Ghetto Violet by
From "Christian and Leah." Translated by A.S. Arnold.
Through the open window came the clear trill of a canary singing
blithely in its cage. Within the tidy, homely little room a pale-faced
girl and a youth of slender frame listened intently while the bird sang
its song. The girl was the first to break the silence.
"Ephraim, my brother!" she said.
"What is it, dear Viola?"
"I wonder does the birdie know that it is the Sabbath to-day?"
"What a child you are!" answered Ephraim.
"Yes, that's always the way; when you clever men can't explain a thing,
you simply dismiss the question by calling it childish," Viola
exclaimed, as though quite angry. "And, pray, why shouldn't the bird
know? The whole week it scarcely sang a note: to-day it warbles and
warbles so that it makes my head ache. And what's the reason? Every
Sabbath it's just the same, I notice it regularly. Shall I tell you what
my idea is?
"The whole week long the little bird looks into our room and sees
nothing but the humdrum of work-a-day life. To-day it sees the bright
rays of the Sabbath lamp and the white Sabbath cloth upon the table.
Don't you think I'm right, Ephraim?"
"Wait, dear Viola," said Ephraim, and he went to the cage.
The bird's song suddenly ceased.
"Now you've spoilt its Sabbath!" cried the girl, and she was so excited
that the book which had been lying upon her lap fell to the ground.
Ephraim turned towards her; he looked at her solemnly, and said quietly:
"Pick up your prayer-book first, and then I'll answer. A holy book
should not be on the ground like that. Had our mother dropped her
prayer-book, she would have kissed it ? Kiss it, Viola, my child!"
Viola did so.
"And now I'll tell you, dear Viola, what I think is the reason why the
bird sings so blithely to-day ? Of course, I don't say I'm right."
Viola's brown eyes were fixed inquiringly upon her brother's face.
"How seriously you talk to-day," she said, making a feeble attempt at
a smile. "I was only joking. Mustn't I ask if the bird knows anything
about the Sabbath?"
"There are subjects it is sinful to joke about, and this may be one of
"You really quite frighten me, Ephraim."
"You little goose, I don't want to frighten you," said Ephraim, while
a faint flush suffused his features. "I'll tell you my opinion about the
singing of the bird. I think, dear Viola, that our little canary knows
? that before long it will change its quarters."
"You're surely not going to sell it or give it away?" cried the girl,
in great alarm; and springing to her feet, she quickly drew her brother
away from the cage.
"No, I'm not going to sell it nor give it away," said Ephraim, whose
quiet bearing contrasted strongly with his sister's excitement. "Is it
likely that I should do anything that would give you pain? And yet, I
have but to say one word ? and I'll wager that you will be the first
to open the cage and say to the bird, 'Fly, fly away, birdie, fly away
"Never, never!" cried the girl.
"Viola," said Ephraim beseechingly, "I have taken a vow. Surely you
would not have me break it?"
"A vow?" asked his sister.
"Viola," Ephraim continued, as he bent his head down to the girl's face,
"I have vowed to myself that whenever he ? our father ? should
return, I would give our little bird its freedom. It shall be free, free
as he will be."
"He is coming?he is already on his way home."
Viola flung her arms round her brother's neck. For a long time brother
and sister remained locked in a close embrace.
Meanwhile the bird resumed its jubilant song.
"Do you hear how it sings again?" said Ephraim; and he gently stroked
his sister's hair.
"It knows that it will soon be free."
"A father out of jail!" sobbed Viola, as she released herself from her
"He has had his punishment, dear Viola!" said Ephraim softly.
Viola turned away. There was a painful silence, and then she looked up
at her brother again. Her face was aglow, her eyes sparkled with a
strange fire; she was trembling with agitation. Never before had Ephraim
seen her thus.
"Ephraim, my brother," she commenced, in that measured monotone so
peculiar to intense emotion, "with the bird you can do as you please.
You can set it free, or, if you like, you can wring its neck. But as for
him, I'll never look in his face again, from me he shall not have a word
of welcome. He broke our mother's heart ? our good, good mother; he
has dishonored himself and us. And I can never forget it."
"Is it right for a child to talk like that of her own father?" said
Ephraim in a tremulous voice.
"When a child has good cause to be ashamed of her own father!" cried
"Oh, my Viola, you must have forgotten dear mother's dying words. Don't
you remember, as she opened her eyes for the last time, how she gathered
up her failing strength, and raising herself in her bed, 'Children,' she
said, 'my memory will protect you both, yea, and your father too.'
Viola, have you forgotten?"
Had you entered that little room an hour later, a touching sight would
have met your eyes. Viola was seated on her brother's knee, her arms
round his neck, whilst Ephraim with the gentle love of a brother for a
younger sister, was stroking her hair, and whispering in her ear sweet
words of solace.
The bird-cage was empty. ? That evening Ephraim sat up till midnight.
Outside in the Ghetto reigned the stillness of night.
All at once Ephraim rose from his chair, walked to the old bureau which
stood near the door, opened it, and took from it a bulky volume, which
he laid upon the table in front of him. But he did not seem at all bent
upon reading. He began fingering the pages, until he came upon a bundle
of bank-notes, and these he proceeded to count, with a whispering
movement of his lips. He had but three or four more notes still to
count, when his sharp ear detected the sound of stealthy footsteps, in
the little courtyard in front of the house. Closing the book, and
hastily putting it back again in the old bureau, Ephraim sprang to the
window and opened it.
"Is that you, father?" he cried.
There was no answer.
Ephraim repeated his question.
He strained his eyes, peering into the dense darkness, but no living
thing could he see. Then quite close to him a voice cried: "Make no
noise ? and first put out the light."
"Heavens! Father, it is you then?!" Ephraim exclaimed.
"Hush!" came in a whisper from without, "first put out the light."
Ephraim closed the window, and extinguished the light. Then, with almost
inaudible step, he walked out of the room into the dark passage;
noiselessly he proceeded to unbolt the street-door. Almost at the same
moment a heavy hand clasped his own.
"Father, father!" Ephraim cried, trying to raise his parent's hand to
"Make no noise," the man repeated, in a somewhat commanding tone.
With his father's hand in his, cautiously feeling his way, Ephraim led
him into the room. In the room adjoining lay Viola, sleeping peacefully.
Time was when "Wild" Ascher's welcome home had been far otherwise.
