Sunk in deep melancholy, Dr. Friedrich Loewenberg sat at a round marble table in his cafe on the Alsergrund. It was one of the most charming of Viennese cafes. Ever since his student days he had been coming there, appearing every afternoon at five o'clock with bureaucratic punctuality. The sickly, pale waiter greeted him submissively, and he would bow with formality to the equally pale girl cashier to whom he never spoke.
After that, he would seat himself at the round reading table, drink his coffee, and read the papers with which the waiter plied him. And when he had finished with the dailies and the weeklies, the comic sheets and the professional magazines-this never consumed less than an hour and a half-there were chats with friends or solitary musings.
That is to say, once upon a time, there had been lighthearted talk. Now only dreams were left, for the two good comrades with whom he had been wont to while away the idle, pleasant evening hours at this cafe had died several months previously. Both had been older than he; and it was, as Heinrich had written him just before sending a bullet into his temple, "chronologically reasonable" that they should yield to despair sooner than he. Oswald went to Brazil to help in founding a Jewish labor settlement, and there succumbed to the yellow fever.
So it happened that for several months past Friedrich had been sitting alone at their old table. Now, having worked through to the bottom of the pile of newspapers, he sat staring straight ahead without seeking out someone to talk to. He felt too tired to make new acquaintances, as if he were not a young man of twenty-three, but a graybeard who had all too often parted with cherished friends. His gaze was fixed upon the light cloud of smoke that veiled the comers of the room.
Several young men stood about the billiard table, making bold strokes with their long poles. They were in the same boat as himself, but for all that not too unhappy these budding physicians, newly baked jurists, freshly graduated engineers. They had completed their professional studies, and now they had nothing to do. Most of them were Jews. When they were not too engrossed in cards or billiards, they complained how very hard it was to make one's way "these days." Meanwhile they passed "these days" in endless rounds of cards. Friedrich felt sorry for the thoughtless young fellows, though at the same time he rather envied them.
They were really only a kind of superior proletariat, victims of a viewpoint that had dominated middle-class Jewry twenty or thirty years before: the sons must not be what the fathers had been. They were to be freed from the hardships of trade and commerce. And so the younger generation entered the "liberal" professions en masse. The result was an unfortunate surplus of trained men who could find no work, but were at the same time spoiled for a modest way of life. They could not, like their Christian colleagues, slip into pubic posts; and became, so to say a drug on the market. Nevertheless, they had the obligations of their "station in life," an arrogant sense of class distinction, and degrees that they could not back up with a shilling. Those who had some means gradually used them up, or else continued to live on the paternal purse. Others were on the lookout for eligible part is, facing the delicious prospect of servitude to wealthy fathers-in-law. Still others engaged in ruthless and not always honorable competition in pursuits where genteel manners were requisite. They furnished the curious and lamentable spectacle of men who, because they did not want to become merchants, dealt at "professionals" in secret diseases and unlawful legal affairs. Some who in their need became journalists trafficked in public opinion. Others ran about to public assemblies and hawked worthless slogans in order to make themselves known in quarters where they could make useful party connections.
Friedrich would not resort to any of these shifts. "You are not fit for life," poor Oswald had said grimly just before going off to Brazil. "You let too many things disgust you. One must be able to swallow things. Vermin, for example, or offal. So a man becomes strong and well-fleshed, and winds up in a good berth. But you-you are nothing but a noble ass. 'Get thee to a nunnery, Ophelia!' No one will believe that you are an honest man, because you are a Jew....What will happen to you? Your few inherited shillings will melt away long before you can get a foothold in the law. Then you will be compelled either to do something disgusting-or to hang yourself. Buy yourself a rope, I beg you, while you still have a gulden. Don't count on me! For one thing, I shall not be here. For another, I am your friend!"
Oswald had coaxed him to come along to Brazil, but he had not been able to decide to do so. He did not confide his secret reason to the friend who was going to an early death in a strange land. The "reason" was blond and dreamy, a marvelously sweet creature. Not even to these trusted comrades had he ventured to speak of Ernestine, fearing their jests. And now the two dear fellows were gone. He could not turn to them for sympathy or advice even if he wished. His situation was very difficult. What would they have said if he had told them? Suppose they had never gone away, and all three were now sitting together at the old reading table? Closing his eyes, Friedrich held an imaginary conversation.
"My friends, I am in love. No, I love...."
"Poor fellow!" Heinrich would have said.
Oswald, however: "Such stupidity is quite like you, dear Friedrich!"
"Oh, it's more than stupidity, my friends. It's full-fledged madness. If I were to ask Ernestine Loeffler's father for her hand, he would probably laugh at me. I am a mere lawyer's assistant, with a salary of forty gulden a month. I have nothing left nothing at all. These last few months have been my ruin. I have spent the last few hundred gulden of my inheritance. I know it was madness to strip myself of everything. But I wanted to be near her ...to watch her graceful gestures, to listen to her sweet voice. I had to go to the spa where she was staying for the summer. There were plays, concerts, and all the rest of it. And a man has to dress well in that set. Now I have nothing left, but I love her as much as ever. No, more than ever!"
"And what do you want to do?" Heinrich was asking. "I want to tell her of my love for her, and ask her to wait for me for a few years until I can establish myself."
Oswald's cynical laughter echoed through the reverie. "Yes, yes! To wait! Ernestine Loeffler wait for a starveling until she is passe. Hal hal ha!"
Someone actually was laughing close to Friedrich's ear. He opened his eyes with a start. Schiffmann, a young bank clerk whom he had met at the Loefhers, stood before him laughing heartily. "You must have gone to bed very late last night, Dr. Loewenberg, to be sleepy at this hour!"
Friedrich was embarrassed. "I was not asleep," he replied.
