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This Night by Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich



     “I send you—'roubles,' and beg of you, my dear son, to do me the
     favour, and come home for the Passover Festival. It is a disgrace
     to me in my old age. We have one son, an only child, and we are not
     worthy to see him. Your mother also asks me to beg of you to be
     sure to come home for the Passover. And you must know that Busie is
     to be congratulated. She is now betrothed. And if the Lord wills
     it, she is going to be married on the Sabbath after the Feast of

     “From me,

         “YOUR FATHER.”

This is the letter my father wrote to me. For the first time a sharp letter—for the first time in all those years since we had parted. And we had parted from one another, father and I, in silence, without quarrelling. I had acted in opposition to his wishes. I would not go his road, but my own road. I went abroad to study. At first my father was angry. He said he would never forgive me. Later, he began to send me money.

“I send you—'roubles,'“ he used to write, “and your mother sends you her heartiest greetings.”

Short, dry letters he wrote me. And my replies to him were also short and dry:

“I have received your letter with the—'roubles.' I thank you, and I send my mother my heartiest greetings.”

Cold, terribly cold were our letters to one another. Who had time to realize where I found myself in the world of dreams in which I lived? But now my father's letter woke me up. Not so much his complaint that it was a shame I should have left him alone in his old age—that it was a disgrace for him that his only son should be away from him. I will confess it that this did not move me so much. Neither did my mother's pleadings with me that I should have pity on her and come home for the Passover Festival. Nothing took such a strong hold of me as the last few lines of my father's letter. “And you must know that Busie is to be congratulated.”

Busie! The same Busie who has no equal anywhere on earth, excepting in the “Song of Songs”—the same Busie who is bound up with my life, whose childhood is interwoven closely with my childhood—the same Busie who always was to me the bewitched Queen's Daughter of all my wonderful fairy tales—the most wonderful princess of my golden dreams—this same Busie is now betrothed, is going to be married on the Sabbath after the Feast of Weeks? Is it true that she is going to be married, and not to me, but to some one else?

* * *

Who is Busie—what is she? Oh, do you not know who Busie is? Have you forgotten? Then I will tell you her biography all over again, briefly, and in the very same words I used when telling it you once on a time, years ago.

I had an older brother, Benny. He was drowned. He left after him a water-mill, a young widow, two horses, and one child. The mill was neglected; the horses were sold; the young widow married again and went away somewhere, far; and the child was brought home to our house.

That child was Busie.

And Busie was beautiful as the lovely Shulamite of the “Song of Songs.” Whenever I saw Busie I thought of the Shulamite of the “Song of Songs.” And whenever I read the “Song of Songs” Busie's image came up and stood before me.

Her name is the short for Esther-Liba: Libusa: Busie. She grew up together with me. She called my father “father,” and my mother “mother.” Everybody thought that we were sister and brother. And we grew up together as if we were sister and brother. And we loved one another as if we were sister and brother.

Like a sister and a brother we played together, and we hid in a corner—we two; and I used to tell her the fairy tales I learnt at school—the tales which were told me by my comrade Sheika, who knew everything, even “Kaballa.” I told her that by means of “ Kaballa,” I could do wonderful tricks—draw wine from a stone, and gold from a wall. By means of “Kaballa,” I told her, I could manage that we two should rise up into the clouds, and even higher than the clouds. Oh, how she loved to hear me tell my stories! There was only one story which Busie did not like me to tell—the story of the Queen's Daughter, the princess who had been bewitched, carried off from under the wedding canopy, and put into a palace of crystal for seven years. And I said that I was flying off to set her free.... Busie loved to hear every tale excepting that one about the bewitched Queen's Daughter whom I was flying off to set free.

“You need not fly so far. Take my advice, you need not.”

This is what Busie said to me, fixing on my face her beautiful blue “Song of Songs” eyes.

That is who and what Busie is.

And now my father writes me that I must congratulate Busie. She is betrothed, and will be married on the Sabbath after the Feast of Weeks. She is some one's bride—some one else's, not mine!

I sat down and wrote a letter to my father, in answer to his.


     “I have received your letter with the—'roubles.' In a few days,
     as soon as I am ready, I will go home, in time for the first days
     of the Passover Festival—or perhaps for the latter days. But I
     will surely come home. I send my heartiest greetings to my mother.
     And to Busie I send my congratulations. I wish her joy and

     “From me,

     “YOUR SON.”