Eighteen years before, upon that very threshold which he now crossed
with halting, stealthy steps, as of a thief in the night, stood a fair
and loving wife, holding a sturdy lad aloft in her arms, so that the
father might at once see, as he turned the street corner, that wife and
child were well and happy. Not another Ghetto in all Bohemia could show
a handsomer and happier couple than Ascher and his wife. "Wild" Ascher
was one of those intrepid, venturesome spirits, to whom no obstacle is
so great that it cannot be surmounted. And the success which crowned his
long, persistent wooing was often cited as striking testimony to his
indomitable will. Gudule was famous throughout the Ghetto as "the girl
with the wonderful eyes," eyes?so the saying ran?into which no man
could look and think of evil. During the earlier years of their married
life those unfathomable brown eyes exercised on Ascher the full power
of their fascination. A time came, however, when he alleged that those
very eyes had been the cause of all his ruin.
Gudule's birthplace was far removed from the Ghetto, where Ascher had
first seen the light. Her father was a wealthy farmer in a secluded
village in Lower Bohemia. But distant though it was from the nearest
town of any importance, the solitary grange became the centre of
attraction to all the young swains far and near. But there was none who
found favor in Gudule's eyes save "Wild Ascher," in spite of many a
friendly warning to beware of him. One day, just before the betrothal
of the young people, an anonymous letter was delivered at the grange.
The writer, who called himself an old friend, entreated the farmer to
prevent his dear child from becoming the wife of one who was suspected
of being a gambler. The farmer was of an easy-going, indulgent nature,
shunning care and anxiety as a very plague. Accordingly, no sooner had
he read the anonymous missive than he handed it to his daughter, as
though its contents were no concern of his.
When Gudule had read the letter to the end, she merely remarked:
"Father, this concerns me, and nobody else."
And so the matter dropped.
Not until the wedding-day, half an hour before the ceremony, when the
marriage canopy had already been erected in the courtyard, did the
farmer sum up courage to revert to the warning of the unknown
letter-writer. Taking his future son-in-law aside, he said:
"Ascher, is it true that you gamble?"
"Father," Ascher answered with equal firmness, "Gudule's eyes will save
me!" Ascher had uttered no untruth when he gave his father-in-law this
assurance. He spoke in all earnestness, for like every one else he knew
the magnetic power of Gudule's eyes.
Nowhere, probably, does the grim, consuming pestilence of gaming claim
more victims than in the Ghetto. The ravages of drink and debauchery are
slight indeed; but the tortuous streets can show too many a humble home
haunted by the spectres of ruin and misery which stalked across the
threshold when the FIRST CARD GAME was played.
It was with almost feverish anxiety that the eyes of the Ghetto were
fixed upon the development of a character like Ascher's; they followed
his every step with the closest attention. Long experience had taught
the Ghetto that no gambler could be trusted.
As though conscious that all eyes were upon him, Ascher showed himself
most punctilious in the discharge of even the minutest of communal
duties which devolved upon him as a denizen of the Ghetto, and his
habits of life were almost ostentatiously regular and decorous. His
business had prospered, and Gudule had borne him a son.
"Well, Gudule, my child," the farmer asked his daughter on the day when
his grandson was received into the covenant of Abraham,?"well, Gudule,
was the letter right?"
"What letter?" asked Gudule.
"That in which your husband was called a gambler."
"And can you still give a thought to such a letter?" was Gudule's
Three years later, Gudule's father came to visit her. This time she
showed him his second grandchild, her little Viola. He kissed the
children, and round little Viola's neck clasped three rows of pearls,
"that the child may know it had a grandfather once."
"And where are your pearls, Gudule?" he asked, "those left you by your
mother,?may she rest in peace! She always set such store by them."
"Those, father?" Gudule replied, turning pale; "oh, my husband has taken
them to a goldsmith in Prague. They require a new clasp."
"I see," remarked her father. Notwithstanding his limited powers of
observation, it did not escape the old man's eyes that Gudule looked
alarmingly wan and emaciated. He saw it, and it grieved his very soul.
He said nothing however: only, when leaving, and after he had kissed the
Mezuza [Footnote: Small cylinder inclosing a roll of parchment inscribed
with the Hebrew word Shadai (Almighty) and with other texts, which is
affixed to the lintel of every Jewish house.], he said to Gudule (who,
with little Viola in her arms, went with him to the door), in a voice
quivering with suppressed emotion: "Gudule, my child, the pearl necklet
which I have given your little Viola has a clasp strong enough to last
a hundred years ? you need never, therefore, give it to your husband
to have a new clasp made for it." And without bestowing another glance
upon his child the easy-going man left the house. It was his last visit.
Within the year Gudule received a letter from her eldest brother telling
her that their father was dead, and that she would have to keep the week
of mourning for him. Ever since his last visit to her?her brother
wrote?the old man had been somewhat ailing, but knowing his vigorous
constitution, they had paid little heed to his complaints. It was only
during the last few weeks that a marked loss of strength had been
noticed. This was followed by fever and delirium. Whenever he was asked
whether he would not like to see Gudule, his only answer was: "She must
not give away the clasp of little Viola's necklet." And but an hour
before his death, he raised his voice, and loudly called for "the
letter." Nobody knew what letter. "Gudule knows where it is," he said,
with a gentle shake of his head. Those were the last words he spoke.
Had the old man's eyes deceived him on the occasion of his last visit
to his son-in-law's house? No! For, setting aside the incident of the
missing pearls, the whole Ghetto could long since have told him that the
warning of the anonymous letter was not unfounded?for Gudule was the
wife of a gambler.
With the resistless impetuosity of a torrent released from its prison
of ice and snow, the old invincible disease had again overwhelmed its
victim. Gudule noticed the first signs of it when one day her husband
returned home from one of his business journeys earlier than he had
arranged. Gudule had not expected him.
"Why did you not come to meet me with the children?" he cried peevishly;
"do you begrudge me even that pleasure?"
"I begrudge you a pleasure?" Gudule ventured to remark, as she raised
her swimming eyes to his face.
"Why do you look at me so tearfully?" he almost shouted.
Ascher loved his wife, and when he saw the effect which his rough words
had produced, he tenderly embraced her. "Am I not right, Gudule?" he
said, "after a man has been working and slaving the livelong week, don't
you think he looks forward with longing eyes for his dear children to
welcome him at his door?"
At that moment Gudule felt the long latent suspicion revive in her that
her husband was not speaking the truth. As if written in characters of
fire, the words of that letter now came back to her memory; she knew now
what was the fate that awaited her and her children.
Thenceforward, all the characteristic tokens of a gambler's life, all
the vicissitudes which attend his unholy calling, followed close upon
each other in grim succession. Most marked was the disturbance which his
mental equilibrium was undergoing. Fits of gloomy despondency were
succeeded, with alarming rapidity, by periods of tumultuous exaltation.