"Well, this will be another late night. Of course you're going to the Loeffers'." Schiffmann lounged into a seat beside the reading table.
Friedrich cared little for the young fellow, but tolerated his company because he could speak to him of Ernestine, and often learned from him what plays she was to attend. (Schiffmann had his connections with theatrical box offices, and could secure tickets for the most crowded performances.) "Yes," he replied, "I also am invited there tonight."
Shiffmann, who had picked up a newspaper, exclaimed suddenly, "I say, this is curious!"
"What is it?"
"Ah, you read the advertisements, too!" commented Friedrich, with an ironic smile.
"Do I read the advertisements too?" retorted Schiffmann. "I read the advertisements in particular. There's nothing more interesting in the paper except the stock exchange reports."
"Indeed! I never read the stock exchange reports."
"Ah, yes, you... But I! After one glance at the exchange rates, I can sum up the whole European situation...But after that I turn at once to the advertisements. You've no idea of the things one finds there. Heaps of things and people are for sale. That is to say, everything in the world can be bought for a price, but one cannot always pay the price. From the advertising columns I if always find out what opportunities there are. I say: Know everything, need nothing! ...I have noticed a remarkable advertisement for the last few days, but I do not understand it."
"Is it in a foreign language?"
"Well, just look at this." Schiffmann handed the paper to Friedrich, and pointed to a small notice. It read: "Wanted, an educated, desperate young man willing to make a last experiment with his life. Apply N. O. Body, this office."
"You are right," said Friedrich. "That is a remarkable advertisement. 'An educated, desperate young man.' Such a man might be found, of course, but the condition imposed is a very difficult one. A man must be desperate indeed to throwaway his life on a last experiment."
"Well, Mr. Body seems not to have found him. He has been advertising for some time. But I should like to know who this Mr. Body is with his queer tastes."
"It is no one."
"N. O. Body-Nobody. Means no one in English." "Ah, yes. I had not thought of English. Know everything, need nothing. ...But it's time to go if we're not to be late at the Loefflers'. We must be punctual this evening."
"Why this evening particularly?"
"Sorry, but I can't tell! Discretion is a point of honor with me.. ..But be prepared for a surprise...Waiter! Check!"
A surprise? Of a sudden Friedrich felt a vague anxiety.
As he left the cafe with Schiffmann, he noticed a ten year-old boy standing in the outer doorway. The child's shoulders were hunched up in a thin little coat. He held his arms tightly across his body, and stamped on the drifted snow in a sheltered nook. The hopping seemed almost like a pose, but Friedrich realized that with those tom shoes the child must be freezing bitterly. He picked three copper coins out of his pocket by the light of the street lamp. The boy thanked him shiveringly, and ran off.
"What! You encourage street begging!" cried Schiffmann indignantly.
"I don't imagine the little fellow is running around in this December weather to amuse himself. ...Seemed like a Jewish child too."
"Then let him go to the Jewish Community or to the Israelitsche Allianz, and not loiter about cafes in the evening!"
"Don't get excited, Mr. Schiffmann. You gave him nothing."
"My dear sir," said Schiffmann firmly, "I am a member of the Society against Pauperization and Beggary. Annual dues, one gulden."
The Loeffler family lived on the second floor of a large house on Gonzaga Street, the ground floor being occupied by the cloth firm of Moritz Loeffier & Co.
When Friedrich and Schiffmann entered the foyer they realized from the number of coats and wraps already hanging there that the evening's gathering was larger than usual.
"Quite a clothing shop," remarked Schiffmann.
Friedrich knew most of the people already assembled in the drawing room. The only stranger was the bald-headed man who stood next to Emestine by the piano smiling at her confidentially.
The girl extended her hand cordially to the newcomer.
"Doctor Loewenberg, come and be introduced to Mr. Leopold Weinberger."
"Member of the firm of Samuel Weinberger and Sons of Bruenn," supplemented Papa Loeffler, not without a touch of solemnity and benevolence.
The gentlemen shook hands politely. Friedrich noted that Mr. Weinberger of Bruenn had a decided squint and very damp palms. He was not sorry, because these characteristics banished the thought that had flashed into his mind as he entered the room. Ernestine and a man like that-simply impossible! She was enchanting as she stood there-slender, graceful, her lovely head a little bent. Friedrich feasted his eyes on her, but had to make room for other guests. Mr. Weinberger of Bruenn, however, kept somewhat obtrusively and persistently by her side.
Friedrich turned inquiringly to Schiffmann. "This Mr. Weinberger is probably an old family friend?"
"Oh, no. They know him only a fortnight, but he is a fine cloth firm."
"What is fine, Mr. Schiffmann-the cloth or the firm?" asked Friedrich, now elated and reassured. Certainly an acquaintance of a fortnight could not be a fiance.
"Both," replied Schiffmann. "Samuel Weinberger and Sons can borrow all the money they want at four per cent. First rate....Things are very elegant here tonight. Look over there. That lean man with the staring eyes is Schlesinger, the confidential representative of Baron Goldstein. He is obnoxious, but very popular."
"Why ask, 'why'? Because he is the agent of Baron Goldstein....Do you know that gray mutton-chop whisker? Not him, either? Where do you come from? That's Laschner, one of the most important men on the stock exchange-a large speculator. He'll stake you a couple of thousand shares as if they were nothing at all. Just now he is very rich. Wish I had his money! Whether he'll have a penny this time next year, I don't know. Just now his wife has larger diamonds than any other woman. ... They all envy her. ..."
