and
chain as a token of our old friendship. We will not count it in the
division. But I am sorry to hear that things have gone badly with you.
Why did you not’ (this was only a sly hint) ‘go into the real-estate
business? I hear so many people are getting rich that way.’

“Then he sighed—and I felt that something was wrong.

“‘Dear friend Sorkin,’ he said. ‘Dearest comrade of my boyhood days, I
have a sad story to tell you. A year ago I owned a fine row of houses. I
had nearly two hundred thousand dollars. I was looking forward to the
time when I would write to you, dear, kind old friend, and ask you to
come over to share with me all my wealth. But alas! The wheel of fortune
turned! I began to speculate. It is a long, sad story. Two months ago I
sold the last of my houses. To-day I have three hundred dollars left.
Dear, sweet Sorkin, you come as a Godsend from heaven. My luck has
turned!’”

* * * * *

Here there was a long pause in Sorkin’s story. Then he said:

“My son, even to this day when I think of that moment, I feel the
sensation of choking.”

“But did you keep the compact?”

And, in a flash, I regretted the question.

“I had sworn on the Torah,” Sorkin replied.

* * * * *

The firm of Sorkin & Bykowsky has recently changed its name to Sorkin,
Bykowsky & Co. The Co. is young Ignatz Sorkin Bykowsky. There is also a
young Nathan Bykowsky Sorkin. But he is still at school.

A SONG OF SONGS

I know a story that runs almost like a song—like that old song, “Behold,
thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair!”

In the heart of the Jewish quarter stood an old Catholic church, relic
of those bygone days ere the oppressed Jews of Russia and Austria had
learned that this land was a haven of refuge, and had come to settle in
this neighbourhood by the hundreds of thousands. Close by this church
lived the Rabbi Sarna, one of the earliest of the immigrants—an honest,
whole-souled man who knew the Talmud and the Kabbala by heart, and who
had a daughter. Her name was Hannah—and there the story and the song
began.

It began in the days when Hannah was a young girl, who would sit for
hours on her father’s doorstep with a school-book in her lap, and when
Richard Shea was altar boy in the Catholic church close by, and would
spend most of his time on the doorstep beside Hannah. And they lived a
life of dreams, those happy dreams that abound in the realm of
childhood, where no thought is darkened by the grim monsters of reality,
the sordid facts of life.

In those days Richard’s tasks in the service of the Holy Roman Church
possessed but little significance for him. It was his duty to swing the
censer, to light the candles, and to carry the Book at Mass, and when
the task was done Richard’s only thought was of Hannah, who was sitting
on her father’s doorstep waiting for him. Father Brady, the rector of
the Catholic church, who was Richard’s guardian—for the lad was an
orphan, and had been left entirely in the priest’s care—was very
exacting in all affairs that pertained to his parish, and insisted that
Richard should perform his duties carefully and conscientiously. But
when the service was over his vigilance relaxed, and, so long as there
was no complaint from the neighbours, the lad might do as he pleased.
And it was Richard’s greatest pleasure to be with Hannah.

They would sit for hours in the long summer nights, hand in hand,
building those wonderful fabrics of childish imagination, looking
forward hopefully, enthusiastically, to a future whose basis, whose
essence was an eternal companionship of their two souls. There came a
night—perhaps it was because the stars were brighter than usual, perhaps
because the night was balmy, or perhaps because the spirit of spring was
in the air—at any rate, that fatal night came when, in some
unaccountable manner, their lips came together, came closely, tightly
together, in a long, lingering kiss, and the next moment they found
themselves flooded in a stream of light. Hastily, guiltily they looked
up. The door had been opened, and the Rabbi Sarna was looking down upon
them.

Hannah’s father kissed her that night as usual, and she went to bed
without hearing a word of reproach or of paternal advice. Whether he had
gained his wisdom from the Kabbala or the Talmud I do not know, but the
Rabbi Sarna was a wise man. He took a night to think the matter over.
Perhaps he felt that the bringing-up of a motherless daughter was no
trivial matter, and that there were times when, being a man, his
instinct was sure to be wrong, and that only the most careful
consideration and deliberate thought could guide him into the right
path. For a whole day he said nothing.

The following evening, however, when the grace after meal had been said,
and “Hear, O Israel!” had been recited, he laid his hand fondly upon his
daughter’s head and spoke to her, kindly.