One moment it would seem as though Gudule and the children were to him
the living embodiment of all that was precious and lovable, whilst at
other times he would regard them with sullen indifference. It soon
became evident to Gudule that her husband's affairs were in a very bad
way, for her house-keeping allowance no longer came to her with its
wonted regularity. But what grieved and alarmed her most, was the fact
that Ascher was openly neglecting every one of his religious duties. To
return home late on Friday night, long after sunset had ushered in the
Sabbath, was now a common practice. Once even it happened, that with his
clothes covered with dust, he came home from one of his business tours
on a Sabbath morning, when the people in holiday attire were wending
their way to the synagogue.
Nevertheless, not a sound of complaint escaped Gudule's lips. Hers was
one of those proud, sensitive natures, such as are to be met with among
all classes and amid all circumstances of life, in Ghetto and in
secluded village, no less than among the most favored ones of the earth.
Had she not cast to the winds the well-intentioned counsel given her in
that unsigned letter? Why then should she complain and lament, now that
the seed had borne fruit? She shrank from alluding before her husband
to the passion which day by day, nay, hour by hour, tightened its hold
upon him. She would have died sooner than permit the word "gambler" to
pass her lips. Besides, did not her eyes tell Ascher what she suffered?
Those very eyes were, according to Ascher, the cause of his rapid
journey along the road to ruin.
"Why do you look at me so, Gudule?" he would testily ask her, at the
Often when, as he explained, he had had "a specially good week," he
would bring home the costliest gifts for his children. Gudule, however,
made no use whatever of these trinkets, neither for herself nor for the
children. She put the things away in drawers and cupboards, and never
looked at them, more especially as she observed that, under some pretext
or another, Ascher generally took those glittering things away again,
"in order to exchange them for others," he said: as often as not never
replacing them at all.
"Gudule!" he said one day, when he happened to be in a particularly good
humor, "why do you let the key remain in the door of that bureau where
you keep so many valuables?"
And again Gudule regarded him with those unfathomable eyes.
"There, you're ? looking at me again!" he exclaimed with sudden
"They're safe enough in the cupboard," Gudule said, smiling, "why should
I lock it?"
"Gudule, do you mean to say ?" he cried, raising his hand as for a
blow. Then he fell back in his chair, and his frame was shaken with
"Gudule, my heart's love," he cried, "I am not worthy that your eyes
should rest on me. Everywhere, wherever I go, they look at me, those
eyes ? and that is my ruin. If business is bad, your eyes ask me, 'Why
did you mix yourself up with these things, without a thought of wife or
children?'? Then I feel as if some evil spirit possessed me and
tortured my soul. Oh, why can't you look at me again as you did when you
were my bride??then you looked so happy, so lovely! At other times I
think: 'I shall yet grasp fortune with both hands ? and then I can
face my Gudule's eyes again.' But now, now ? oh, don't look at me,
There spoke the self-reproaching voice, which sometimes burst forth
unbidden from a suffering soul.
As for Gudule, she already knew how to appreciate this cry of her
husband's conscience at its true value. It was not that she felt one
moment's doubt as to its sincerity, but she knew dot so far as it
affected the future, it was a mere cry and nothing more.
The years rolled on. The children were growing up. Ephraim had entered
his fifteenth year. Viola was a little pale girl of twelve. In opinion
of the Ghetto they were the most extraordinary children in the world.
In the midst of the harassing life to which her marriage with the
gambler had brought her, Gudule so reared them that they grew to be
living reflections of her own inmost being. People wondered when they
beheld the strange development of "Wild" Ascher's children.
Their natures were as proud and reserved as that of their mother. They
did not associate with the youth of the Ghetto; it seemed as though they
were not of their kind, as though an insurmountable barrier divided
them. And many a bitter sneer was hurled at Gudule's head.
"Does she imagine," she often heard people whisper, "that because her
father was a farmer her children are princes? Let her remember that her
husband is but a common gambler."
How different would have been their thoughts had they known that the
children were Gudule's sole comfort. What their father had never heard
from her, she poured into their youthful souls. No tear their mother
shed was unobserved by them; they knew when their father had lost and
when he had won; they knew, too, all the varying moods of his unhinged
mind; and in this terrible school of misery they acquired an instinctive
intelligence, which in the eyes of strangers seemed mere precocity.
The two children, however, had early given evidence of a marked
difference in disposition. Ephraim's nature was one of an almost
feminine gentleness, whilst Viola was strong-willed and proudly
"Mother," she said one day, "do you think he will continue to play much
"Viola, how can you talk like that?" Ephraim cried, greatly disturbed.
Thereupon Viola impetuously flung her arms round her mother's neck, and
for some moments she clung to her with all the strength of her
passionate nature. It was as though in that wild embrace she would fain
pour forth the long pent-up sorrows of her blighted childhood.
"Mother!" she cried, "you are so good to him. Never, never shall he have
such kindness from me!"
"Ephraim," said Gudule, "speak to your sister. In her sinful anger,
Viola would revenge herself upon her own father. Does it so beseem a
"Why does he treat you so cruelly, then?" Viola almost hissed the words.
Soon after fell the final crushing blow. Ascher had been away from home
for some weeks, when one day Gudule received a letter, dated a prison
in the neighborhood of Vienna. In words of genuine sympathy the writer
explained that Ascher had been unfortunate enough to forge the signature
to a bill. She would not see him again for the next five years. God
comfort her! The letter was signed: "A fellow-sufferer with your
As it had been with her old father, after he had bidden her a last
farewell, so it was now with Gudule. From that moment her days were
numbered, and although not a murmur escaped her lips, hour by hour she
One Friday evening, shortly after the seven-branched Sabbath lamp had
been lit, Gudule, seated in her arm-chair, out of which she had not
moved all day, called the two children to her. A bright smile hovered
around her lips, an unwonted fire burned in her still beautiful eyes,
her bosom heaved ? in the eyes of her children she seemed strangely
changed. "Children," said she, "come and stand by me. Ephraim, you stand
here on my right, and you, dear Viola, on my left. I would like to tell
you a little story, such as they tell little children to soothe them to
sleep. Shall I?"
"Mother!" they both cried, as they bent towards her.
"You must not interrupt me, children," she observed, still with that
strange smile on her lips, "but leave me to tell my little story in my
"Listen, children," she resumed, after a brief pause. "Every human
being?be he ever so wicked?if he have done but a single good deed on
earth, will, when he arrives above, in the seventh heaven, get his
Sechus, that is to say, the memory of the good he has done here below
will be remembered and rewarded bountifully by the Almighty." Gudule
ceased speaking. Suddenly a change came over her features: her breath
came and went in labored gasps; but her brown eyes still gleamed
In tones well-nigh inaudible she continued: "When Jerusalem, the Holy
City, was destroyed, the dead rose up out of their graves ? the holy
patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ? and also Moses, and Aaron his
brother ? and David the King ? and prostrating themselves before
God's throne they sobbed: 'Dost Thou not remember the deeds we have
done?? Wouldst Thou now utterly destroy all these our children, even
to the innocent babe at the breast?' But the Almighty was inexorable.