Mrs. Laschner sat in a corner with some equally overdressed women passionately discussing millinery. The other groups were still in the reserved ante-prandial mood. Some of the guests, who seemed to be informed as to the nature of the impending surprise, whispered discreetly to one another. Friedrich felt uneasy, without exactly knowing why. Next to Schiffmann, he was the most insignificant guest of the evening. He had never before felt ill at ease in this circle because Ernestine had always kept him by her. But tonight she gave him not a word or glance. This Mr. Weinberger of Bruenn must be a very entertaining companion. Friedrich was suffering from an additional humiliation imposed on him by an unkind Fate. He and Schiffmann were conspicuous by their lack of formal evening costume-a circumstance that marked them as the social pariahs of the gathering. He would have preferred to run away, but lacked courage.
The large drawing room was crowded, but the hosts seemed still to be waiting for someone. Friedrich turned questioningly to his companion in misery. Schiffmann knew the answer, having just overheard a remark by the hostess. "They are waiting for Gruen and Blau."
"Who are they?"
"What! Don't you know Gruen and Blau? The two wittiest men in Vienna. No reception, no wedding, no betrothal party or anything else comes off without them. Some think Gruen the wittier; others prefer Blau. Gruen has more of a tendency toward puns, and Blau pokes fun at people. Blau's had his face slapped more than once, but that never upsets him. He has the kind of face that never reddens when it's slapped. Both these men are very popular in the higher circles of Jewish society. Of course, being rivals, they hate each other."
There was a slight rustle in the salon. Mr. Gruen had entered. He was a long, lanky man with a reddish beard and ears that stood off from his head. Blau called his rival's ears "unseamed," because they did not fold inward over the muscle at the upper edge, but lay flat.
Ernestine's mother amiably reproached the famous jester. "Why so late, Mr. Gruen?"
"Because I could come no later," replied he smartly. His hearers smiled in approval. A shadow flitted over Gruen's face. Blau had entered.
Blau was about thirty years old and of medium height. His face was clean shaven, and a pince-nez was set on his sharply curved nose. "I have been at the Wiedener Theater," he reported, "attending a first night performance. I left after the first act."
His announcement aroused interest. Ladies and gentlemen gathered around him, and he proceeded. "The first act, to everyone's surprise, did not fall flat."
"Moriz," called Mrs. Laschner imperiously to her husband, "I want to see that play tomorrow night."
"The librettist's friends also enjoyed themselves immensely," continued Blau.
"Is the operetta so good?" inquired Schlesinger, representative of Baron Goldstein. "No, so bad!" explained Blau. "The playwright's friends enjoy a production only when it is bad."
Dinner was announced. The spacious dining room was overcrowded. There was barely elbow room at the table. Ernestine sat beside Mr. Weinberger. Friedrich and Schiffmann had to take seats at the very foot of the table.
At first there was more clatter of dishes and silver than conversation. Blau called across the table to his competitor, "Don't eat so loudly, Gruen. I can't hear my own fish."
"Fish is no food for you. You ought to eat cutlets made of jealousy." Gruen's adherents laughed; Blau's thought the joke dull.
Attention was diverted from the humorists when an elderly gentleman sitting next to ,Mrs. Loeffler remarked in a slightly raised voice that things were becoming worse in Moravia. "In the provincial towns," he said, "our people are in actual peril. When the Germans are in a bad mood, they break Jewish windows. When the Czechs are out of sorts, they break into Jewish homes. The poor are beginning to emigrate. But they don't know where to go."
Mrs. Laschner chose this moment to scream to her hushand, "Moriz! You must take me to the Burg Theatre the day after tomorrow!"
"Don't interrupt!" replied the broker. "Dr. Weiss is telling us about the situation in Moravia. Not pleasant, 'pon my honor." Samuel Weinberger, father of the bridegroom, broke into the conversation. "Being a rabbi, Doctor, you see things rather black."
"White (Weiss) always sees black," interjected one of the wits, but the pun went unnoticed.
"I feel quite safe in my factory," continued the elder Weinberger. "When they make any trouble for me, I send for the police, or call on the commandant. Just show bayonets to the mob, and it mends its manners."
"But that in itself is a grave situation," countered Dr. Weiss gently.
Dr. Walter, a lawyer whose name had originally been Veiglstock, remarked, "I don't know who it was that said you could do anything with bayonets except sit on them." "I feel it coming," cried Laschner, "We'll all have to wear the yellow badge."
"Or emigrate," said the rabbi.
"I ask you, where to?" asked Walter. "Are things better anywhere else? Even in free France the anti-Semites have the upper hand,"
Dr. Weiss, a simple rabbi from a provincial town in Moravia, did not know exactly in what company he found himself, and ventured a few shy remarks. "A new movement has arisen within the last few years, which is called Zionism. Its aim is to solve the Jewish problem through colonization on a large scale. All who can no longer bear their present lot will return to our old home, to Palestine."
He spoke very quietly, unaware that the people about him were getting ready for an outburst of laughter. He was therefore dumbfounded at the effect of the word "Palestine." The laughter ran every gamut. The ladies giggled, the gentlemen roared and neighed. Friedrich alone was indignant at the brutal and unseemly merriment at the old man's expense.
Blau took advantage of the first breathing spell to declare that had the new operetta boasted one jest like this, all would have been well with it.
"And I'll be ambassador at Vienna!" shouted Gruen.
The laughter broke out once more. "I too!" "I too!"
Blau assumed a serious tone. "Gentlemen, everyone cannot have that post. I am certain the Austrian Government would not accept so many Jewish ambassadors. You must seek other appointments."
The old rabbi, deeply embarrassed, did not again raise his eyes from his plate while the humorists zealously dissected the new idea. They divided the new empire, they described its customs. The stock exchange would be closed on the Sabbath. Those who served their country or enriched themselves on the stock exchange would receive the "Order of David" or the "meat" sword from the king. But who would be king?
"Baron Goldstein by all means," suggested Blau.