It was a lie. I had nothing to get ready; nor was there any need for me to wait a few days. The same day on which I received my father's letter and answered it, I got on the train and flew home. I arrived home exactly on the day before the Festival, on a warm, bright Passover eve.

I found the village exactly as I had left it, once on a time, years ago. It was not changed by a single hair. Not a detail of it was different. It was the same village. The people were the same. The Passover eve was the same, with all its noise and hurry and flurry and bustle. And out of doors it was also the same Passover eve as when I had been at home, years ago.

There was only one thing missing—the “Song of Songs.” No; nothing of the “Song of Songs” existed any longer. It was not now as it had been, once on a time, years ago. Our yard was not any more King Solomon's vineyard, of the “Song of Songs.” The wood and the logs and the boards that lay scattered around the house were no longer the cedars and the fir trees. The cat that was stretched out before the door, warming herself in the sun, was no more a young hart, or a roe, such as one comes upon in the “Song of Songs.” The hill on the other side of the synagogue was no more the Mountain of Lebanon. It was no more one of the Mountains of Spices.... The young women and girls who were standing out of doors, washing and scrubbing and making everything clean for the Passover—they were not any more the Daughters of Jerusalem of whom mention is made in the “Song of Songs.” ... What has become of my “Song of Songs” world that was, at one time, so fresh and clear and bright—the world that was as fragrant as though filled with spices?

* * *

I found my home exactly as I had left it, years before. It was not altered by a hair. It was not different in the least detail. My father, too, was the same. Only his silvery-white beard had become a little more silvery. His broad white wrinkled forehead was now a little more wrinkled. This was probably because of his cares.... And my mother was the same as when I saw her last. Only her ruddy cheeks were now slightly sallow. And I imagined she had grown smaller, shorter and thinner. Perhaps I only imagined this because she was now slightly bent. And her eyes were slightly enflamed, and had little puffy bags under them, as if they were swollen. Was it from weeping, perhaps?...

For what reason had my mother been weeping? For whom? Was it for me, her only son who had acted in opposition to his father's wishes? Was it because I would not go the same road as my father, but took my own road, and went off to study, and did not come home for such a long time?... Or did my mother weep for Busie, because she was getting married on the Sabbath after the Feast of Weeks?

Ah, Busie! She was not changed by so much as a hair. She was not different in the least detail. She had only grown up—grown up and also grown more beautiful than she had been, more lovely. She had grown up exactly as she had promised to grow, tall and slender, and ripe, and full of grace. Her eyes were the same blue “Song of Songs” eyes, but more thoughtful than in the olden times. They were more thoughtful and more dreamy, more careworn and more beautiful “Song of Songs” eyes than ever. And the smile on her lips was friendly, loving, homely and affectionate. She was quiet as a dove—quiet as a virgin.

When I looked at the Busie of today, I was reminded of the Busie of the past. I recalled to mind Busie in her new little holiday frock which my mother had made for her, at that time, for the Passover. I remembered the new little shoes which my father had bought for her, at that time, for the Passover. And when I remembered the Busie of the past, there came back to me, without an effort on my part, all over again, phrase by phrase, and chapter by chapter, the long-forgotten “Song of Songs.”

“Thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.

“Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which come up from the washing: whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.

“Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of pomegranate within thy locks.”

I look at Busie, and once again everything is as in the “Song of Songs,” just as it was in the past, once on a time, years before.

* * *

“Busie, am I to congratulate you?”

She does not hear me. But why does she lower her eyes? And why have her cheeks turned scarlet? No, I must bid her joy—I must!

“I congratulate you, Busie.”

“May you live in happiness,” she replies.

And that is all. I could ask her nothing. And to talk with her? There was nowhere where I might do that. My father would not let me talk with her. My mother hindered me. Our relatives prevented it. The rest of the family, the friends, neighbours and acquaintances who flocked into the house to welcome me, one coming and one going—they would not let me talk with Busie either. They all stood around me. They all examined me, as if I were a bear, or a curious creature from another world. Everybody wanted to see and hear me—to know how I was getting on, and what I was doing. They had not seen me for such a long time.

“Tell us something new. What have you seen? What have you heard?”

And I told them the news—all that I had seen and all that I had heard. At the same time I was looking at Busie. I was searching for her eyes. And I met her eyes—her big, deep, careworn, thoughtful, beautiful blue “Song of Songs” eyes. But her eyes were dumb, and she herself was dumb. Her eyes told me nothing—nothing at all. And there arose to my memory the words I had learnt in the past, the “Song of Songs” sentence by sentence—

“A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse: a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.”