"Then Sarah, our mother, approached the Throne? When God beheld her,
He covered His face, and wept. 'Go,' said He, 'I cannot listen to thee.'
? But she exclaimed ? 'Dost Thou no longer remember the tears I shed
before I gave birth to my Joseph and Benjamin ? and dost Thou not
remember the day when they buried me yonder, on the borders of the
Promised Land ? and now, must mine eyes behold the slaughter of my
children, their disgrace, and their captivity?'? Then God cried: 'For
THY sake will I remember thy children and spare them.' ?"
"Would you like to know," Gudule suddenly cried, with uplifted voice,
"what this Sechus is like? It has the form of an angel, and it stands
near the Throne of the Almighty. ? But, since the days of Rachel, our
mother, it is the Sechus of a mother that finds most favor in God's
eyes. When a mother dies, her soul straightway soars heavenward, and
there it takes its place amid the others.
"'Who art thou?' asks God. 'I am the Sechus of a mother,' is the answer,
'of a mother who has left children behind her on earth.' 'Then do thou
stand here and keep guard over them!' says God. And when it is well with
the children, it is the Sechus of a mother which has caused them to
prosper, and when evil days befall them ? it is again the Angel who
stands before God and pleads: 'Dost Thou forget that these children no
longer have a mother?'? and the evil is averted. ?"
Gudule's voice had sunk to a mere whisper. Her eyes closed, her head
fell back, her breathing became slower and more labored. "Are you still
there, children?" she softly whispered.
Anxiously they bent over her. Then once again she opened her eyes.
"I see you still"?the words came with difficulty from her blanched
lips?"you, Ephraim, and you, my little Viola ? I am sure my Sechus
will plead for you ? for you and your father." They were Gudule's last
words. When her children, whose eyes had never as yet been confronted
with Death, called her by her name, covering her icy hands with burning
kisses, their mother was no more ?
Who can tell what influence causes the downtrodden blade to raise itself
once more! Is it the vivifying breath of the west wind, or a mysterious
power sent forth from the bosom of Mother Earth? It was a touching sight
to see how those two children, crushed as they were beneath the weight
of a twofold blow, raised their heads again, and in their very
desolation found new-born strength. And it filled the Ghetto with
wonder. For what were they but the offspring of a gambler? Or was it the
spirit of Gudule, their mother, that lived in them?
After Gudule's death, her eldest brother, the then owner of the grange,
came over to discuss the future of his sister's children. He wished
Ephraim and Viola to go with him to his home in Lower Bohemia, where he
could find them occupation. The children, however, were opposed to the
idea. They had taken no previous counsel together, yet, upon this point,
both were in perfect accord,?they would prefer to be left in their old
"When father comes back again," said Ephraim, "he must know where to
find us. But to you, Uncle Gabriel, he would never come."
The uncle then insisted that Viola at least should accompany him, for
he had daughters at home whom she could assist in their duties in the
house and on the farm. But the child clung to Ephraim, and with flaming
eyes, and in a voice of proud disdain, which filled the simple farmer
with something like terror, she cried:
"Uncle, you have enough to do to provide for your own daughters; don't
let ME be an additional burden upon you; besides, sooner would I wander
destitute through the world than be separated from my brother."
"And what do you propose to do then?" exclaimed the uncle, after he had
somewhat recovered from his astonishment at Viola's vehemence.
"You see, Uncle Gabriel," said Ephraim, a sudden flush overspreading his
grief-stricken features, "you see I have thought about it, and I have
come to the conclusion that this is the best plan. Viola shall keep
house, and I ? I'll start a business."
"YOU start a business?" cried the uncle with a loud laugh. "Perhaps you
can tell me what price I'll get for my oats next market day? A
business!? and what business, my lad?"
"Uncle," said Ephraim, "if I dispose of all that is left us, I shall
have enough money to buy a small business. Others in our position have
done the same? and then?"
"Well, and then?" the uncle cried, eagerly anticipating his answer.
"Then the Sechus of our mother will come to our aid." Ephraim said softly.
The farmer's eyes grew dim with moisture; his sister had been very dear
"As I live!" he cried, brushing his hand across his eyes, "you are true
children of my sister Gudule. That's all I can say."
Then, as though moved by a sudden impulse, he quickly produced, from the
depths of his overcoat, a heavy pocketbook. "There!"? he cried,
well-nigh out of breath, "there are a hundred gulden for you, Ephraim.
With that you can, at all events, make a start; and then you needn't
sell the few things you still have. There ? put the money away? oats
haven't fetched any price at all to-day, 'tis true; but for the sake of
Gudule's children, I don't mind what I do? Come, put it away,
Ephraim? and may God bless you, and make you prosper."
"Uncle!" cried Ephraim, as he raised the farmer's hand to his lips, "is
all this to be mine? All this?"
"Yes, my boy, yes; it IS a deal of money isn't it?" ? said Gudule's
brother, accompanying his words with a sounding slap on his massive
thigh. "I should rather think it is. With that you can do something, at
all events ? and shall I tell you something? In Bohemia the oat crop
is, unfortunately, very bad this season. But in Moravia it's splendid,
and is two groats cheaper ? So there's your chance, Ephraim, my child;
you've got the money, buy!" All at once a dark cloud overspread his
"It's a lot of money, Ephraim, that I am giving you ? many a merchant
can't lay his hands on it," he said, hesitatingly; "but if ? you were
to ? gam?"
The word remained unfinished, for upon his arm he suddenly felt a
sensation as of a sharp, pricking needle.
"Uncle Gabriel!" cried Viola?for it was she who had gripped his
arm?and the child's cheeks were flaming, whilst her lips curled with
scorn, and her white teeth gleamed like those of a beast of prey. "Uncle
Gabriel!" she almost shrieked, "if you don't trust Ephraim, then take
your money back again ? it's only because you are our mother's brother
that we accept it from you at all ? Ephraim shall repay you to the
last farthing ? Ephraim doesn't gamble ? you sha'n't lose a single
penny of it."
With a shake of his head the farmer regarded the strange child. He felt
something like annoyance rise within him; an angry word rose to the lips
of the usually good tempered man. But it remained unsaid; he was unable
to remove his eyes from the child's face.
"As I live," he muttered, "she has Gudule's very eyes."