“Remember, Hannah,” he said, “the lad is not one of our people. He is a
good lad, and I like him, but you are a daughter of Israel. You come of
a race, Hannah, that has been persecuted for thousands of years by his
people. If your mother were alive, she would forbid you ever to see him
again. But I do not feel that I ought to be so harsh. I only ask you, my
daughter, to remember that you are of a race that was chosen by Jehovah,
and that he comes from a race that has made us suffer misery for many
ages.”

Hannah went to bed and cried, and rebelled at the injustice of an
arrangement that seemed to her all wrong and distorted. Why were not the
Jewish lads that she knew as tall and straight as her Richard? And why
had they not blue eyes like his? And curly, golden hair? And that
strength? And she cried herself to sleep.

In some unaccountable manner—it may have been that the rabbi told the
butcher and the butcher told the baker—the matter reached the ears of
Richard’s guardian, who promptly took the lad to task for it.

“Remember, Richard,” he said, “she is a Jewess. You need not look so
fierce. I know that she is a nice little girl, but, after all, her
father is a Jew, and her mother was a Jewess. They have always been the
enemy of our religion. You know enough of history to know what suffering
they have caused. I have not the slightest objection to your seeing her
and talking to her, but things seem to have gone a little too far. You
must remember that you cannot marry her. So what is the use of wasting
your time?”

And, of course, Richard went to bed very glum and disheartened. For a
long time he did not see Hannah, and when, after several weeks, they
came face to face again, each bowed, somewhat stiffly, and promptly felt
that the bottom had dropped out of life.

So the years passed, and the dreams of childhood passed, and many
changes came. Hannah grew to be a young woman, and her beauty increased.
Her eyes were dark and big, her cheeks were of the olive tint that
predominates in her race, but enlivened by a rosy tinge; she grew tall
and very dignified in her carriage—and Richard, each time he saw her,
was reminded of the canticle, “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold,
thou art fair!”

He, too, had grown older, had grown taller and manlier; the boldness and
audacity that had captivated the fancy of the Jewish lass had developed
into manly strength and forceful personality; but his heart had not
freed itself from that early attachment. While the service lasted, and
the odour of incense rose to his nostrils, and the pomp and ceremony of
his religion thrilled his whole being, Hannah was only a memory, a dim
recollection of a life-long past. But when, from time to time, he met
her and saw the look of joy that lit up her eyes, Hannah became a vivid,
stirring, all-absorbing reality. And Richard was troubled.

Father Brady sent Richard to the seminary to prepare for the priesthood.
For two winters Richard pursued his theological studies, pursued them
with zeal, and devoted himself heart and soul to the career his fond
guardian had selected for him. And for two summers, during which he
helped his guardian in the parish work, the young man struggled and
fought and battled manfully with the problem of Hannah. They had spoken
but little to each other. The dream of childhood had passed, and they
had grown to realise the enormity of the barrier that rose between
them—a barrier of races, of empires, of ages—a monstrous barrier before
whose leviathan proportions they were but insignificant atoms. And yet——

It came like one of those levantine storms, when one moment the sky is
blue and the air is still, and the next moment the floodgates of heaven
are open, and the air is black with tempest. The Rabbi Sarna came
rushing to the house of Father Brady. They had known each other for
years, and a certain intimacy, based upon mutual respect for each
other’s learning and integrity, had grown up between them. And the rabbi
poured forth his tale of woe.

“I begged, I implored her,” he ran on, “to tell me the cause of her
stubbornness. The finest young men you ever saw, one after another,
handsome, strong, well-to-do, have asked her, and have come to me to
intercede for them. And at last I went to her and begged her, beseeched
her to tell me why she persisted in refusing them all. I am an old man.
I cannot live many years longer. The dearest wish of my heart is to see
her happily married and settled in life. And she persists in driving
every suitor from the house. And what do you think she told me?”

A horrible suspicion came into the priest’s head, but all he said was,
“I cannot guess.” The rabbi was gasping with excitement.

“She loves that Richard of yours. If she cannot marry him she will not
marry anyone else. I told her she was crazy. Her only fear was that I
would tell you—or him. She does not even realise the enormity of it! The
girl is out of her head!”

The priest held out his hand.

“I thank you,” he said, “for warning me in time. It was an act of
kindness. I will see that an end is put to the matter at once. At least,
so far as Richard is concerned. If he is to blame for that feeling on
your daughter’s part I will see that he does whatever is necessary to
remedy the harm he has done. His course in life has been laid out. He
will be a priest. I am very thankful to you for coming to me.”