Schlesinger, representative of that renowned banker, was annoyed. "I beg that the person of Baron von Goldstein be left out of this conversation," he said, "at least while I am present."
Almost the whole company nodded approval. The witty Blau did sometimes say very tactless things. Bringing Baron Goldstein into this kind of talk was really going a bit far. But Blau went on. "Dr. Walter will be appointed minister of justice, and will be ennobled under the title of 'von Veiglstock.' 'Walter, count of Veiglstock.' "
Laughter. The lawyer blushed at the sound of his paternal cognomen. "It's a long time since you've had your face slapped!" he cried.
The punster Gruen, more cautious, whispered some word-play on the lawyer's name to the lady next to him. "Will there be theaters in Palestine?" queried Mrs. Laschner. "If not, I shall not go there."
"Certainly, madam," replied Gruen. "All Israel will assemble for the festival performances at the royal theater in Jerusalem."
Rabbi Weiss finally ventured a word. "Whom are you mocking, gentlemen? Yourselves?"
"Oh, no," replied Blau. "We take ourselves seriously."
"I am proud to be a Jew," asserted Laschner. "Because, if I were not proud, I should still be a Jew. I therefore prefer to be proud."
The two serving maids left the room to bring in the next course. "It is better not to discuss Jewish matters in the presence of the servants," remarked the hostess.
"Pardon me, madam,'" retorted Blau quickly. "I thought your servants knew you were Jews." Some of the guests laughed. "Still," declared Schlesinger authoritatively, "there's no need to shout it from the housetops."
Champagne was brought in. Schiffulann nudged Friedrich. "Now it will come out"
"What will come out?"
"You still haven't guessed?'
No, Friedrich still hadn't guessed. But the next moment he knew.
Mr. Loeffler tapped his glass with the point of his knife and rose to his feet. Silence ensued. The ladies leaned back in their chairs. Blau hastily shoved another bit of food into his mouth, and chewed while Papa Loeffler spoke.
"Esteemed friends! I am happy to announce to you that my daughter Ernestine has been betrothed to Mr. Leopold Weinberger of Bruenn, member of the firm of Samuel Weinberger and Sons. Here's to the bridal pair! Hoch!"
"Hochl" "Hoch!" "Hoch!" All were on their feet. Glasses clinked. The guests moved in a procession to the head of the table to congratulate the parents and the new couple. Friedrich walked in the line with a cloud before his eyes. For a second he stood before Ernestine, touching his glass to hers with a trembling hand. She looked quickly past him.
Good cheer prevailed. One toast followed another. Schlesinger delivered a dignified address. Gruen and Blau surpassed themselves. Gruen strained more syllables than ever; Blau made all sorts of tactless allusions. The company was in the best of humor.
It all reached Friedrich vaguely, as from a distance. He felt as if he were in a heavy fog, where nothing could be seen and breathing was difficult.
The dinner came to an end. Friedrich's one thought was to get away, far away, from all these people. He thought himself superfluous in the room-in the city, in the whole world. Trying to slip away as the guests thronged out of the dining room, he was intercepted by Ernestine.
"Doctor Loewenberg," she said to him, "you have said nothing to me yet."
"What shall I say to you, Miss Ernestine? ...I wish you happiness. Yes, yes. I wish you much happiness in this betrothal."
But the bridegroom was again at her side. He put his arm around her waist, and drew her away possessively. She smiled.
As he stepped out into the winter night, Friedrich asked himself which had been the more disgusting: the possessive gesture of Mr. Weinberger of Bruenn, or the smile of the young girl which he had hitherto thought so enchanting. What? The "partner of the firm" had knows the lovely one only fourteen days, and yet he was allowed to put his sweaty hand upon her body. Bile barter! Here went one of his illusions! The Weinberger firm evidently had much money. He, Friedrich, had none. In the Loeffler set, where nothing counted except pleasure and the good things in life, money was all. And yet, he himself was dependent upon this circle of the Jewish bourgeoisie. With these people, yet, and upon these people, he had to live: they were his future clientele. With luck he might become the legal adviser of a man like Laschner. It would be altogether too fantastic to dream of a client like Baron Goldstein. Christian society and a Christian clientele were the most unattainable things in the world. What was a man to do? Was he to adapt himself to this Loeffler circle, share their low ideals, represent the interest of dubious money bags? Such noble conduct would bring an office of one's own after thus and so many years, and then he might claim the hand and the dowry of a maiden ready on a fortnight's acquaintance to marry the first man who came along. Or, if all this was too revolting, loneliness and poverty were the alternative.
Lost in these thoughts, he found himself again in front of the Cafe Birkenreis. Why go home so early to his tiny room? It was only ten o'clock. To sleep? Yes, if there were so be no awakening…
At the entrance he almost stumbled over a little body. A child was squatting on the steps. Friedrich recognized him as the same boy to whom he had given those coins a few hours earlier. He spoke to him roughly. "What's this? Begging again?"
The child replied shiveringly, in Yiddish, "I'm waiting for my father."
He stood up and began to hop, slapping one arm over the other to warm himself. But Friedrich was so steeped in his own misery that he had no sympathy to spare for the freezing child. He entered the smoke-filled room, and took his usual seat at the reading table. There were few guests in the cafe at that hour, except here and there, in the corners, a few belated card-players who could not bear to part. Over and over again they announced the last, the final, the unalterably final round, "Or my name's mud!" Friedrich sat staring into space until a gossipy acquaintance approached the table. He quickly withdrew behind a paper and pretended to read. His eye was caught by the advertisement that Schiffmann had found so fascinating, Here it was:
"Wanted, An educated, desperate young man willing to make a last experiment with his life. Apply N. O. Body, this office."