* * *

And a storm arose within my brain, and a fire began to burn within my heart. This terrible fire did not rage against anybody, only against myself—against myself and against my dreams of the past—the foolish, boyish, golden dreams for the sake of which I had left my father and my mother. Because of those dreams I had forgotten Busie. Because of them I had sacrificed a great, great part of my life; and because of them, and through them I had lost my happiness—lost it, lost it for ever!

Lost it for ever? No, it cannot be—it cannot be! Have I not come back—have I not returned in good time?... If only I could manage to talk with Busie, all alone with her! If only I could get to say a few words to her. But how could I speak with her, all alone, the few words I longed to speak, when everybody was present—when the people were all crowding around me? They were all examining me as if I were a bear, or a curious creature from another world. Everybody wanted to see and hear me—to know how I was getting on, and what I was doing. They had not seen me for such a long time!

More intently than any one else was my father listening to me. He had a Holy Book open in front of him, as always. His broad forehead was wrinkled up, as always. He was looking at me from over his silver spectacles, and was stroking the silver strands of his silvery-white beard, as always. And I imagined that he was looking at me with other eyes than he used to look. No, it was not the same look as always. He was reproaching me. I felt that my father was offended with me. I had acted contrary to his wishes. I had refused to go his road, and had taken a road of my own choosing....

My mother, too, was standing close behind me. She came out of the kitchen. She left all her work, the preparations for the Passover, and she was listening to me with tears in her eyes. Though her face was still smiling, she wiped her eyes in secret with the corners of her apron. She was listening to me attentively. She was staring right into my mouth; and she was swallowing, yes, swallowing every word that I said.

And Busie also stood over against me. Her hands were folded on her bosom. And she was listening to me just as the others were. Along with them, she was staring right into my mouth. I looked at Busie. I tried to read what was in her eyes; but I could read nothing there, nothing at all, nothing at all.

“Tell more. Why have you grown silent?” my father asked me.

“Leave him alone. Did you ever see the like?” put in my mother hastily. “The child is tired. The child is hungry, and he goes on saying to him: 'Tell! Tell! Tell! And tell!'”

* * *

The people began to go away by degrees. And we found ourselves alone, my father and my mother, Busie and I. My mother went off to the kitchen. In a few minutes she came back, carrying in her hand a beautiful Passover plate—a plate I knew well. It was surrounded by a design of big green fig leaves.

“Perhaps you would like something to eat, Shemak? It is a long time to wait until the 'Seder.'”

That is what my mother said to me, and with so much affection, so much loyalty and so much passionate devotion. And Busie got up, and with silent footfalls, brought me a knife and fork—the well-known Passover knife and fork. Everything was familiar to me. Nothing was changed, nor different by a hair. It was the same plate with the big green fig leaves; the same knife and fork with the white bone handles. The same delicious odour of melted goose-fat came in to me from the kitchen; and the fresh Passover cake had the same Garden-of-Eden taste. Nothing was changed by a hair. Nothing was different in the least detail.

Only, in the olden times, we ate together on the Passover eve, Busie and I, off the same plate. I remember that we ate off the same beautiful Passover plate that was surrounded by a design of big green fig leaves. And, at that time, my mother gave us nuts. I remember how she filled our pockets with nuts. And, at that time, we took hold of one another's hands, Busie and I. And I remember that we let ourselves go, in the open. We flew like eagles. I ran; she ran after me. I leaped over the logs of wood; she leaped after me. I was up; she was up. I was down; she was down.

“Shemak! How long are we going to run, Shemak?”

So said Busie to me. And I answered her in the words of the “Song of Songs”: “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away.”

* * *

This was once on a time, years ago. Now Busie is grown up. She is big. And I also am grown up. I also am big. Busie is betrothed. She is betrothed to some one—to some one else, and not to me.... And I want to be alone with Busie. I want to speak a few words with her. I want to hear her voice. I want to say to her, in the words of the “Song of Songs”: “Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice.”

And I imagine that her eyes are answering my unspoken words, also in the words of the “Song of Songs.” “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields; let us lodge in the villages.

“Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves.”

