for her poems and pictures, and incarnated the undefined
ideal of girlish day-dreams? How could he ever
have had other than an intellectual thought of her;
how could any man, even the religious Raphael?
Sickly, ugly little thing that she was! She got
up and looked in the glass now to see herself thus,
but the shadows had gathered too thickly. She
snatched up a newspaper that lay on a couch, lit it,
and held it before the glass; it flared up threateningly
and she beat it out, laughing hysterically and asking
herself if she was mad. But she had seen the
ugly little face; its expression frightened her.
Yes, love was not for her; she could only love a man
of brilliancy and culture, and she was nothing but
a Petticoat Lane girl, after all. Its coarseness,
its vulgarity underlay all her veneer. They had
got into her book; everybody said so. Raphael
said so. How dared she write disdainfully of Raphael’s
people? She an upstart, an outsider? She
went to the library, lit the gas, got down a volume
of Graetz’s history of the Jews, which she had
latterly taken to reading, and turned over its wonderful
pages. Then she wandered restlessly back to the
great dim drawing-room and played amateurish fantasias
on the melancholy Polish melodies of her childhood
till Mr. and Mrs. Henry Goldsmith returned. They
had captured the Rev. Joseph Strelitski and brought
him back to dinner, Esther would have excused herself
from the meal, but Mrs. Goldsmith insisted the minister
would think her absence intentionally discourteous.
In point of fact, Mrs. Goldsmith, like all Jewesses
a born match-maker, was not disinclined to think of
the popular preacher as a sort of adopted son-in-law.
She did not tell herself so, but she instinctively
resented the idea of Esther marrying into the station
of her patroness. Strelitski, though his position
was one of distinction for a Jewish clergyman, was,
like Esther, of humble origin; it would be a match
which she could bless from her pedestal in genuine
good-will towards both parties.
The fashionable minister was looking careworn and
troubled. He had aged twice ten years since his
outburst at the Holy Land League. The black curl
hung disconsolately on his forehead. He sat at
Esther’s side, but rarely looking at her, or
addressing her, so that her taciturnity and scarcely-veiled
dislike did not noticeably increase his gloom.
He rallied now and again out of politeness to his
hostess, flashing out a pregnant phrase or two.
But prosperity did not seem to have brought happiness
to the whilom, poor Russian student, even though he
had fought his way to it unaided.
COMEDY OR TRAGEDY?