How strange! Now the description fitted himself. A last experiment! He was sick of. life. Before flinging it away like his poor friend Heinrich, he might as well try to make somthing of it. He asked the waiter for notepaper, and wrote briefly to N. O. Body. "I am your man. Dr. Friedrich Loewenberg, IX Hahngasse 67."
As he was sealing the letter, someone approached him from behind. "Tooth brushes, suspenders, shirt buttons please!" Gruffy he repulsed the importunate peddler. The man moved off with a tearful glance at the waiter, who might put him out for annoying the guests. Friedrich, conscience-stricken at having frightened the man, called him back and threw a small coin into the basket. The peddler held out his trash.
"I am no beggar. You must buy something. Otherwise, I cannot keep your money."
To get rid of him, Friedrich took a shin button from the basket. The peddler thanked him and went away. Indifferently Friedrich watched as he walked over to the waiter and handed him the recently acquired coin. The waiter pulled out a basket of stale rolls, and gave some to the peddler, who stuffed them hastily into his coat pocket.
Friedrich rose to go. As he passed through the doorway he noticed the freezing boy, who had now joined the peddler. The man gave him the hard rolls. Father and son evidently.
"What are you doing?" asked Friedrich.
"I am giving the boy bread to take home to my wife. This is the first sale I have made today."
"Are you telling the truth?" probed Friedrich.
"I wish it were not the truth," groaned the man. "Wherever I go, they put me out when I try to sell something. If you are a Jew, you might as well throw yourself into the Danube at once."
Though he had so recently resolved to have done with life, Friedrich was interested in this opportunity to be of some service. The affair would divert his thoughts. He posted his letter, and then walked along with the two. He asked the peddler to tell his story.
"We came here from Galicia," said the man. "In Cracow we lived in one room with three other families. We had no source of livelihood. Things can become no worse, I thought, and came here with my wife and children. Here it is no worse; neither is it better:'
"How many children have you?"
The man began to sob. "I had five, but three have died since we came here. Now I have only this boy here and a little girl still at the breast. ..David, don't run so fast!"
The boy turned his head. "Mother was so hungry when I brought her the three heller from this gentleman." "Oh, sir, you were the kind gentleman!"
The peddler tried to kiss Friedrich's hand.
The latter drew back quickly. "What are you thinking of? ...Tell me, my boy, what did your mother do with the few heller?"
"She fetched Miriam some milk."
"Miriam is our other child," explained the father.
"And your mother still went hungry?" asked Friedrich, shaken.
Friedrich still had a few gulden in his pocket. Having done with life, it did not matter whether he kept them or not. He could alleviate the need of these people, if only for the moment.
"Where do you live?" he asked.
"On the Brigittenauer Laende. We have a little room, but have been told to move."
"Good. I want to see for myself if all this is true. I shall go home with you:'
"Please do, sir. Though it will afford you no pleasure. We lie on straw. ..I had intended to go to some other cafes tonight. But, if you wish, I'll go home now."
They crossed the Augarten Bridge to the Brigittenauer Laende. David, sidling along beside his father, whispered, "Tateh, may I eat a piece of bread?"
"Yes, eat," replied the father. Yes, I'll eat some too. There will be enough for mother."
Father and son pulled the hard crusts out of their pockets and munched audibly.
They paused before a tall building on the Laende that still exhaled a moist, new smell. The peddler rang the bell. All remained quiet. After a bit he pulled again at the brass knob, saying, "The janitor knows who it is. That's why he takes his time. Many a time I have to stand here for an hour. He is a rude man. Often I do not trust myself to come if I haven't five kreutzer to give him for opening the door."
"What do you do then?"
"I walk until the morning, when the house-door is opened:'
Friedrich tugged vigorously at the bell. Once, twice. Behind the gate they heard a rustling, shuffling footsteps, jingling keys. A gleam of light showed through the slits. The gate was opened. The janitor held up the lantern and shouted, "Who was that rang so loudly? What! The Jew baggage?"
The peddler timidly excused himself. "It wasn't I-this gentleman here..."
"Such audacity!" stormed the janitor.
"Hold your tongue, fellow!" ordered Friedrich, throwing down a silver coin.
Hearing the clink of silver on the cobbles, the man became servile. "Oh, I did not mean you, sir. That Jew there!"
"Hold your tongue!" repeated Friedrich, "and light the way upstairs for me."
The janitor stooped to pick up the money. A whole crown! This must be a very great gentleman.
"It's on the fifth floor, sir," said the peddler. "Perhaps the janitor will lend us a bit of candle." "I'll lend nothing to I.ittwak," he shouted. "But if you, sir, want a candle..."
He promptly took the stub out of his lantern and handed it to Friedrich. Then he disappeared, muttering. Friedrich climbed up the five flights. It was well they had the candle; the darkness was impenetrable.
The Littwaks' one-windowed room, too, was in darkness, though the woman was awake and sitting upright on her straw pallet. Friedrich noticed that the narrow room contained no stick of furniture whatever. Not a chair, table, or cupboard. On the window sill were a few small bottles and some broken pots. It was a picture of deepest poverty. A whimpering baby lay at the woman's flabby breast. The mother stared at him anxiously out of her hollow eyes.
"Who is this, Hayim?" she moaned fearfully.
"A kind gentleman," her husband reassured her.
"Mother, here is some bread," said David approaching her.
She broke it with difficulty and slowly put a bit into her mouth. She was emaciated and very weak, but the careworn face still showed traces of beauty.
"Here we live," said Hayim Littwak with a bitter laugh. "But I don't know whether the day after tomorrow we shall have even this. We have been told to move."
The woman sighed heavily. David cowered in the straw and nestled against her.
"How much do you need in order to remain here?" asked Friedrich.
"Three gulden," replied Littwak. "One gulden twenty for rent, and the rest we owe the janitor's wife. But how shall I get three gulden by the day after tomorrow? We and the children will lie in the street."