I snatched a glimpse through the window to see what was going on out of doors. Ah, how lovely it was! How beautiful! How fragrant of the Passover! How like the “Song of Songs”! It was a sin to be indoors. Soon the day would be at an end. Lower and lower sank the sun, painting the sky the colour of guinea-gold. The gold was reflected in Busie's eyes. They were bathed in gold. Soon, soon, the day would be dead. And I would have no time to say a single word to Busie. The whole day was spent in talking idly with my father and my mother, my relatives and friends, telling them of all that I had heard, and all that I had seen. I jumped up, and went over to the window. I looked out of it. As I was passing her, I said quickly to Busie:

“Perhaps we should go out for a while? It is so long since I was at home. I want to see everything. I want to have a look at the village.”

* * *

Can you tell me what was the matter with Busie? Her cheeks were at once enflamed. They burned with a great fire. She was as red as the sun that was going down in the west. She threw a glance at my father. I imagined she wanted to hear what my father would say. And my father looked at my mother, over his silver spectacles. He stroked the silver strands of his silvery-white beard, and said casually, to no one in particular:

“The sun is setting. It's time to put on our Festival garments, and to go into the synagogue to pray. It is time to light the Festival candles. What do you say?”

No! It seemed that I was not going to get the chance of saying anything to Busie that day. We went off to change our garments. My mother had finished her work. She had put on her new silk Passover gown. Her white hands gleamed. No one has such beautiful white hands as my mother. Soon she will make the blessing over the Festival candles. She will cover her eyes with her snow-white hands and weep silently, as she used to do once on a time, years ago. The last lingering rays of the setting sun will play on her beautiful, transparent white hands. No one has such beautiful, white transparent hands as my mother.

But what is the matter with Busie? The light has gone out of her face just as it is going out of the sun that is slowly setting in the west, and as it is going out of the day that is slowly dying. But she is beautiful, and graceful as never before. And there is a deep sadness in her beautiful blue “Song of Songs” eyes. They are very thoughtful, are Busie's eyes.

What is Busie thinking of now? Of the loving guest for whom she had waited, and who had come flying home so unexpectedly, after a long, long absence from home?... Or is she thinking of her mother, who married again, and went off somewhere far, and who forgot that she had a daughter whose name was Busie?... Or is Busie now thinking of her betrothed, her affianced husband whom, probably, my father and mother were compelling her to marry against her own inclinations?... Or is she thinking of her marriage that is going to take place on the Sabbath after the Feast of Weeks, to a man she does not know, and does not understand? Who is he, and what is he?... Or, perhaps, on the contrary, I am mistaken? Perhaps she is counting the days from the Passover to the Feast of Weeks, until the Sabbath after the Feast of Weeks, because the man she is going to marry on that day is her chosen, her dearest, her beloved? He will lead her under the wedding canopy. To him she will give all her heart, and all her love. And to me? Alas! Woe is me! To me she is no more than a sister. She always was to me a sister, and always will be.... And I imagine that she is looking at me with pity and with regret, and that she is saying to me, as she said to me, once on a time, years ago, in the words of the “Song of Songs:”

“O that thou wert as my brother.”

“Why are you not my brother?”

What answer can I make her to these unspoken words? I know what I should like to say to her. Only let me get the chance to say a few words to her, no more than a few.

No! I shall not be able to speak a single word with Busie this day—nor even half a word. Now she is rising from her chair. She is going with light, soft footfalls to the cupboard. She is getting the candles ready for my mother, fixing them into the silver candlesticks. How well I know these silver candlesticks! They played a big part in my golden, boyish dreams of the bewitched Queen's Daughter whom I was going to rescue from the palace of crystal. The golden dreams, and the silver candlesticks, and the Sabbath candles, and my mother's beautiful, white transparent hands, and Busie's beautiful blue “Song of Songs” eyes, and the last rays of the sun that is going down in the west—are they not all one and the same, bound together and interwoven for ever?...

“Ta!” exclaimed my father, looking out of the window, and winking to me that it was high time to change and go into the synagogue to pray.

And we changed our garments, my father and I, and we went into the synagogue to say our prayers.

* * *

Our synagogue, our old, old synagogue was not changed either, not by so much as a hair. Not a single detail was different. Only the walls had become a little blacker; the reader's desk was older; the curtain before the Holy Ark had drooped lower; and the Holy Ark itself had lost its polish, its newness.

