THE SUN OF WISDOM

“And therefore,” concluded Salvin, stroking his long, grey beard, “we
are forced to accept the belief that the object of life is toil. We are
the advance guard cutting out the road down which the next generation
will travel, who, in turn, will carry the road further along. Our work
done—our usefulness ends. We have accomplished our mission, and nothing
remains but to make way for our successors.”

Young Levine smiled, and rose to go.

“You are wrong, my pessimistic brother,” he said, fondly laying his hand
upon the old man’s shoulder. “You are wrong. Some day the sun of wisdom
may shine upon you and you will learn the truth.”

Salvin had been the friend of Levine’s father, and, despite the
inequality of their ages, a firm friendship existed between him and the
son. He now blew a smoke ring toward the ceiling, and with a smile of
amusement gazed at the young man.

“And what, O Solomon,” he asked, “may the sun of wisdom have taught
you?”

Levine’s face lit up.

“The object of life,” he said, speaking swiftly and earnestly, “is love.
It begins with love; it ends with love. Without love life has no object.
It is, then, mere aimless, wondering, puzzling existence during which
the mind—like yours—struggles vainly to solve the riddle of why and
wherefore. But those who have once had the truth pointed out to them are
never in doubt. To them love explains all. Without love you cannot know
life.”

Salvin smiled, and then, as the young man departed, his face grew
serious. He sat for a long time plunged in deepest thought. Strange
memories must have crowded upon him, for his eyes softened, and the
lines of his face relaxed their tension.

But at the end of it he only sighed and shook his head gently and
muttered, “It is toil! Not love! Toil!”

Levine, meanwhile, was walking back to his work. He was a compositor in
the printing-shop of the _Jewish Workingman_, and it had been his
custom, for years, to meet his friend Salvin at the noonday meal in
Weiss’s café, where they discussed those problems of life that perplex
the minds of thinking men. One problem, Levine felt, had been solved—had
been finally and definitely made clear. And the magic had all been
worked by Miriam’s eyes—coal-black eyes that now seemed the alpha and
omega of all his existence. For Levine, the object of life was Miriam.
The sun rose in order that he might look upon her. It set in order that
night might bring her sweet repose.

The seasons—what were they but a varying background against which the
panorama of love could unfold itself? He toiled—for Miriam. He lived—for
Miriam. He thought—always of Miriam. Could there be a simpler
explanation of the mysteries of existence? Poor old Salvin! Poor, blind
pessimist! After so much pondering to achieve nothing better than that
hopeless creed! Toil? Yes, but only as a step toward love—as a means
toward the higher end. If man were created for toil, then man were
doomed to everlasting animal existence. Whereas love raised him to
higher planes, transformed him into a higher, nobler being. Could life
desire a sublimer object?

Levine trod on air. In his workshop the walls, the lights, the
papers—all that surrounded him—sang to him of love. The presses chanted
the melody of Miriam’s eyes all the livelong day. The very stones in the
street seemed to him to sing it: “She is fair! She is fair! She is
fair!” and “Love is all! Love is all! Love is all!”

* * * * *

One day they were married. Salvin was there, with a hearty clasp of the
hand for his friend, and a kiss and a blessing for the bride. And
laughingly Levine whispered into his ear, “It is love!” But Salvin was
stubborn. He smiled and shook his head playfully. But what he whispered
in return was, “It is toil!”

They were married, and the universe joined with them in their pæan of
love—love that, like the wind, “bloweth where it listeth, and thou
hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and
whither it goeth.”

* * * * *

Do you know that kind of woman whose temperament is like the smiling
sunshine? Miriam was one of these. A light, happy heart—a nature that
gloried in the joy of existence—ever ready to sing, to smile, to
frolic—sympathetic to all woe, yet realising sorrow only as an external
affliction, whose sting she could see, but had never felt—the soul of
merriment was Miriam. Her lot in life was an humble one; her task had
been severe; but through it all that sunshiny nature had served as a
shield to ward off the blows of life. Once—there was a man. For a few
hours Miriam’s brow had puckered in deep thought. But the man had been
foolish enough to ask for a capitulation—for unconditional surrender—ere
the battle had been half fought, and Miriam had shaken her head and had
passed him by. Then Levine had come. There was a delicate, poetic strain
in his nature that had immediately appealed to her, and his soft words
fell upon willing ears. He had wooed her gently, tenderly,
caressingly—in marked contrast to the tempestuous courtship that had
failed—and he had won. It “bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest
the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it
goeth!”

Love’s eyes are keen, and Levine was quick to see the change that slowly
came over his wife. He could not have explained it; there was no name
for it; it baffled analysis. The first time he spoke to her about it she
laughed and threw her arms around his neck, saying, “Can’t you see that
I am growing older? You cannot expect your wife to remain a silly,
giggling girl all her life.”