And with another thumping slap on his leg, he merrily exclaimed:
"All right, we'll leave it so then?. If Ephraim doesn't repay me, I'll
take YOU, you wild thing? for you've stood surety for your brother,
and then I'll take you away, and keep you with me at home. Do you
agree? you little spit-fire, eh?"
"Yes, uncle!" cried Viola.
"Then give me a kiss, Viola."
The child hesitated for a moment, then she laid her cheek upon her
"Ah, now I've got you, you little spit-fire," he cried, kissing her
again and again. "Aren't you ashamed now to have snapped your uncle up
Then after giving Ephraim some further information about the present
price of oats, and the future prospects of the crops, with a sideshot
at the chances of wool, skins, and other merchandise, he took his leave.
There was great surprise in the Ghetto when the barely fifteen-year-old
lad made his first start in business. Many made merry over "the great
merchant," but before the year was ended, the sharp-seeing eyes of the
Ghetto saw that Ephraim had "a lucky hand." Whatever he undertook he
followed up with a calmness and tact which often baffled the restless
activity of many a big dealer, with all his cuteness and trickery.
Whenever Ephraim, with his pale, sad fnce, made his appearance at a
farmstead, to negotiate for the purchase of wool, or some such matter,
it seemed as though some invisible messenger had gone before him to
soften the hearts of the farmers. "No one ever gets things as cheap as
you do," he was assured by many a farmer's wife, who had been won by the
unconscious eloquence of his dark eyes. No longer did people laugh at
"the little merchant," for nothing so quickly kills ridicule as success.
When, two years later, his Uncle Gabriel came again to see how the
children were getting on, Ephraim was enabled to repay, in hard cash,
the money he had lent him.
"Oho!" cried Gudule's brother, with big staring eyes, as he clutched his
legs with both hands, "how have you managed in so short a time to save
so much? D'ye know that that's a great deal of money?"
"I've had good luck, uncle," said Ephraim, modestly.
"You've been?playing, perhaps?"
The words fell bluntly from the rough country-man, but hardly had they
been uttered, when Viola sprang from her chair, as though an adder had
stung her. "Uncle," she cried, and a small fist hovered before Gabriel's
eyes in such a threatening manner that he involuntarily closed them. But
the child, whose features reminded him so strongly of his dead sister,
could not make him angry.
"Ephraim," he exclaimed, in a jocund tone, warding off Viola with his
hands, "you take my advice. Take this little spit-fire with you into the
village one day?they may want a young she-wolf there." Then he
pocketed the money.
"Well, Ephraim," said he, "may God bless you, and grant you further
luck. But you won't blame me if I take the money,?I can do with it, and
in oats, as you know, there's some chance of good business just now. But
I am glad to see that you're so prompt at paying. Never give too much
credit! That's always my motto; trust means ruin, and eats up a man's
business, as rats devour the contents of a corn-barn."
There was but one thing that constantly threw its dark shadow across
these two budding lives,?it was the dark figure in a distant prison.
This it was that saddened the souls of the two children with a gloom
which no sunshine could dispel. When on Fridays Ephraim returned,
fatigued and weary from his work, to the home over which Viola presided
with such pathetic housewifely care, no smile of welcome was on her
face, no greeting on his. Ephraim, 'tis true, told his sister where he
had been, and what he had done, but in the simplest words there vibrated
that tone of unutterable sadness which has its constant dwelling-place
in such sorely-tried hearts.
Meanwhile, a great change had come over Viola. Nature continues her
processes of growth and development 'mid the tempests of human grief,
and often the fiercer the storm the more beautiful the after effects.
Viola was no longer the pale child, "the little spit-fire," by whom her
Uncle Gabriel's arm had been seized in such a violent grip. A womanly
gentleness had come over her whole being, and already voices were heard
in the Ghetto praising her grace and beauty, which surpassed even the
loveliness of her dead mother in her happiest days. Many an admiring eye
dwelt upon the beautiful girl, many a longing glance was cast in the
direction of the little house, where she dwelt with her brother. But the
daughter of a "gambler," the child of a man who was undergoing
imprisonment for the indulgence of his shameful vice! That was a picture
from which many an admirer shrank with horror!
One day Ephraim brought home a young canary for his sister. When he
handed her the bird in its little gilt cage, her joy knew no bounds, and
showering kisses by turns upon her brother, and on the wire-work of the
cage, her eyes sparkling with animation:
"You shall see, Ephraim, how I'll teach the little bird to speak," she
The softening influence which had, during the last few months, come over
his sister's nature was truly a matter of wonder to Ephraim. Humbly and
submissively she accepted the slightest suggestion on his part, as
though it were a command. He was to her a father and mother, and never
were parents more implicitly obeyed by a child than this brother by a
sister but three years his junior.
There was one subject, however, upon which Ephraim found his sister
implacable and firm?their absent father, the mere mention of whose name
made her tremble. Then there returned that haughty curl of the lips, and
all the other symptoms of a proud, inflexible spirit. It was evident
that Viola hated the man to whom she owed her existence.
Thus had it come about that Ephraim was almost afraid to pronounce his
father's name. Neither did he care to allude to their mother before
Viola, for the memory of her death was too closely bound up with that
dark form behind the distant prison walls.
Let us now return to the night on which Ephraim opened the door to his
father. How had it come about? A thousand times Ephraim had thought
about his father's return?and now he durst not even kindle a light, to
look upon the long-estranged face. As silent as when he had come,
Ascher remained during the rest of the night; he had seated himself at
the window, and his arm was resting upon the very spot where formerly
the cage had stood. The bird had obtained its freedom, and was, no
doubt, by this time asleep, nestling amid the breeze-swept foliage of
some wooded glen. HE too had regained his liberty, but no sleep closed
his eyes, and yet he was in safe shelter, in the house of his children.
At length the day began to break. The sun was still hiding behind the
mountain-tops, but its earliest rays were already reflected upon the
window-panes. In the Ghetto footsteps became audible; here and there the
grating noise of an opening street-door was heard, while from round the
corner resounded, ever and anon, the hammer of the watchman, calling the
people to morning service; for it was a Fast-day, which commenced at
At that moment Ascher raised himself from his chair, and quickly turned
away from the window. Ephraim was already by his side. "Father, dear
father!" he cried from the inmost depths of his heart, as he tried to
grasp the hand of the convict.
"Don't make such a noise," said the latter, casting a furtive glance in
the direction of the window, and speaking in the same mysterious whisper
in which he had asked for admittance into the house.
What a strange awakening it was to his son, when, in the gray twilight
of the breaking day, he looked at Ascher more closely. In his
imagination Ephraim had pictured a wan, grief-worn figure, and now he
saw before him a strong, well-built man, who certainly did not present
the appearance of a person who had just emerged from the dank atmosphere
of a prison! On the contrary, he seemed stronger and more vigorous than
he had appeared in his best days.