Once on a time, our synagogue had appeared in my eyes like a small copy of King Solomon's Temple. Now the small temple was leaning slightly to one side. Ah, what has become of the brilliance, and the holy splendour of our little old synagogue? Where now are the angels which used to flutter about, under the carved wings of the Holy Ark on Friday evenings, when we were reciting the prayers in welcome of the Sabbath, and on Festival evenings when we were reciting the beautiful Festival prayers?

And the members of the congregation were also very little changed. They were only grown a little older. Black beards were now grey. Straight shoulders were stooped a little. The satin holiday coats that I knew so well were more threadbare, shabbier. White threads were to be seen in them and yellow stripes. Melech the Cantor sang as beautifully as in the olden times, years ago. Only today his voice is a little husky, and a new tone is to be heard in the old prayers he is chanting. He weeps rather than sings the words. He mourns rather than prays. And our rabbi? The old rabbi? He has not changed at all. He was like the fallen snow when I saw him last, and today is like the fallen snow. He is different only in one trifling respect. His hands are trembling. And the rest of his body is also trembling, from old age, I should imagine. Asreal the Beadle—a Jew who had never had the least sign of a beard—would have been exactly the same man as once on a time, years before, if it were not for his teeth. He has lost every single tooth he possessed; and with his fallen-in cheeks, he now looks much more like a woman than a man. But for all that, he can still bang on the desk with his open hand. True, it is not the same bang as once on a time. Years ago, one was almost deafened by the noise of Asreal's hand coming down on the desk. Today, it is not like that at all. It seems that he has not any longer the strength he used to have. He was once a giant of a man.

Once on a time, years ago, I was happy in the little old synagogue; I remember that I felt happy without an end—without a limit! Here, in the little synagogue, years ago, my childish soul swept about with the angels I imagined were flying around the carved wings of the Holy Ark. Here, in the little synagogue, once on a time, with my father and all the other Jews, I prayed earnestly. And it gave me great pleasure, great satisfaction.

* * *

And now, here I am again in the same old synagogue, praying with the same old congregation, just as once on a time, years ago. I hear the same Cantor singing the same melodies as before. And I am praying along with the congregation. But my thoughts are far from the prayers. I keep turning over the pages of my prayer-book idly, one page after the other. And—I am not to blame for it—I come upon the pages on which are printed the “Song of Songs.” And I read:

“Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou are fair; thou hast dove's eyes within thy locks.”

I should like to pray with the congregation, as they are praying, and as I used to pray, once on a time. But the words will not rise to my lips. I turn over the pages of my prayer-book, one after the other, and—I am not to blame for it—again I turn up the “Song of Songs,” at the fifth chapter.

“I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse.”

And again:

“I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk.”

But what am I talking about? What am I saying? The garden is not mine. I shall not gather any myrrh, nor smell any spices. I shall eat no honey, and drink no wine. The garden is not my garden. Busie is not my betrothed. Busie is betrothed to some one else—to some one else, and not to me.... And there rages within me a hellish fire. Not against Busie. Not against anybody at all. No; only against myself alone. Surely! How could I have stayed away from Busie for such a long time? How could I have allowed it—that Busie should be taken away from me, and given to some one else? Had she not written many letters to me, often, and given me to understand that she hoped to see me shortly?... Had I not myself promised to come home, and then put off going, from one Festival to another, so many times until, at last, Busie gave up writing to me?

* * *

“Good 'Yom-Tov'! This is my son!”

That was how my father introduced me to the men of the congregation at the synagogue, after prayers. They examined me on all sides. They greeted me with, “Peace be unto you!” and accepted my greeting, in return, “Unto you be peace!” as if it were no more than their due.

“This is my son....”

“That is your son? Here is a 'Peace be unto you!'”

In my father's words, “This is my son,” there were many shades of feeling, many meanings—joy, and happiness, and reproach. One might interpret the words as one liked. One might argue that he meant to say:

“What do you think? This is really my son.”

Or one might argue that he meant to say:

“Just imagine it—this is my son!”

I could feel for my father. He was deeply hurt. I had opposed his wishes. I had not gone his road, but had taken a road of my own. And I had caused him to grow old before his time. No; he had not forgiven me yet. He did not tell me this. But his manner saved him the trouble of explaining himself. I felt that he had not forgiven me yet. His eyes told me everything. They looked at me reproachfully from over his silver-rimmed spectacles, right into my heart. His soft sigh told me that he had not forgiven me yet—the sigh which tore itself, from time to time, out of his weak old breast....

