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._
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
* * * * *
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
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
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
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
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.