The rabbi was greatly troubled. “I do not know what to do,” he said. “I
am all in a whirl. I felt that it was only right that you should know.
But I cannot imagine what can be done.”

“Leave it to me,” said Father Brady. As soon as the rabbi had departed
he sent for Richard.

“What is this I hear about that Jewish girl?” he demanded, sternly.
Richard turned pale.

“What!” cried the priest. “Is it possible that you are to blame?”

“To blame?” asked Richard. “I? For what?”

“Only this minute,” the priest went on, “her father was here with a
story that it made my blood boil to hear. The girl has rejected all her
suitors, and tells her father that she will marry no one but you or——”

With a loud cry Richard sprang toward the door. There was a chair in the
way, but it went spinning across the room.

“Richard!” roared his guardian. “What is all this?”

But Richard, bareheaded and coatless, was tearing down the stairs,
three, four, five at a time, and the next moment there was a crash that
made the house tremble to its foundation. Richard had gone out, and had
shut the door behind him. The rabbi, homeward bound, was nearing his
door when a young whirlwind, hatless and coatless, rushed by him. The
rabbi stood still, amazed. His amazement grew when he beheld this
tornado whirl up the steps of his house and throw itself violently
against the door. As he ran forward to see what was happening the door
opened and Hannah stood on the threshold, the light behind her streaming
upon her shining hair. And, the next instant, all the wisdom that he had
learned from the Talmud and the Kabbala deserted him. In after years he
confessed that at that moment he felt like a fool. For the tempestuous
Richard had seized Hannah in his arms and was kissing her cheeks and her
lips and her eyes, and pouring out a perfect torrent of endearing
phrases. And Hannah’s arms were tightly wound around his neck, and she
was crying as though she feared that all the elements were about to try
to drag the young man from her. A glint of reason returned to the rabbi.

“Hold!” he cried. “Foolish children! Stand apart! Listen to me!”

They turned and looked at him. The Rabbi Sarna looked into the eyes of
Richard. But what he saw there troubled him. He could not bear the young
man’s gaze. Almost in despair he turned to his daughter. “Hannah,” he
began. Then he looked into her eyes, and his gaze fell. He sighed and
walked past them into the house. In an instant he was forgotten.

“Oh, thou art fair, my love!” cried Richard. “Thou art fair!”

* * * * *

When “the traveller from New Zealand” stands upon the last remaining
arch of London Bridge and gazes upon the ruins of St. Paul’s, the
Catholic Church will still flourish. And when the nations of the earth
have died and their names have become mere memories, as men to-day
remember the Phœnicians and the Romans, then will there still rise to
heaven that daily prayer, “Hear, O Israel!” And in the chronicles of
neither of these religions will there ever be found mention of either
Richard Shea or his wife Hannah. But, if that story be true of the Great
Book in which the lives of all men are written down, and the motives of
all their deeds recorded in black and white, then surely there is a page
upon which these names appear. And perhaps, occasionally, an angel peeps
at it and brushes away a tear and smiles.

Continue Reading

QUEER SCHARENSTEIN

“Scharenstein?” they would say. “Oh, Scharenstein is queer! He is
good-hearted, poor fellow, but——”

Then they would tap their foreheads significantly and shake their heads.
He had come from a hamlet in Bessarabia—a hamlet so small that you would
not find it on any map, even if you could pronounce the name. The whole
population of the hamlet did not exceed three hundred souls, of whom all
but three or four families were Christians. And these Christians had
risen, one day, and had fallen upon the Jews. Scharenstein’s wife was
stabbed through the heart, and his son, his brown-eyed little boy, was
burned with the house. Upon Scharenstein’s breast, as a reminder of an
old historical episode, they hacked a crude sign of a cross; then they
let him go, and Scharenstein in some way—no one ever knew how—found his
way to this country. When the ship came into the harbour he asked a
sailor what that majestic figure was that held aloft the shining light
whose rays lit up the wide stretch of the bay. They told him it was the
statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.

“It is good,” he said.

He found work in a sweatshop. An immigrant from a neighbouring hamlet
came over later and told the story, but when they came to Scharenstein
with sympathy he only laughed.

“He is queer,” they said.