The second time he spoke to her about it she gave the same answer. She
did not embrace him, however. And when she had answered him her face
became thoughtful. He spoke to her about it a third time. She looked at
him a long time before speaking. Then she said, slowly:

“Yes. I feel like a different woman. But I don’t understand it.” He did
not offer to kiss her that night, as was his custom, but waited for her
to make the first advance. She did not seem to notice the omission.

He never spoke to her about the matter again. He never kissed her again.

The marvels of a woman’s mind, the leaps and bounds of the emotions, the
gamut of passion upon which her fancy plays and lingers—all these are
the despair of psychology. Yet their manifestation is sufficiently
clear. How it came or whence it came, or why it came, even Miriam
herself could not tell. But as a flash of lightning on an inky night
reveals with vivid clearness what the darkness conceals, so the sudden
revelation that she adored the man whom she had rejected lit up, for a
brief moment, the gloom that had fallen upon her heart and laid bare the
terrible dreary prospect of her life. It came like a thunderbolt. She
loved him. She had always loved him. He was the lord and master whom her
heart craved. The fire had been smouldering in her heart. Now it leaped
into devouring flame. He loved her! He had fallen upon his knees and had
tried to drag her toward him. He had sworn that his life would be
wretched without her. And now that she was married he had thrown all the
energies of his heart and soul into incessant toil in order that he
might forget her. Married? She, the wife of Levine? A cry of despair
broke from her lips.

Ah, yes. The lightning flash had passed. But she remembered what its
brightness had revealed. She knew now!

For a long time—for many weeks—she often felt an almost irresistible
impulse to scream aloud, so that her husband—so that all the world might
hear: “I love him! Him only! No one but him.” But the heart learns to
bear even agony in silence. Miriam settled down into the monotonous
groove that fate had marked out for her. The revelation that had come to
her so suddenly developed into a wall that rose between her and her
husband. An invisible wall, yet each felt its presence, and after many
ineffectual attempts to surmount this barrier, to woo and win her heart
anew, Levine abandoned the effort and yielded to despair. She never told
him, and he never knew—never even suspected. But after that they lived
in different worlds—each equally wretched. For there is only one other
lingering misery on earth that can compare with the lot of a woman who
is married to one man with her heart and soul bound up in another. It is
the lot of her husband.

For Miriam there was no consolation. Her secret was buried in her inmost
soul; she was doomed to live out her life brooding over it. During the
day she often cried. When her husband came home she met him with a calm
face—often with a smile—and then they would sit and talk over trivial
matters the while that her agony was eating into her heart.

And Levine—the torments that he endured were beyond all description! Of
a sensitive temperament, yet endowed with a clear, critical, philosophic
intellect, he sought for an explanation and a remedy in a scrutiny of
every incident of their married life, in self-analysis, in the keenest
introspection, and found nothing but that insurmountable wall. Nothing
seemed credible or tangible save that dull gnawing pain in his heart.
Once or twice the thought of self-destruction entered his head. Why he
thrust it aside he could not say. He was not a coward. The prospect of
fighting his way through life with that burden of misery upon his soul
possessed infinitely more terrors for him than the thought of suicide.
Nor did he pursue the suggestion sufficiently to come to the conclusion
that it was unworthy. It was an alien thought, foreign to his nature,
and could find no lodgment. That was all. He lived on and suffered.

Have you ever heard of Levine, the poet? He is a compositor in the
printing-shop of the _Jewish Workingman_ by day—he writes poetry, and,
occasionally, short prose articles at night. He is not a genius. He is
not a born singer. But his work is strong in its sincerity, and through
it all runs a strain—that world-old strain of pleading—of weakness
pleading for strength, of the oppressed pleading for justice. He is not
a great poet, but among the readers of the _Jewish Workingman_, and
among the loiterers in the East Side cafés, he is looked upon as a
“friend of the masses.” And what they all marvel at is his prodigious
industry. A day’s work in the composing-room of the _Jewish Workingman_
is a task calculated to sap a man’s vitality to its last drop. Yet, this
task completed, Levine throws himself with feverish activity into the
composition of verse, and writes, and writes, and writes, until the lamp
burns low. Sometimes, when he tires, he pauses to listen to the gentle
breathing of his wife, who sleeps in the next room. It acts like a spur
upon him; with renewed energy he plunges into his work.

The poem which the readers of the _Jewish Workingman_ like best of all
Levine’s writings is “Phantoms.” It ends—roughly translated from the
Yiddish—like this:

_And when the deepening gloom of night descends
Upon the perilous path and towering heights,
And wild storm phantoms crowd each rocky pass—
Love sinks exhausted, but grim Toil climbs on!_

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