At this very moment her countenance betrayed inexpressible sorrow. Her look was fixed, her head resting on her bosom. She had let her right hand, which held a small account-book, fall upon her lap, while the other hand grasped convulsively a long tress of jet-black hair, which she bore about her neck. It was fastened by a golden clasp, about an inch square, in which, under a plate of crystal, that shut in one side of it like a relic-case, could be seen a piece of linen, folded square, and almost entirely covered with dark red spots that resembled blood a long time dried.
After a short silence, during which Samuel was occupied with his register, he read aloud what he had just been writing: “Per contra, 5,000 Austrian Metallics of 1,000 florins, under date of October 19th, 1826.”
After which enumeration, Samuel raised his head, and said to his wife: “Well, is it right, Bathsheba? Have you compared it with the account book?”
Bathsheba did not answer. Samuel looked at her, and, seeing that she was absorbed in grief, said to her, with an expression of tender anxiety: “What is the matter? Good heaven! what is the matter with you?”
“The 19th of October, 1826,” said she, slowly, with her eyes still fixed, and pressing yet more closely the lock of black hair which she wore about her neck; “It was a fatal day—for, Samuel, it was the date of the last letter which we received from—”
Bathsheba was unable to proceed. She uttered a long sigh, and concealed her face in her hands.
“Oh! I understand you,” observed the old man, in a tremulous voice; “a father may be taken up by the thought of other cares; but the heart of a mother is ever wakeful.” Throwing his pen down upon the table, Samuel leaned his forehead upon his hands in sorrow.
Bathsheba resumed, as if she found a melancholy pleasure in these cruel remembrances: “Yes; that was the last day on which our son, Abel, wrote to us from Germany, to announce to us that he had invested the funds according to your desire and was going thence into Poland, to effect another operation.”
“And in Poland he met the death of a martyr,” added Samuel. “With no motive and no proof, they accused him falsely of coming to organize smuggling, and the Russian governor, treating him as they treat our brothers in that land of cruel tyranny, condemned him to the dreadful punishment of the knout, without even hearing him in his defence. Why should they hear a Jew? What is a Jew? A creature below a serf, whom they reproach for all the vices that a degrading slavery has engendered. A Jew beaten to death? Who would trouble themselves about it?”
“And poor Abel, so good, so faithful, died beneath their stripes, partly from shame, partly from the wounds,” said Bathsheba, shuddering. “One of our Polish brethren obtained with great difficulty permission to bury him. He cut off this lock of beautiful black hair—which, with this scrap of linen, bathed in the blood of our dear son, is all that now remains to us of him.” Bathsheba covered the hair and clasp with convulsive kisses.