In all that shop none other worked as diligently as Scharenstein. He was
the first to arrive, and the last to leave, and through all the day he
worked cheerfully, almost merrily, often humming old airs that his
fellow-workers had not heard for many years. And a man who worked harder
than his fellows in a sweatshop must surely have been queer, for in
those days the sweatshop was a place where the bodies and souls of men
and women writhed through hour after hour of torment and misery, until,
in sheer exhaustion, they became numb. Scharenstein went through all
this with a smile on his lips, and even on the hottest day, when there
came a few moments’ respite, he would keep treading away at his machine
and sing while the others were gasping for breath. And at night, when
the work was done, and the weary toilers dragged themselves home and
flung themselves upon their dreary beds, Scharenstein would trudge all
the way down to the Battery and stand for hours gazing at the statue of
Liberty Enlightening the World. And as he gazed, the tense lines of his
face would relax, and a bright light would come into his eyes, perhaps a
tear would trickle down his cheek. Then, after holding out both arms in
a yearning farewell, he would turn and walk slowly homeward.

There was one day—it was in summer, when the thermometer stood at
ninety-five in the shade—that the burden of life seemed too heavy to be
borne. The air of the sweatshop was damp from the wet cloth, and hot
from the big stove upon which the irons were heating. The machines were
roaring and clicking in a deafening din, above which, every now and
then, rose a loud hissing sound as a red-hot goose was plunged into a
tub of water. The dampness and heat seemed to permeate everything; the
machines were hot to the touch. Men sat stripped to their undershirts,
the perspiration pouring from them. The sweater sat as far from the
stove as he could get, figuring his accounts and frowning. The cost of
labour was too high. Suddenly Marna, the pale, fat old woman who sat at
a machine close by the ironers, spat upon the floor and cried:

“A curse on a world like this!”

Some looked up in surprise, for Marna rarely spoke, but the most of them
went on without heeding her until they heard the voice of Scharenstein
with an intonation that was new to them.

“Right, Marna,” he said. “A terrible world. A terrible world it is. Ho!
ho! ho!”

They all looked at him. He was smiling, and turning around to look from
face to face. Then, still smiling and speaking slowly and hesitatingly,
as if he found it hard to select the right word, he went on:

“An awful world. They come and take the woman—hold her down under their
knees—hold her throat tight in their fingers—like I hold this
cloth—tight—and stick a dagger into her heart. And they set fire to the
house—to the big house—all the smoke comes out of the windows—and
flames—bigger and hotter than in the stove there—oh, terrible
flames!—and the little boy’s face comes to the window—and they all
laugh. Ho! ho! ho! Then the whole house falls in—and the little boy’s
face disappears—and oh, how high the flames go up!”

He looked around him, smiling. A chill struck the heart of every one of
his hearers. He shook his head slowly and said to Marna:

“Right, Marna! It is a terrible world.”

The sweater was busy with his accounts and had not heard. But the sudden
cessation of work made him look up, and hearing Scharenstein address the
woman, and seeing others looking at her, he turned upon Marna.

“Confound it! Is this a time to be idling? Stop your chattering and back
to work. We must finish everything before——”

There was something harsh and grating in his voice that seemed to
electrify Scharenstein. Dropping his work, he sprang between the sweater
and Marna and held out his arms beseechingly.

“Oh, spare her! For God’s sake spare her! She is an innocent woman! She
has done you no harm!”

And as he stood with outstretched arms, his shirt fell open, and every
eye saw plainly upon his breast the red sign of a crude cross. The
sweater fell back in amazement. Then a sudden light dawned upon him,
and, in an altered tone, he said: “Very well. I will do her no harm. Sit
down, my friend. You need not work to-day if you are not feeling well. I
will get someone to take your place, and—and—” (it required a heroic
effort) “you will not lose the day’s pay. You had better go home.”

Scharenstein smiled and thanked the sweater. Then he started down the
stairs. Marna followed him, and with her arm around him helped him down
the steps.

“My little boy is playing in the street,” she said. “Why don’t you take
him for a walk to the park where you took him before? It will do you
good, and he will be company for you.”

Scharenstein’s face lit up with pleasure. Marna’s little boy had
frequently accompanied him on his walks to the Battery, and to see the
little fellow romping about and hear him screaming with delight at the
harbour sights had filled Scharenstein’s heart with exquisite pleasure.
He now sought the boy. He found him playing with his companions, all of
them running like mad through all that fierce heat.

