A phrase of Leonard James vibrated in Esther’s ears: “If the chappies could see me!”
HOPES AND DREAMS.
The morning of the Great White Fast broke bleak and gray. Esther, alone in the house save for the servant, wandered from room to room in dull misery. The day before had been almost a feast-day in the Ghetto—everybody providing for the morrow. Esther had scarcely eaten anything. Nevertheless she was fasting, and would fast for over twenty-four hours, till the night fell. She knew not why. Her record was unbroken, and instinct resented a breach now. She had always fasted—even the Henry Goldsmiths fasted, and greater than the Henry Goldsmiths! Q.C.’s fasted, and peers, and prize-fighters and actors. And yet Esther, like many far more pious persons, did not think of her sins for a moment. She thought of everything but them—of the bereaved family in that strange provincial town; of her own family in that strange distant land. Well, she would soon be with them now. Her passage was booked—a steerage passage it was, not because she could not afford cabin fare, but from her morbid impulse to identify herself with poverty. The same impulse led her to choose a vessel in which a party of Jewish pauper immigrants was being shipped farther West. She thought also of Dutch Debby, with whom she had spent the previous evening; and of Raphael Leon, who had sent her, via the publishers, a letter which she could not trust herself to answer cruelly, and which she deemed it most prudent to leave unanswered. Uncertain of her powers of resistance, she scarcely ventured outside the house for fear of his stumbling across her. Happily, every day diminished the chance of her whereabouts leaking out through some unsuspected channel.
About noon, her restlessness carried her into the streets. There was a festal solemnity about the air. Women and children, not at synagogue, showed themselves at the doors, pranked in their best. Indifferently pious young men sought relief from the ennui of the day-long service in lounging about for a breath of fresh air; some even strolled towards the Strand, and turned into the National Gallery, satisfied to reappear for the twilight service. On all sides came the fervent roar of prayer which indicated a synagogue or a Chevrah, the number of places of worship having been indefinitely increased to accommodate those who made their appearance for this occasion only.