The woman wept softly, hopelessly. "Three gulden!"
Friedrich reached into his pocket and found eight gulden. He handed them to the peddler.
"Righteous God! Is it possible?" cried Hayim, as the tears rolled over his face. "Eight gulden! Rebecca! David! God has helped us! Blessed be His Name!"
Rebecca, too, was beside herself with joy. She rose to her knees and crawled toward the benefactor. She held the sleeping baby on her right arm, and reached with her left for Friedrich's hand that she might kiss it.
He cut their thanks short. "Don't make such a fuss about it! The few gulden are nothing to me-it doesn't matter whether I have them or not...David can light me downstairs."
The woman sank back on her pallet, sobbing pitifully in her joy. Littwak murmured a Hebrew prayer. Friedrich left the room, escorted by David. When they reached the second landing, the boy, who had been holding the candle high, stopped short. "God will make me a strong man," he said. "And then I shall repay you."
Friedrich marveled at the little fellow's words and tone. There was something curiously firm and mature about him.
"How old are you?" he asked the boy.
"Ten, I think."
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
"I want to study. To study very much."
Friedrich sighed involuntarily. "And do you think that is enough?"
"Yes. I have heard that one who studies becomes a free, strong man. I shall study, God helping me. Then I shall go to the Land of Israel with my parents and Miriam."
"To Palestine?" asked Friedrich in amazement. "What will you do there?"
"That is our country. There we can be happy."
The poor Jew boy seemed in no wise ridiculous as he announced his program in a few emphatic words. Friedrich recalled those silly jesters, Gruen and Blau, who had made Zionism the butt of their insipid humor. "And when I have something," added David, "I shall repay you."
Friedrich smiled. "I did not give the money to you, but to your father."
"What is given to my father is given to me. I shall repay everything-good and evil." David spoke emphatically and shook his small fist toward the janitor's quarters near which they now stood.
Friedrich placed his hand on the boy's head. "May the God of our ancestors be with you!"
Later he wondered at his own words. He had had nothing to do with the ancestral God since as a child he had gone to temple with his father. This remarkable encounter, however, had stirred old and forgotten things within him. He longed for the strong faith of his youth, when he had communed with the God of his fathers in prayer.
The janitor shuffled forward. Friedrich turned to him. "Hereafter," he said, "you will leave these poor people in peace. Otherwise, you will have to reckon with me. Understand?"
As Friedrich's words were accompanied by a second tip, the fellow murmured meekly, "Kiss your grace's hand!"
Friedrich shook hands with little David, and stepped out on the lonely street.
In the reply which Friedrich received to his letter to the N. O. Body of the newspaper advertisement, he was asked to call at a certain fashionable hotel on the Ringstrasse. He came at the hour appointed, and asked for Mr. Kingscourt. He was shown to a salon on the first floor. A tall, broad-shouldered man greeted him there.
"Are you Dr. Loewenberg?" "
"Have a chair, Dr. Loewenberg!"
They sat down. Friedrich observed the stranger closely, and waited for him to speak. Mr. Kingscourt was a man in the fifties. His full beard was streaked with gray, his thick brown hair interlaced with silver threads that already shimmered white at the temples. He puffed slowly at a thick cigar.
"Do you smoke, Dr. Loewenberg?" "Not now, thank you."
Mr. Kingscourt carefully blew a smoke ring into the air, and watched it attentively until the cloudy strands were dissipated. Only when the last traces had vanished, he asked, without looking at his visitor, "Why are you disgusted with life?"
"I give no information on that subject," replied Friedrich quietly.
Mr. Kingscourt now looked him full in the face, and nodded approvingly as he flicked the ash from his cigar. "You're right, Devil take it! It's none of my affair. And then, if we put this deal through, you'll tell me of your own accord some time. Meanwhile, I shall tell you who I am. My real name is Koenigshoff. I am a German nobleman. I was an officer in my youth, but the coat-of-mail fitted me too snugly. I can't bear another man's will over mine, be it the best in the world. Obedience was good for a few years. But after that I had to quit. Otherwise, I'd have exploded and caused damage I went to America, called myself Kingscourt, and made a fortune in twenty years of blood-sweating work. When I had come so far, I took a wife. ..What did you say, Dr. Loewenberg?"
"Nothing, Mr. Kingscourt."
"Very well. Are you unmarried?"
"I am. But I thought, Mr. Kingscourt, that you would tell me about this experiment you want to propose to me."
"I'll come to that in a moment. If we should arrange to be together, I shall tell you in detail how I worked my way up and made my millions. For I have millions... What did you say?"
"Nothing, Mr. Kingscourt."
"Energy is everything, Dr. Loewenberg. That's what counts. Want a thing with all your might, and you're dead certain to get it. I never realized until I lived in America what a lazy, weak-kneed lot we Europeans are. Devil take me! In short, I was successful.
"But, by the time I had succeeded, I felt lonely. As it happened, a Koenigshoff, a son of my brother's who was in the guards, made a fool of himself. I had the boy come out to me-just at the time I was courting my wife. Yes, I wanted to establish a family, set up a hearth, seek out a wife upon whom I might hang jewels like any other parvenu. I yearned for children so that they might enjoy the fruits of my drudgery. I wanted to be damned clever, and so I married a poor girl. She was the daughter of one of my employees. I had shown her and her father much kindness. Of course she consented. I thought she loved me, but she was only grateful, or perhaps cowardly. She did not dare to refuse me. So we went housekeeping, and my nephew lived with us.