“Boy!” cried Scharenstein. “Look!” The boy turned and saw Scharenstein
standing erect with one arm held straight over his head, the other
clasped against his breast as though he were hugging something—the
attitude of the statue of Liberty Enlightening the World. With a shout
of delight he ran toward his friend, crying, “Take me with you!” And
hand in hand they walked down to the sea-wall.

The boy watched the ships. Scharenstein, seated in the shade of a tree,
feasted his eyes upon that graceful bronze figure that stood so lonely,
so pensive, yet held aloft so joyfully its hopeful emblem.

He sat like one entranced, and now and then his lips would move as
though he were struggling to utter some of the vague thoughts that were
floating in his brain. His face, however, was serene, and his whole
frame was relaxed in a delightful, restful abandon.

The boy played and ran about, and asked Scharenstein for pennies to buy
fruit, and slowly the hours slipped by. As the sun sank, and the
coolness of night succeeded the painful heat of the afternoon,
Scharenstein moved from his seat and stood as close to the water’s edge
as he could. Then it grew dark, and the boy came and leaned wearily
against him.

“I am tired,” he said. “Let us go home now.”

Scharenstein took the little fellow in his arms and perched him upon one
of the stone posts.

“Soon, boy,” he said. “Soon we will go. But let us wait to see the
statue light her torch.”

They gazed out into the gathering darkness. Scharenstein’s hand caressed
the boy’s curly hair; the little head rested peacefully against his
breast,—against the livid cross that throbbed under his shirt,—and the
pressure stirred tumultuous memories within him.

“You are a fine boy,” he said. “But you are not my boy.”

“I’m mamma’s boy,” murmured the lad, drowsily.

“Yes. Very true. Very true. You are mamma’s boy. But I have a little
boy, and—dear me!—I forgot all about him.”

“Where is he?” asked the boy.

“Out there,” answered Scharenstein, pointing to the dim outlines of the
statue of Liberty Enlightening the World. “She is keeping him for me!
But listen!” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “When I see him again I
will ask him to come and play with you. He often used to play with me.
He can run and sing, and he plays just like a sweet little angel. Oh,
look!”

The bright electric light flashed from the statue’s torch, lighting up
the vast harbour with all its shipping, lighting up the little head that
rested against Scharenstein’s breast, and lighting up Scharenstein’s
face, now drawn and twitching convulsively.

“Do you see him?” he whispered hoarsely. “Boy! Do you see my little boy
out there? He has big brown eyes. Do you see him? He is my only boy. He
wants me. He is calling me. Wait here, boy. I will go out and bring him
to you. He will play with you. He loves to play.”

Gently he lowered his little companion from the post and carried him to
a bench.

“Wait here, boy,” he said. “I will soon be back.”

In sleepy wonderment the little fellow watched Scharenstein take off his
hat and coat and climb over the chain. The moment he disappeared from
view the little fellow became thoroughly awake and ran forward to the
sea-wall. Scharenstein was swimming clumsily, fiercely out into the bay.

“Come back!” cried the boy. “Come back!”

He heard Scharenstein’s voice faintly, “I am coming.” Then again, more
faintly still, “I am coming.” Then all became silent except the lapping
of the waves against the sea-wall, and the boy began to cry.

It was fully an hour before the alarm was given and a boat lowered, but
of Scharenstein they found no trace. The harbour waters are swift, and
the currents sweep twistingly in many directions. The harbour clings
tenaciously to its dead—gives them up only with reluctance and after
many days. And the statue of Liberty Enlightening the World looks down
upon the search and holds out hope. But it gives no help.

Continue Reading

THE MESSAGE OF ARCTURUS

David Adler sat at the open window gazing contemplatively at the sea of
stars whose soft radiance filled the heavens. He was lonely. The stars
were his friends. Particularly one bright star whose steadfastness,
throughout his many night vigils, had arrested his attention. It seemed
to twinkle less than the others, seemed more remote and purer. It was
Arcturus.

To a lonely person, fretting under the peevish worries of life, the
contemplation of the stars brings a feeling of contentment that is often
akin to happiness. Beside this glorious panorama, with its background of
infinity and eternity, its colossal force, its sublime grandeur, the
ills of life seem trivial. And David, who had been lonely all his life,
would sit for hours upon each bright night, building castles along the
Milky Way and pouring out his soul to the stellar universe—particularly
to Arcturus, who had never failed him. Upon this night there was a faint
smile of amusement upon his face. He was thinking of the queer mission
that Mandelkern, his employer, had asked him to undertake that day.