"Has he had such a good time of it??" Ephraim felt compelled to ask
himself? "how different our poor mother looked!"
With a violent effort he repressed the feelings which swelled his bosom.
"Dear father," he said, with tears in his eyes, "make yourself quite
comfortable; you haven't closed your eyes the whole night, you must be
worn out. You are at home, remember?father!"
"It's all right," said Ascher, with a deprecating gesture, "WE fellows
know other ways of spending the night."
"WE FELLOWS!" The words cut Ephraim to the heart.
"But you may be taken ill, father," he timidly observed.
"I taken ill! What do you take me for?" Ascher laughed, boisterously.
"I haven't the slightest intention of falling ill."
At that moment the watchman was heard hammering at the door of the next
house. The reverberating blows seemed to have a strangely disquieting
effect upon the strong man: a violent tremor seized him; he cast one of
the frightened glances which Ephraim had noticed before in the direction
of the window, then with one bound he was at the door, and swiftly
turned the knob.
"Father, what's the matter?" Ephraim cried, much alarmed.
"Does the watchman look into the room when he passes by?" asked Ascher,
while his eyes almost burst from their sockets, with the intentness of
"Never," Ephraim assured him.
"Let me see, wait?" whispered Ascher.
The three well-known knocks now resounded upon their own door, then the
shadow of a passing figure was thrown upon the opposite wall. With a
sigh of relief, the words escaped Ascher's bosom:
"He did not look inside?" he muttered to himself.
Then he removed his hand from the door-knob, came back into the centre
of the room, and approaching the table, rested his hand upon it.
"Ephraim?" he said after a while, in that suppressed tone which seemed
to be peculiar to him, "aren't you going to synagogue?"
"No, father," replied Ephraim, "I'm not going to-day."
"But they'll want to know," Ascher observed, and at the words an ugly
sneer curled the corners of his lip; "they'll want to know who your
guest is. Why don't you go and tell them?"
"Father!" cried Ephraim.
"Then be good enough to draw down the blinds. ?What business is it of
theirs who your guest is? Let them attend to their own affairs? But
they wouldn't be of 'the chosen race' if they didn't want to know what
was taking place in the furthermost corner of your brain. You can't be
too careful with them?you're never secure against their far-scenting
noses and their sharp, searching eyes."
It was now broad daylight. Ephraim drew down the blinds.
"The blinds are too white?" Ascher muttered, and moving a chair
forward, he sat down upon it with his back to the window.
Ephraim proceeded to wind the phylacteries round his arm, and commenced
to say his prayers softly.
His devotions over, he hurriedly took the phylacteries from his head and
Ascher was still sitting immovable, his back to the window, his eyes
fixed upon the door.
"Why don't you ask me where I've left my luggage?" he suddenly cried.
"I'll fetch it myself if you'll tell me where it is," Ephraim remarked,
in all simplicity.
"Upon my word, you make me laugh," cried Ascher, and a laugh like that
of delirium burst from his lips. "All I can say, Ephraim, is, the most
powerful giant upon earth would break his back beneath the weight of my
Then only did Ephraim grasp his father's meaning.
"Don't worry yourself, father?" he said lovingly.
"Would you like to support me, perhaps!" Ascher shouted, with cutting
Ephraim's heart almost ceased to beat. Then movements were heard in the
"Have you any one with you?" cried Ascher springing up. His sharp ears
had instantly caught the sounds, and again the strong man was seized
with violent trembling.
"Father, it's only dear Viola," said Ephraim.
A nameless terror seemed to have over-powered Ascher. With one hand
convulsively clenched upon the arm of the chair, and the other pressed
to his temple, he sat breathing heavily. Ephraim observed with alarm
what a terrible change had come over his father's features during the
last few seconds: his face had become ashen white, his eyes had lost
their lustre, he seemed to have aged ten years.
The door opened, and Viola entered.
"Viola!" cried Ephraim, "here is our?"
"Welcome!" said the girl, in a low voice, as she approached a few steps
nearer. She extended her hand towards him, but her eyes were cast down.
She stood still for a moment, then, with a hurried movement, turned
"Gudule!" cried Ascher, horror-stricken, as he fell back almost
senseless in his chair.
Was it the glamour of her maiden beauty that had so overpowered this
unhappy father? Or was it the extraordinary resemblance she bore to the
woman who had so loved him, and whose heart he had broken? The utterance
of her name, the terror that accompanied the exclamation, denoted the
effect which the girl's sudden appearance had produced upon that sadly
"Viola!" Ephraim cried, in a sorrow-stricken voice, "why don't you come
"I CAN'T, Ephraim, I CAN'T?" she moaned, as, with halting steps, she
walked towards the door.
"Come, speak to him, do," Ephraim entreated, taking her hand in his.
"Let me go!" she cried, trying to release herself ? "I am thinking of
Suddenly Ascher rose.
"Where's my stick?" he cried. "I want the stick which I brought with
me?Where is it? I must go."
"Father, you won't?" cried Ephraim.
Then Viola turned round.
"Father," she said, with twitching lips? "you'll want something to eat
before you go."
"Yes, yes, let me have something to eat," he shouted, as he brought his
fist down upon the table. "Bring me wine?and let it be good ?I am
thirsty enough to drink the river dry. ?Wine, and beer, and anything
else you can find, bring all here, and then, when I've had my fill, I'll
"Go, Viola," Ephraim whispered in his sister's ear, "and bring him all
he asks for."
When Viola had left the room, Ascher appeared to grow calmer. He sat
down again leaning his arms upon the table.
"Yes," he muttered to himself: "I'll taste food with my children, before
I take up my stick and go?They say it's lucky to have the first drink
of the day served by one's own child ?and luck I will have again, at
any price? What good children! While I've been anything but a good
father to them, they run hither and thither and take the trouble to get
me food and drink, and I, I've brought them home nothing but a wooden
stick. But I'll repay them, so help me God, I'll make them rich yet, but
I've got nothing but a wooden stick, and I want money, no play without
money, and no luck either?"
Gradually a certain thoughtfulness overspread Ascher's agitated
features, his lips were tightly compressed, deep furrows lined his
forehead, while his eyes were fixed in a stony glare, as if upon some
distant object. In the meantime Ephraim had remained standing almost
motionless, and it was evident that his presence in the room had quite
escaped his father's observation. With a chilling shudder running
through his frame, his hair on end with horror, he listened to the
strange soliloquy!?Then he saw his father's eyes travelling slowly in
the direction of the old bureau in the corner, and there they remained
fixed. "Why does he leave the key in the door, I wonder," he heard him
mutter between his teeth, "just as Gudule used to do; I must tell him
when he comes back, keys shouldn't be left indoors, never, under any
circumstances." The entrance of Viola interrupted the old gambler's
audible train of thought.
