DEBORAH

Her name was Deborah. When Hazard first saw her she was sitting on the
steps of a tenement with Berman at her side, Berman’s betrothal ring on
her finger, Berman’s arm around her waist. “Beauty and the beast!”
Hazard murmured as he stood watching them. He was an artist, and a
search for the picturesque had led him into Hester Street—where he found
it.

Presently Hazard crossed the street, and, with a low bow and an air of
modest hesitation that became him well, begged Berman to present his
compliments to the young lady at his side and to ask her if she would
allow an enthusiastic artist to make a sketch of her face. Hester Street
is extremely unconventional. Deborah looked up into the blue eyes of the
artist, and, with a faint blush, freed herself from her companion’s
embrace. Then she smiled and told the artist he could sketch her. In a
twinkling Hazard produced book and pencil. While he sketched they
chatted together, ignoring Berman completely, who sat scowling and
unhappy. When the sketch was finished the artist handed it to Deborah
and begged her to keep it. But would she not come some day to pose for
him in his studio? Her mother or sister or—with a jerk of his thumb—this
sturdy chap at her side could accompany her. And she would be well paid.
Her face fitted wonderfully into a painting he was working on, and he
had been looking for a model for weeks. His mother lived at the studio
with him—the young lady would be well cared for—five or six visits would
be sufficient—a really big painting. Yes. Deborah would go.

When Hazard had departed, Deborah turned to her lover and observed, with
disappointment, that he looked coarse and ill-favoured.

“It is getting late,” she said. “I am going in.”

“Why, _Liebchen_,” Berman protested. “It is only eight o’clock!”

“I am very tired. Good-night!”

Berman sat alone, gazing at the stars, struggling vainly to formulate in
distinct thoughts the depth and profundity of his love for Deborah and
the cause of that mysterious feeling of unrest, of unhappiness, of
portending gloom that had suddenly come over him. But he was a
simple-minded person, and his brain soon grew weary of this unaccustomed
work. It was easier to fasten his gaze upon a single star and to marvel
how its brightness and purity reminded him so strongly of Deborah.

In the weeks that followed he saw but little of Deborah, and each time
he observed with dismay that a change had come over the girl. In the
company of her mother she had been visiting Hazard’s studio regularly,
and the only subject upon which Berman could get her to talk with any
degree of interest was the artist and his work.

“Oh, it is a wonderful picture that he is painting!” she said. “It is
the picture of a great queen, with a man kneeling at her feet, and I am
the queen. I sit with a beautiful fur mantle over my shoulder, and,
would you believe it, before I have been sitting five minutes I begin to
feel as though I really were a queen. He is a great artist. Mamma sits
looking at the picture that he is painting hour after hour. It is a
wonderful likeness. And his mother is so kind to me. She has given me
such beautiful dresses. And not a day goes by but what I learn something
new and good from her. I am so ashamed of my ignorance.”

“Each time I see her,” thought Berman, “she grows more beautiful. How
could anyone help painting a beautiful picture of her? She is growing
like a flower. She is too good, too sweet, too beautiful for me!”

The blow came swiftly, unexpectedly. She came to his home while he sat
at supper with his parents.

“Do not blame me,” she said. “I prayed night after night to God to make
me love you, but it would not come. It is better to find it out before
it is too late. You have been so kind, so good to me that it breaks my
heart. Is it not better to come to you and to tell the truth?”

Berman had turned pale. “Is it the painter?” he whispered. A flood of
colour surged to Deborah’s cheeks. Her eyes fell before his.

“He is a Christian, Deborah—a Christian!” he murmured, hoarsely. Then
Deborah’s colour left her cheeks, and the tears started to her eyes.

“I know it! I know it! But——” Then with an effort she drew herself up.
“It is better that we should part. Good-bye!”

“Good-bye!” said Berman. And his father arose and called after the
departing figure:

“The peace of God go with you!”