We walked home from the synagogue together, in silence. We got home later than any one else. The night had already spread her wings over the heavens. Her shadow was slowly lowering itself over the earth. A silent, warm, holy Passover night it was—a night full of secrets and mysteries, full of wonder and beauty. The holiness of this night could be felt in the air. It descended slowly from the dark blue sky.... The stars whispered together in the mysterious voices of the night. And on all sides of us, from the little Jewish houses came the words of the “ Haggadah”: “We went forth from Egypt on this night.”

With hasty, hasty steps I went towards home, on this night. And my father barely managed to keep up with me. He followed after me like a shadow.

“Why are you flying?” he asked of me, scarcely managing to catch his breath.

Ah, father, father! Do you not know that I have been compared with “a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of spices”?... The time is long for me, father, too long. The way is long for me, father, too long. When Busie is betrothed to some one—to some one else and not to me, the hours and the roads are too long for me.... I am compared with “a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of spices.”

That is what I wanted to say to my father, in the words of the “Song of Songs.” I did not feel the ground under my feet. I went towards home with hasty, hasty steps, on this night. My father barely managed to keep up with me. He followed after me like a shadow.

* * *

With the same “Good 'Yom-Tov'“ which we had said on coming in from the synagogue on such a night as this, years ago, we entered the house on this night, my father and I.

With the same “Good 'Yom-Tov,' good year,” with which my mother and Busie used to welcome us, on such a night as this, once on a time, years ago, they again welcomed us on this night, my father and me.

My mother, the Queen of the evening, was dressed in her royal robes of silk; and the Queen's Daughter, Busie, was dressed in her snow-white frock. They made the same picture which they had made, once on a time, years ago. They were not altered by as much as a hair. They were not different in a single detail.

As it had been years ago, so it was now. On this night, the house was full of grace. A peculiar beauty—a holy, festive, majestic loveliness descended upon our house. A holy, festive glamour hung about our house on this night. The white table-cloth was like driven snow. And everything which was on the table gleamed and glistened. My mother's Festival candles shone out of the silver candlesticks. The Passover wine greeted us from out the sparkling bottles. Ah, how pure, how simple the Passover cakes looked, peeping innocently from under their beautiful cover! How sweetly the horse-radish smiled to me! And how pleasant was the “mortar”—the mixture of crushed nuts and apples and wine which symbolized the mortar out of which the Israelites made bricks in Egypt, when they were slaves! And even the dish of salt-water was good to look upon.

Proudly and haughtily stood the throne on which my father, the King of the night, was going to recline. A glory shone forth from my mother's countenance, such as I always saw shining forth from it on such a night. And the Queen's Daughter, Busie, was entirely, from her head to her heels, as if she really belonged to the “Song of Songs.” No! What am I saying? She was the “Song of Songs” itself.

The only pity was that the King's son was put sitting so far away from the Queen's Daughter. I remember that they once sat at the Passover ceremony in a different position. They were together, once on a time, years ago. One beside the other they sat....

I remember that the King's Son asked his father “The Four Questions.” And I remember that the Queen's Daughter stole from his Majesty the “Afikomen”—the pieces of Passover cake he had hidden away to make the special blessing over. And I? What had I done then? How much did we laugh at that time! I remember that, once on a time, years ago, when the “Seder” was ended, the Queen had taken off her royal garment of silk, and the King had taken off his white robes, and we two, Busie and I, sat together in a corner playing with the nuts which my mother had given us. And there, in the corner, I told Busie a story—one of the fairy tales I had learnt at school from my comrade Sheika, who knew everything in the world. It was the story of the beautiful Queen's Daughter who had been taken from under the wedding canopy, bewitched, and put into a palace of crystal for seven years on end, and who was waiting for some one to raise himself up into the air by pronouncing the Holy Name, flying above the clouds, across hills, and over valleys, over rivers, and across deserts, to release her, to set her free.

