“Let me save you from yourself, Raphael. Is it wise to wed with the gray spirit of the Ghetto that doubts itself?”
And like a spirit she glided from his grasp and disappeared in the crowd.
THE PRODIGAL SON.
The New Year dawned upon the Ghetto, heralded by a month of special matins and the long-sustained note of the ram’s horn. It was in the midst of the Ten Days of Repentance which find their awful climax in the Day of Atonement that a strange letter for Hannah came to startle the breakfast-table at Reb Shemuel’s. Hannah read it with growing pallor and perturbation.
“What is the matter, my dear?” asked the Reb, anxiously.
“Oh, father,” she cried, “read this! Bad news of Levi.”
A spasm of pain contorted the old man’s furrowed countenance.
“Mention not his name!” he said harshly “He is dead.”
“He may be by now!” Hannah exclaimed agitatedly. “You were right, Esther. He did join a strolling company, and now he is laid up with typhoid in the hospital in Stockbridge. One of his friends writes to tell us. He must have caught it in one of those insanitary dressing-rooms we were reading about.”
Esther trembled all over. The scene in the garret when the fatal telegram came announcing Benjamin’s illness had never faded from her mind. She had an instant conviction that it was all over with poor Levi.
“My poor lamb!” cried the Rebbitzin, the coffee-cup dropping from her nerveless hand.
“Simcha,” said Reb Shemuel sternly, “calm thyself; we have no son to lose. The Holy One—blessed be He!—hath taken him from us. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Hannah rose. Her face was white and resolute. She moved towards the door.
“Whither goest thou?” inquired her father in German.
“I am going to my room, to put on my hat and jacket,” replied Hannah quietly.
“Whither goest thou?” repeated Reb Shemuel.
“To Stockbridge. Mother, you and I must go at once.”
The Reb sprang to his feet. His brow was dark; his eyes gleamed with anger and pain.
“Sit down and finish thy breakfast,” he said.
“How can I eat? Levi is dying,” said Hannah, in low, firm tones. “Will you come, mother, or must I go alone?”
The Rebbitzin began to wring her hands and weep. Esther stole gently to Hannah’s side and pressed the poor girl’s hand. “You and I will go,” her clasp said.
“Hannah!” said Reb Shemuel. “What madness is this? Dost thou think thy mother will obey thee rather than her husband?”
“Levi is dying. It is our duty to go to him.” Hannah’s gentle face was rigid. But there was exaltation rather than defiance in the eyes.
“It is not the duty of women,” said Reb Shemuel harshly. “I will go to Stockbridge. If he dies (God have mercy upon his soul!) I will see that he is buried among his own people. Thou knowest women go not to funerals.” He reseated himself at the table, pushing aside his scarcely touched meal, and began saying the grace. Dominated by his will and by old habit, the three trembling women remained in reverential silence.