"You will say that was stupid-an old man between two young people who were bound to attract each other. I called myself an ass when I first found out. But, had it not been he, it would have been someone else. In brief, they betrayed me; from the first moment, I believe. My first move was for a revolver, but then I told myself that really I alone was the guilty one. I let them off. It is human to be base, and every opportunity is a panderer. Avoid human beings if you would not have them ruin you. I collapsed, you see. The thought crept into my mind to end the shabby comedy of my life with a bullet. But on thinking it over, I decided that there was always time to shoot oneself.
"To be sure, there was no point in heaping up more money. I had no more desire for gain, and of the dream of a family I had had enough. Only solitude remained as a last experiment. But it must be a vast, unheard-of solitude, where one would know nothing more of mankind of its wretched struggles, its uncleanness, its disloyalties. I wanted genuine, deep solitude without struggle or desire. A full, true return to Nature! Solitude is the paradise which humanity forfeited by its sins. But I have found it."
"Truly? Have you found it?" asked Friedrich, who still did not gather what the American was leading up to.
"Yes, I have found it. I settled my affairs, and ran away from everything and everyone. No one knew what had become of me. I built myself a comfortable yacht and vanished with it. I wandered about the seas for many months. It's a glorious life, you must know. Wouldn't you .like to try it? Or perhaps you are already familiar with it?"
"No, I am not familiar with that sort of life," replied Friedrich, "but I should like to try it."
"Well, then...Life on the yacht is freedom, but not real solitude. You must have a crew about you, you have to put into a harbor occasionally for coal. Then you come into contact with people once more, and that's a dirty business. But I know an island in the South Seas where one is really alone. It is a rocky little nest in Cook's Archipelago. I bought it, and had men come over from Raratonga to build me a comfortable home. It is so well hidden by the cliffs that it cannot be spied on any side from the sea. Besides, ships rarely come that way. My island still looks uninhabited. I live there with two servants, a dumb negro whom I had in America, and a Tahitan whom I pulled out of the water at Avarua harbor when he tried to drown himself over an unhappy love affair. Now I have come to Europe for a last visit to buy whatever I shall need for the rest of my life over there-books - apparatus for physics, and weapons. My Tahitan brings provisions from the nearest inhabited island. He and my negro go over every morning in an electric launch. Whatever else we need can be bought for money in Raratonga, just like anywhere else in the world....Understand?"
"Yes, Mr. Kingscourt... But I do not know why you are telling me all this."
"Why I am telling you all this? Because I want to take a companion back with me-so that I shall not unlearn human speech, and so that there may be someone by me to close my eyes when I die. Do you want to be that someone?"
Friedrich reflected for half a moment. Then he replied firmly, "Yes!"
Kingscourt nodded his satisfaction, but added, "However, I must remind you that you are undertaking a lifelong obligation. At least, it must hold for the rest of my life. If you come with me now, there will be no going back. You must cut all your ties:'
"Nothing binds me," replied Friedrich. "I am all alone in the world, and have had enough of life."
"That's the kind of man I want, sir! You will actually leave this life if you go with me. You will know nothing more of the good or evil of this world. You will be dead to it, and it will have gone under-as far as you are concerned. Does that suit you?"
"Then we shall get along very well together. I like your type." "But there is one thing I must tell you, Mr. Kingscourt.
I am a Jew. Does that make any difference?"
Kingscourt laughed. "I say! That's an amusing question. You are a man. I can see that. And you seem to be an educated man. You are disgusted with life. That shows your good taste. Everything else is frightfully unimportant where we are going....Well, then, shake hands on it." Friedrich shook the proffered hand vigorously.
"When can you be ready, Dr. Loewenberg?"
"At any time."
"Good. Say tomorrow. We go from here to Trieste, where my yacht is anchored....Perhaps you still wish to provide yourself with some things here?"
"I shouldn't know what to get. This is no pleasure trip, but a farewell to life:'
"Still, Dr. Loewenberg! You may need money for your purchases, Draw on me."
"Thank you, I need nothing."
"Have you no debts?"
"I have nothing and owe nothing, my accounts are balanced,"
"Have you no friends or relatives to whom you wish to give something before you go?"
"So much the better. We're off tomorrow, then. ..But we might begin having our meals together today."
Kingscourt rang for a waiter, and gave his order briefly. An elaborate luncheon was served in Kingscoun's sitting room. The two men soon grew intimate as they talked over the meal. After Kingscourt had so quickly reposed confidence in him, Friedrich felt he ought to tell his own story. He did so briefly and clearly. When he had finished, the American remarked, "Now I believe that you will not leave me once I have you upon my island. Lovesickness, Weltschmerz suffering as a Jew-all that together is enough to make even a young man wish to have done with living. ...
"With living with people, I mean. Even if you bestow benefits upon them, they deceive you and make you suffer. The philanthropists are the greatest fools of all. Don't you think so, Dr. Loewenberg?"
"I think, Mr. Kingscourt, that there is pleasure in well-doing....That reminds me. You offered me money a moment ago if I cared to leave some behind me before I depart from this world, I know a family in the greatest straits. With your permission, I should like to help them,"
"It's nonsense, Dr. Loewenberg! But I cannot refuse you. I had intended giving you a sum of money to settle your affairs. Will five thousand gulden suffice?"
"Amply!" Friedrich assured him. "J should like to think that my farewell to life was not altogether aimless."
The Littwak's room by daylight looked even drearier than at night, but Friedrich found the family in an almost happy mood. David was standing near the window-sill with an open book before him, chewing a mighty slice of bread and butter. His father and mother sat on the straw, and little Miriam played with bits of chaff.
Hayim hastily rose to greet his benefactor. The wife too tried to rise, but Friedrich checked her. He knelt beside her quickly and petted the nurseling, who smiled at him sweetly out of her rags.
"Well, and how are things today, Mrs. Littwak?" The poor woman tried vainly to kiss his hand. "Better, sir," she answered. "We have milk for Miriam, and bread for ourselves."