Mandelkern was old and crabbed and ugly, but very rich, and when that
morning he had said to David, “I am thinking of marrying,” David felt an
almost uncontrollable desire to laugh. Then, in his wheezy voice,
Mandelkern had outlined his plan.

“The Shadchen has arranged it all. She is younger than I—oh, a great
many years younger, David—and she does not know me. We have only seen
each other once. Of course she is marrying me for my money, but I know
that when once we are married she will love me. But the trouble is,
David, that I cannot find out for myself, positively, whether she is the
kind of girl I want to marry. You see, if I were to go and see her
myself, she would be on her good behaviour all the time. They always
are. And I would not know, until after we were married, whether she is
amiable, dutiful, studious, modest—in short, whether she is just what a
girl should be. And then it would be too late. So I want you, like the
good David that you are, to see her—don’t you know?—and get acquainted
with her—don’t you know?—and er—question her—er—study her—don’t you
know?” David had promised to do what he could and they had shaken hands,
and the firm, hearty pressure of his employer’s grasp had told him, more
than words could convey, how terribly earnest he was in his curiosity.

By the light of the stars David now sat pondering over this droll
situation and smiling. And as he gazed at his friend Arcturus it seemed
to him, after all, a matter of the smallest moment whether Mandelkern
married the right girl or not—or married at all—or whether anybody
married—or lived—or died.

* * * * *

On the pretext of a trivial errand David set out to study the
personality and character of his employer’s chosen bride. The moment his
eyes fell upon her the pretext that he had selected fled from his mind.
In sheer bewilderment he stood looking at her. And when her face lit up
and she began to laugh merrily, David was ready to turn and run in his
embarrassment. He beheld a mere girl. She could not have been more than
eighteen or nineteen at the most, and, although her figure was mature,
her face and bearing were girlish. And she was exquisitely pretty. At
the very first impression it seemed to David that he perceived a cold
gleam in her eye that betokened sordidness or meanness, but in a
twinkling he perceived that he had been mistaken. A winsome sweetness
rested upon her lovely features. It was probably the unconscious memory
of Mandelkern that had given that momentary colour to his thoughts. And
now, even before he had completed his admiring inventory of her physical
charms, she stood laughing at him.

“You look so funny,” she said. “I cannot help laughing.”

Then David began to laugh, and in a moment they were friends. To his
delight he found that she was clever, a shrewd observer, an entertaining
companion. Many things that she said awakened no response in him. It was
not until later that he discovered the reason; she had lived all her
young years in the active world, in touch with the struggle, the stir of
life; he had lived in dreamland with the stars.

When Mandelkern asked David what impression the girl had made upon him,
he found, to his amazement, that he was unable to give a satisfactory
reply.

“She is charming, Mr. Mandelkern,” he said. His employer nodded assent,
but added:

“I know that, but is she amiable?”

David pondered for a long time. Then he said:

“Of course, Mr. Mandelkern, I have had no more opportunity of judging
what her qualities are than you have. I will have to see more of her.
But I will go to see her several times, and probably in a week or two
weeks I shall be able to give you a clear idea of her character.”

Mandelkern nodded approvingly.

“You are a good David,” he said. “I have confidence in your judgment.”

And the stars that night seemed brighter, particularly his friend
Arcturus, who shone with wonderful splendour and filled David’s heart
with deep content—and the pulsing joy of living.

* * * * *

When the revelation came to him David felt no shock, experienced no
surprise. She had been so constantly in his thoughts, had drifted so
quietly into his life, that, when suddenly he realised that she had
become a part of his being, it seemed but the natural order of events.
It could have been nothing else. He had been born into the world for
this. Through all their many talks the name of Mandelkern had never been
mentioned. In the beginning the thought of this sweet, girlish nature
being doomed to mate itself with grey, blear-eyed Mandelkern had haunted
him like a nightmare. But in the sunshine of her presence David quickly
forgot both his employer and the scheming Shadchen, and when it dawned
upon him that he loved her, that she was necessary to him, that it was
in the harmonious plan of the universe that they should be united
forever, the thought of Mandelkern came only as a reminder of the
unpleasant duty of revealing the truth to him.

Not a word of love had he spoken. Upon a basis of close friendship there
had sprung up between them a spirit of camaraderie in which sentiment
played no part. Now, suddenly, David felt toward her a tenderness that
he had never known before—a desire to protect her, to cherish her—he
loved her.