* * *

But all this happened once on a time, years ago. Now the Queen's Daughter is grown up. She is big. And the King's Son is grown up. He is big. And we two are seated in such a way, so pitilessly, that we cannot even see one another. Imagine it to yourself! On the right of his majesty sat the King's Son. On the left of her majesty sat the Queen's Daughter!... And we recited the “Haggadah,” my father and I, at the top of our voices, as once on a time, years ago, page after page, and in the same sing-song as of old. And my mother and Busie repeated the words after us, softly, page after page, until we came to the “Song of Songs.” I recited the “Song of Songs” together with my father, as once on a time, years ago, in the same melody as of old, passage after passage. And my mother and Busie repeated the words after us, softly, passage after passage, until the King of the night, tired out, after the long Passover ceremony, and somewhat dulled by the four cups of raisin wine, began to doze off by degrees. He nodded for a few minutes, woke up, and went on singing the “Song of Songs.” He began in a loud voice:

“Many waters cannot quench love.”....

And I caught him up, in the same strain:

“Neither can floods drown it.”

The recital grew softer and softer with us both, as the night wore on, until at last his majesty fell asleep in real earnest. The Queen touched him on the sleeve of his white robe. She woke him with a sweet, affectionate gentleness, and told him he should go to bed. In the meantime, Busie and I got the chance of saying a few words to one another. I got up from my place and went over close beside her. And we stood opposite one another for the first time, closely, on this night. I pointed out to her how rarely beautiful the night was.

“On such a night,” I said to her, “it is good to go walking.”

She understood me, and answered me, with a half-smile by asking:

“On such a night?” ...

And I imagined that she was laughing at me. That was how she used to laugh at me, once on a time, years ago.... I was annoyed. I said to her:

“Busie, we have something to say to one another—we have much to talk about.”

“Much to talk about?” she replied, echoing my words.

And again I imagined that she was laughing at me.... I put in quickly:

“Perhaps I am mistaken? Maybe I have nothing at all to say to you now?”

These words were uttered with so much bitterness that Busie ceased from smiling, and her face grew serious.

“Tomorrow,” she said to me, “tomorrow we will talk.” ...

And my eyes grew bright. Everything about me was bright and good and joyful. Tomorrow! Tomorrow we will talk! Tomorrow! Tomorrow!...

I went over nearer to her. I smelt the fragrance of her hair, the fragrance of her clothes—the same familiar fragrance of her. And there came up to my mind the words of the “Song of Songs”:

“Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.” ...

And all our speech this night was the same—without words. We spoke together with our eyes—with our eyes.

* * *

“Busie, good-night,” I said to her softly.

It was hard for me to go away from her. The one God in Heaven knew the truth—how hard it was.

“Good-night,” Busie made answer.

She did not stir from the spot. She looked at me, deeply perplexed, out of her beautiful blue “Song of Songs” eyes.

I said “good-night” to her again. And she again said “good-night” to me. My mother came in and led me off to bed. When we were in my room, my mother smoothed out for me, with her beautiful, snow-white hands, the white cover of my bed. And her lips murmured:

“Sleep well, my child, sleep well.”

Into these few words she poured a whole ocean of tender love—the love which had been pent up in her breast the long time I had been away from her. I was ready to fall down before her, and kiss her beautiful white hands.

“Good-night,” I murmured softly to her.

And I was left alone—all alone, on this night.

* * *

I was all alone on this night—all alone on this silent, soft, warm, early spring night.

I opened my window and looked out into the open, at the dark blue night sky, and at the shimmering stars that were like brilliants. And I asked myself:

“Is it then true? Is it then true?...

“Is it then true that I have lost my happiness—lost my happiness for ever?

“Is it then true that with my own hands I took and burnt my wonderful dream-palace, and let go from me the divine Queen's Daughter whom I had myself bewitched, once on a time, years ago? Is it then so? Is it so? Maybe it is not so? Perhaps I have come in time? 'I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse.'“ ...

I sat at the open window for a long time on this night. And I exchanged whispered secrets with the silent, soft, warm early spring night that was full—strangely full—of secrets and mysteries....

On this night, I made a discovery—

That I loved Busie with that holy, burning love which is so wonderfully described in our “Song of Songs.” Big fiery letters seemed to carve themselves out before my eyes. They formed themselves into the words which I had only just recited, my father and I—the words of the “Song of Songs.” I read the carved words, letter by letter.

“Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.”

On this night, I sat down at my open window, and I asked of the night which was full of secrets and mysteries, that she should tell me this secret:

“Is it true that I have lost Busie for ever? Is it then true?” ...

But she is silent—this night of secrets and mysteries. And the secret must remain a secret for me—until the morrow.

“Tomorrow,” Busie had said to me, “we will talk.”

Ah! Tomorrow we will talk!...

Only let the night go by—only let it vanish, this night!

This night! This night!


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