Ephraim gave a gasp of relief.
"Ah, what have you brought me?" cried Ascher, and his eyes sparkled with
animation, as Viola produced some bottles from under her apron, and
placed them and some glasses upon the table.
"Now then, fill up the glass," he shouted, in a commanding voice, "and
take care that you don't spill any, or you'll spoil my luck."
With trembling hand Viola did as she was bidden, without spilling a
single drop. Then he took up the glass and drained it at one draught.
His face flushed a bright crimson: he poured himself out another glass.
"Aren't you drinking, Ephraim?" he exclaimed, after he had finished that
"I don't drink to-day, father," Ephraim faltered, "it's a fast."
"A fast? What fast? I have been fasting too," he continued, with a
coarse laugh, "twice a week, on bread and water; an excellent thing for
the stomach. Fancy, a fast-day in midsummer. On such a long day, when
the sun is up at three already, and at eight o'clock at night is still
hesitating whether he'll go to bed or not ?what have I got to do with
His face grew redder every moment; he had drunk a third and a fourth
glass, and there was nothing but a mere drain left in the bottle.
Already his utterance was thick and incoherent, and his eyes were fast
assuming that glassy brightness that is usually the forerunner of
helpless intoxication. It was a sight Ephraim could not bear to see.
Impelled by that natural, almost holy shame which prompted the son of
Noah to cover the nakedness of his father, he motioned to his sister to
leave. Then HE, too, softly walked out of the room.
Outside, in the corridor, the brother and sister fell into each other's
arms. Both wept bitterly: for a long time neither of them could find
words in which to express the grief which filled their souls. At length
Viola, her head resting upon Ephraim's shoulder, whispered: "Ephraim,
what do you think of him?"
"He is ill, I think?" said Ephraim, in a voice choked with sobs.
"What, you call THAT illness, Ephraim?" Viola cried; "if that's illness,
then a wild beast is ill too."
"Viola, for Heaven's sake, be quiet: he's our own father after all!"
"Ephraim!" said the girl, with a violent outburst of emotion, as she
again threw herself into her brother's arms? "just think if mother had
lived to see this!"
"Don't, don't, Viola, my sweet!" Ephraim exclaimed, sobbing convulsively.
"Ephraim!" the girl cried, shaking her head in wild despair, "I don't
believe in the Sechus! When we live to see all this, and our hearts do
not break, we lose faith in everything?Ephraim, what is to become of
"Hush, dear Viola, hush, you don't know what you are saying," replied
Ephraim, "I believe in it, because mother herself told us?you must
believe in it too."
But Viola again shook her head. "I don't believe in it any longer," she
moaned, "I can't."
Noiselessly, Ephraim walked toward the door of the front room; he placed
his ear against the keyhole, and listened. Within all was silent. A
fresh terror seized him. Why was no sound to be heard??He opened the
door cautiously lest it should creak. There sat his father asleep in the
arm-chair, his head bent on his bosom, his arms hanging limp by his
"Hush, Viola," he whispered, closing the door as cautiously as he had
opened it, "he is asleep. ?I think it will do him good. Be careful
that you make no noise."
Viola had seated herself upon a block of wood outside the kitchen door,
and was sobbing silently. In the meantime, Ephraim, unable to find a
word of solace for his sister, went and stood at the street door, so
that no unbidden guest should come to disturb his father's slumbers. It
was mid-day; from the church hard by streamed the peasants and their
wives in their Sunday attire, and many bestowed a friendly smile upon
the well-known youth. But he could only nod his head in return, his
heart was sore oppressed, and a smile at such a moment seemed to him
nothing short of sin. He went back into the house, and listened at the
door of the room. Silence still reigned unbroken, and with noiseless
steps he again walked away.
"He is still sleeping," he whispered to his sister. "Just think what
would have happened if we had still had that bird?He wouldn't have
been able to sleep a wink."
"Ephraim, why do you remind me of it?" cried Viola with a fresh outburst
of tears. "Where is the little bird now, I wonder??"
Ephraim sat down beside his sister, and took her hand in his. Thus they
remained seated for some time, unable to find a word of comfort for each
At length movements were heard. Ephraim sprang to his feet and once more
approached the door to listen.
"He is awake!" he softly said to Viola, and slowly opening the door, he
entered the room.
Ascher was walking up and down with heavy tread.
"Do you feel refreshed after your sleep, father?" Ephraim asked timidly.
Ascher stood still, and confronted his son. His face was still very
flushed, but his eyes had lost their glassy stare; his glance was clear
"Ephraim, my son," he began, in a kindly, almost cheerful tone, "you've
grown into a splendid business man, as good a business man as one can
meet with between this and Vienna. I'm sure of it. But I must give you
one bit of advice; it's worth a hundred pounds to one in your position.
Never leave a key in the lock of a bureau!"
Ephraim looked at his father as though stupefied. Was the man mad or
delirious to talk in such a strain? At that moment, from the extreme end
of the Ghetto, there sounded the three knocks, summoning the people to
evening prayer. As in the morning, so again now the sound seemed to stun
the vigorous man. His face blanched and assumed an expression of terror;
he trembled from head to foot. Then again he cast a frightened glance
in the direction of the window.
"Nothing but knocking, knocking!" he muttered. "They would like to knock
the most hidden thoughts out of one's brains, if they only could. What
makes them do it, I should like to know??To the clanging of a bell you
can, at all events, shut your ears, you need only place your hands to
them?but with that hammer they bang at every confounded door, and
drive one crazy. Who gives them the right to do it, I should like to
know?" He stood still listening.
"Do you think he will be long before he reaches here?" he asked Ephraim,
in a frightened voice.
"He has already knocked next door but one."
Another minute, and the three strokes sounded on the door of the house.
Ascher heaved a sigh of relief; he rubbed his hand across his forehead;
it was wet with perspiration.
"Thank God!" he cried, as though addressing himself, "that's over, and
won't come again till to-morrow."
"Ephraim, my son!" he cried, with a sudden outburst of cheerfulness,
accompanying the words with a thundering bang upon the table, "Ephraim,
my son, you shall soon see what sort of a father you have. Now, you're
continually worrying your brains, walking your feet off, trying to get
a skin, or praying some fool of a peasant to be good enough to sell you
a bit of wool. Ephraim, my son, all that shall soon be changed, take my
word for it. I'll make you rich, and as for Viola, I'll get her a
husband?such a husband that all the girls in Bohemia will turn green
and yellow with envy?Ascher's daughter shall have as rich a dowry as
the daughter of a Rothschild? But there's one thing, and one thing
only, that I need, and then all will happen as I promise, in one night."