It dawned upon Mandelkern that David’s answers to his questions were
becoming more and more vague and unsatisfactory. And one night the
Shadchen, becoming alarmed at David’s frequent visits to the girl, urged
Mandelkern to make haste.

“It makes me uneasy,” he said, “to see you sitting idle while a young
man has so many opportunities of courting your promised bride.”

Mandelkern’s watery eyes narrowed to a slit and his teeth closed tightly
together. Then he answered firmly:

“Have no fear. She will be mine. The lad is, young.” And after a moment
he repeated, “The lad is young!”

Aye, David was young! His pulses throbbed with the vigour of youth, with
the joy of hope, with the deep torrent of a heart’s first love. Glorious
youth! Thou art the richest heritage of the children of men! Canst thou
not tarry? Down the bright beam of Arcturus there came to David a light
that illumined his soul. Sitting at his window with gaze upturned to the
starry heavens, there came to him the soft, sweet realisation that the
secret of the universe was love, that life’s cup of happiness was at his
lips, that Arcturus had been but waiting all these millions upon
millions of years to see the veil lifted from his eyes, and the bliss of
love revealed. Golden youth! Canst thou not tarry?

* * * * *

They were walking along the street as night was falling. They were
laughing and chatting gaily, discussing a droll legend of the Talmud
that David had recited to her.

“It reminds me,” said David, “of a story about the Rabbi ben Zaccai,
who——”

A sudden moan and faint cry made him pause and quickly turn. A woman
whom they had just passed was staggering with her hands pressed to her
breast. David sprang toward her, but before he could reach her side she
had fallen to the sidewalk, and lay there motionless. In an instant he
had raised her to her knees, and was chafing her wrists to restore her
to consciousness. She recovered quickly, but as soon as David had helped
her to her feet she began to cry weakly, and would have fallen again had
he not supported her.

“What is the matter?” he asked. “Are you ill?”

The woman’s sobs increased, and David repeated his question. Then, with
the tears streaming down her face, she answered:

“I have eaten nothing for three days. I am starving. I cannot beg. I
cannot die. Oh, I am so miserable!”

David assisted her to the steps of the tenement in which she lived, and
summoned her neighbours. He gave them what little money he had in his
pocket, urged them to make haste and bring the poor woman food and
stimulants, and, promising to return the next day, rejoined his
companion.

“My God!” he said, “wasn’t that terrible!”

“Yes. It was terrible!” she said. There was an expression in her voice
that caused him to look at her, quickly, wonderingly. Her face had
paled. Her lips were tightly pressed together. She was breathing
rapidly. Her whole frame seemed agitated by some suppressed emotion. It
was not pity. Her eyes were dry and gleaming. It was not shock or
faintness. There was an expression of determination, of emphatic resolve
in her features. David felt amazed.

“Look at me!” he said. “Look me full in the face!”

She gave a short, harsh laugh. In her eyes David saw that same gleam of
sordid selfishness that he had observed when first he met her. But now
it was clear, glittering, unmistakable.

“Of what are you thinking?” he asked, slowly. Her glance never wavered.
David felt the beating of his heart grow slower.

“I don’t mind telling you,” she said. She hesitated for a moment, gave
another short laugh, and then went on:

“I was thinking that that poor woman would not have starved if she had
married Mandelkern. I was also thinking that I am going to marry
Mandelkern. I was also thinking how terrible it would be if I did not
marry Mandelkern, and would, some day, have starvation to fear—like that
woman.”

Having unburdened her mind, she seemed relieved, and, in a moment became
her old self. With a playful gesture she seized David’s arm and shook
him.

“Come, sleepyhead, wake up!” she cried gaily. “Don’t stand there staring
at me as though I were a ghost. What were you saying about the Rabbi ben
Zaccai?”

* * * * *

David Adler sat at the open window gazing at the swarming stars, whose
radiance had begun to pale. The dawn of day was at hand. Even now a
faint glow of light suffused the eastern sky. But David saw it not. His
eyes were fastened upon Arcturus, whose brightness was yet undimmed,
whose lustre transcended the brightness of the myriads of stars that
crowded around. Travelling through the immeasurable realms of space,
straight to his heart, streamed that bright ray, the messenger of
Arcturus, cold, relentless—without hope.

Continue Reading