With an artist’s eye Hazard had been quick to perceive the beauty of
Deborah, and the possibilities of its development, and, with an artist’s
temperament, he derived the keenest pleasure from watching that beauty
grow and unfold. Her frequent presence, the touch of her hand and cheek
as he helped her to pose, her merry laughter, and, above all, those big,
trusting brown eyes in which he read, as clear as print, her love, her
adoration for himself, all began to have their effect upon him. And, one
day, when they were alone, and suddenly looking up, he had surprised in
her eyes a look of such tenderness and sweetness that his brain reeled,
he flung his brush angrily to the floor and cried:

“Confound it, Deborah, I can’t marry you!”

Deborah, without surprise, without wonderment, began to cry softly: “I
know it! I have always known it!” she said. And when he saw the tears
rolling down her cheeks he sprang to her side and clasped her in his
arms, and whispered words of love in her ear, and kissed her again and
again.

An old story, is it not? Aye, as old as life, as old as sin! And always
the same—so monotonously the same. And always so pitiful. It is such a
tempting path; the roses bloom redder here, and sweeter than anywhere
else in the wide world. But there is always the darkness at the end—the
same, weary darkness—the poor eyes that erstwhile shone so brightly grow
dim in the vain endeavour to pierce it.

Like a flower that has blossomed to full maturity Deborah began to wilt
and fade. Her beauty quickly vanished—beauty in Hester Street is rarely
durable—Deborah grew paler and paler, thinner and thinner. To do him
full justice Hazard was greatly distressed. It was a great pity, he
thought, that Deborah had not been born a Christian. Had she been a
Christian he could have married her without blasting his whole future
career. As it was—Fate had been cruel. Let Hazard have full justice.

But it fell like a thunderbolt upon Berman when Deborah’s mother sent
for him.

“She has been raving for two days, and she keeps calling your name!
Won’t you sit by her bedside for a while? It may calm her!”

His heart almost stopped beating when he beheld how frail and fever-worn
were the features that he had loved so well. When he took her hand in
his the touch burned—burned through to his heart, his brain, his soul.

“Berman will not come!” she cried. “He was kind to me, and I was so
cruel. He will not come!”

Berman tried to speak, but the words stuck in his throat. Then, with
that sing-song intonation of those who are delirious with brain fever,
Deborah spoke—it sounded like the chanting of a dirge: “Ah, he was so
cruel! What did it matter that I was a Jewess! What did it matter that
he was a Christian! I never urged him, because I loved him so! He said
it would ruin his career! But, oh, he could have done it! We would have
been so happy! Once he made the sign of the Cross on my cheek. But I
told him I would become a Christian if he wanted me to. What did I care
for my religion? I cared for nothing but him! But he was so cruel! So
cruel! So cruel!”

It was more than blood could stand. With a cry of anguish Berman fled
from the room. In the dawn of the following day Deborah’s mother, grey
and worn, came out of the tenement. She saw Berman sitting on the steps.
“It is over!” she said. Berman looked at her and slowly nodded. “All
over!” he said.

When Hazard awoke that morning his servant told him that a
strange-looking man wished to see him in the studio. “A model,” thought
Hazard. “Tell him to wait.” Berman waited. He waited an hour. Then the
Oriental curtains rustled, and Hazard appeared. He had walked halfway
across the room before he recognised Berman. He recognised him as the
man who sat beside Deborah when he had first seen her. The man who had
his arm around her waist. The man whom he had referred to as a sturdy
chap—who had, indeed, looked strong and big on that starry night. And
who now loomed before his eyes in gigantic proportions. He recognised
him—and a sudden chill struck his heart. Berman walked toward him.
Without a word, without the faintest warning, he clutched the artist by
the throat, stifling every sound. The artist struggled, as a mouse
struggles in the grasp of a cat. From his pocket Berman drew a penknife.
He could hold his victim easily with one hand. He opened the blade with
his teeth. As a man might bend a reed, Berman bent the artist’s back
until his head rested upon his knee. Then, quickly, he slashed him twice
across the cheek, making the sign of a cross.

“You might have married her!” he whispered, hoarsely. Then he threw the
helpless figure from him and slowly walked out of the room.

The newspapers told next day, how a maniac had burst into the studio of
Hazard, the distinguished young painter, and without the slightest
provocation had cut him cruelly about the face. The police were on the
slasher’s trail, but Hazard doubted if he could identify the man again
if he saw him. “It was so unexpected,” he said. To this day he carries a
curious mark on his right cheek—exactly like a cross.