"And what is that, father!" asked Ephraim, with a slight shudder.
"Luck, luck, Ephraim, my son!" he shouted. "What is a man without luck?
Put a man who has no luck in a chest full of gold; cover him with gold
from head to foot; when he crawls out of it, and you search his pockets,
you'll find the gold has turned to copper."
"And will you have luck, father?" asked Ephraim.
"Ephraim, my son!" said the old gambler, with a cunning smile, "I'll
tell you something?There are persons whose whole powers are devoted to
one object?how to win a fortune; in the same way as there are some who
study to become doctors, and the like, so these study what we call
luck?and from them I've learned it."
He checked himself in sudden alarm lest he might have said too much, and
looked searchingly at his son. A pure soul shone through Ephraim's open
countenance, and showed his father that his real meaning had not been
"Never mind," he shouted loudly, waving his arms in the air, "what is
to come no man can stop. Give me something to drink, Ephraim."
"Father," the latter faltered, "don't you think it will harm you?"
"Don't be a fool, Ephraim!" cried Ascher, "you don't know my
constitution. Besides, didn't you say that to-day was a fast, when it
is forbidden to eat anything? And have I asked you for any food? But as
for drink, that's quite another thing! The birds of the air can't do
without it, much less man!"
Ephraim saw that for that evening, at all events, it would not do to
oppose his father. He walked into the kitchen where Viola was preparing
supper, or rather breakfast, for after the fast this was the first meal
of the day.
"Viola," he said, "make haste and fetch some fresh wine."
"For him?" cried Viola, pointing her finger almost threateningly in the
direction of the sitting-room door.
"Don't, don't, Viola!" Ephraim implored.
"And you are fasting!" she said.
"Am I not also fasting for him?" said Ephraim.
With a full bottle in his hand Ephraim once more entered the room. He
placed the wine upon the table, where the glasses from which Ascher had
drunk in the morning were still standing.
"Where is Viola?" asked Ascher, who was again pacing the room with firm
"She is busy cooking."
"Tell her she shall have a husband, and a dowry that will make half the
girls in Bohemia turn green and yellow with envy."
Then he approached the table, and drank three brimming glasses, one
after the other. "Now then," he said, as with his whole weight he
dropped into the old arm-chair? "Now I'll have a good night's rest.
I need strength and sharp eyes, and they are things which only sleep can
give. Ephraim, my son," he continued after awhile in thick, halting
accents? "tell the watch?Simon is his name, I think?he can give six
knocks instead of three upon the door, in the morning, he won't disturb
me?and to Viola you can say I'll find her a husband, handsomer than
her eyes have ever beheld, and tell her on her wedding-day she shall
wear pearls round her neck like those of a queen?no, no, like those of
Gudule, her mother." A few moments later he was sound asleep.
It was the dead of night. All round reigned stillness and peace, the
peace of night! What a gentle sound those words convey, a sound akin
only to the word HOME! Fraught, like it, with sweetest balm, a fragrant
flower from long-lost paradise. Thou art at rest, Ascher, and in safe
shelter; the breathing of thy children is so restful, so tranquil?
Desist! desist! 'T is too late. Side by side with the peace of night,
there dwell Spirits of Evil, the never-resting, vagrant, home-destroying
guests, who enter unbidden into the human soul! Hark, the rustling of
their raven-hued plumage! They take wing, they fly aloft; 't is the
shriek of the vulture, swooping down upon the guileless dove.
Is there no eye to watch thee? Doth not thine own kin see thy foul deeds?
'T is too late?
Open is the window, no grating noise has accompanied the unbolting of
the shutter? The evil spirits have taken care that the faintest sound
shall die away?even the rough iron obeys their voices?it is they who
have bidden: "Be silent; betray him not; he is one of us."
Even the key in the door of the old bureau is turned lightly and without
noise. Groping fingers are searching for a bulky volume. Have they found
it? Is there none there to cry in a voice of thunder: "Cursed be the
father who stretches forth his desecrating hand towards the things that
are his children's"??
They HAVE found it, the greedy fingers! and now, but a spring through
the open window, and out into the night?
At that moment a sudden ray of light shines through a crack in the door
of the room? Swiftly the door opens, a girlish figure appears on the
threshold, a lighted lamp in her hand?
"Gudule!" he shrieks, horror-stricken, and falls senseless at her feet.
Ascher was saved. The terrible blow which had struck him down had not
crushed the life from him. He was awakened. But when, after four weeks
of gruesome fever and delirium, his mind had somewhat regained its
equilibrium, his hair had turned white as snow, and his children beheld
an old, decrepit man.
That which Viola had denied her father when he returned to them in all
the vigor of his manhood, she now lavished upon him in his suffering and
helplessness, with that concentrated power of love, the source of which
is not human, but Divine. In the space of one night of terror, the
merest bud of yesterday had suddenly blossomed forth into a flower of
rarest beauty. Never did gentler hands cool a fever-heated brow, never
did sweeter voice mingle its melody with the gruesome dreams of
On his sick-bed, lovingly tended by Ephraim and Viola, an ennobling
influence gradually came over the heart of the old gambler, and so
deeply touched it, that calm peace crowned his closing days. It was
strange that the events of that memorable night, and the vicissitudes
that had preceded it, had left no recollection behind, and his children
took good care not to re-awaken, by the slightest hint, his sleeping
A carriage drew up one day in front of Ascher's house. There has
evidently been a splendid crop of oats this year. Uncle Gabriel has
come. Uncle Gabriel has only lately assumed the additional character of
father-in-law to Ephraim, for he declared that none but Ephraim should
be his pet daughter's husband. And now he has come for the purpose of
having a confidential chat with Viola. There he sits, the kind-hearted,
simple-minded man, every line of his honest face eloquent with
good-humor and happiness, still guilty of an occasional violent
onslaught upon his thighs. Viola still remains his "little spit-fire."
"Now, Viola, my little spit-fire," said he, "won't you yet allow me to
talk to my Nathan about you? Upon my word, the boy can't bear the
suspense any longer."
"Uncle," says Viola, and a crimson blush dyes her pale cheeks: "Uncle,"
she repeats, in a tone of such deep earnestness, that the laughing
expression upon Gabriel's face instantly vanishes, "please don't talk
to him at all. MY place is with my father!"
And to all appearances Viola will keep her word.
Had she taken upon herself a voluntary penance for having, in her
heart's bitter despair, presumed to abjure her faith in the Sechus of
her mother? Or was there yet another reason? The heart of woman is a
strangely sensitive thing. It loves not to build its happiness upon the
hidden ruins of another's life.