"And we've paid the rent, too," added Hayim proudly.
David had put down his bread and butter, and stood regarding Friedrich steadily with folded arms.
"Why do you look at me so closely, David?" he asked.
"So that I may never forget you, sir. I once read a story about a man who helped a sick lion."
"Androcles," smiled Friedrich.
"My David has already read a great deal," said his mother, in her weak, soft tones.
Friedrich rose, and said jestingly, as he placed his hand on the boy's round head, "And so you are the lion? Judah once had a lion."
"That which Judah once had, he can have again," replied David almost defiantly.
"We cannot even offer you a chair, sir," lamented the housewife.
"It doesn't matter, dear madam. I came only to see how you were feeling today, and to bring something. You are to open this letter only after I have left. It contains a recommendation that will be useful to you. You must eat well, Mrs. Littwak, and bring up this pretty little girl to be as fine a woman as yourself."
"May she have a better fate," sighed the mother.
"And let this chap here study something worth while. Give me your hand, boy! Promise me you will become an upright man."
"Yes, sir, I promise you that."
What remarkable eyes the boy has, thought Friedrich, as he shook the small hand. He laid the bulky envelope on the window-sill and turned to go. "Pardon me, sir," Hayim asked at the door, "but does this letter contain a recommendation to the Community offices?"
"Quite so. It will recommend you there also."
He walked quickly out of the room and ran down the stairs as if he were being pursued. A cab was waiting for him in the street: "Hurry!" he shouted to the driver, and jumped in.
The horses started off at a gallop. It was high time. A moment later David came running breathlessly through the gate, spying in every direction. When he could find no trace of the benefactor, he wept bitterly. Friedrich watched him through the rear cab window, happy to have escaped the flood of thanks. With five thousand gulden the family could probably establish itself.
At the hotel Kingscourt greeted him laughingly. "Well, and have you performed your good works?"
"It would be fairer to say, your good works, Mr. Kingscourt. The money was yours."
"No, no! I object decidedly. I should not have given a penny in order to benefit people. I don't mind your being a fool about loving your neighbor. I'm not any more. The money was an advance to yourself. You were free to use it as you pleased."
"Let it go at that, Mr. Kingscourt."
"If you had told me you wished to do something for dogs or horses or other respectable creatures, you could have had my help. But for humans, no! Don't bring that kind around. They're too vile. Wisdom consists only in recognizing their baseness....There was a story in the papers recently about an old lady who left her fortune to her cats. In her last will she left instructions that her home was to be turned into thus-and-so many fine apartments for the cat tribe, with servants, and all that, to look after them. The writer fellow stupidly said that very likely the old lady was cracked. She wasn't cracked at all, but enormously clever. She wanted to make a demonstration against the human race, and especially against her beastly, fortune-hunting relatives. Help for animals, yes. For humans, no! You see, I feel deeply for that old lady, God rest her soul!"
The vileness of mankind was Kingscourt's favorite topic, and he elaborated it with inexhaustible verve.
Friedrich arranged his few affairs, and was ready to join Kingscourt the following day. He told his landlady that he was making an excursion to the Grossglockner. She tried to dissuade him; one heard so much about mountain accidents in mid-winter.
"It will be all right," he assured her, with a wistful smile. "If I do not return after eight days, you may report me missing to the police. I shall probably be resting peacefully in some mountain cleft. My belongings here I bequeath to you."
"Don't talk sinfully, sir."
"I was only joking!"
That evening Friedrich left Vienna with Kingscourt. He had not gone again to the Cafe Birkenreis, and so did not know that little David Littwak waited for him in the doorway night after night....
Kingscourt's handsome yacht was rolling on the waters of Trieste harbor. The two men made their final purchases for the long journey in the town; and then, on a beautiful December day, the anchor was raised and the yacht steered south and eastward. In other circumstances, Friedrich would have been enchanted with the free life of the sea. But, as it was, the sunny cruise hardly eased his heartache.
Kingscourt was really a delightful person, good-natured despite the misanthropy he boasted of, charming, and tender-hearted. When he saw Friedrich depressed, he tried to divert him with all sorts of pleasantries, treating him like a sick child. Then Friedrich would say, "If the crew watch us together, they will get a wrong idea of our relations. They'll take me for the host, and you for the guest whom I've invited to entertain me. Ah, Mr.. Kingscourt, you could have found a more cheerful companion."
"My dear fellow, I had no choice," replied Kingscourt grimly. "I had to have someone who was disgusted with life, and such people are not as a rule very good company. But I'll cure you yet. You'll look at things quite differently when we've left the human mob behind us altogether. Then you'll become a cheerful fellow like me. When we're on our blessed island. If that's not true, may the Devil take me!"
The yacht was very cozy, and equipped with all sorts of American conveniences. Friedrich's cabin was just as fine as Kingscourt's. The dining saloon was magnificently decorated. The hours flew by in congenial talk as they sat together in the evenings under the friendly, steady light of the ceiling lamp. There was a small, well-selected library on board, but their days always seemed too full for books. Kingscourt exerted himself constantly to distract his companion. As they were crossing the rough waters near Crete, he suddenly came out with a suggestion.
"I say, Dr. Loewenberg, haven't you any desire to see your fatherland before you say farewell to the world?"
"My fatherland! You don't want to turn back to Trieste?"
"God forbid!" roared Kingscourt. "Your fatherland lies ahead of us-Palestine."
"Oh, that's what you meant. You are mistaken. I have no connection with Palestine. I have never been there. It does not interest me. My ancestors left it eighteen hundred years ago. What should I seek there? I think that only anti-Semites can call Palestine our fatherland."
But, even as he spoke, Friedrich remembered David Littwak, and added, "Aside from the anti-Semites, I have heard only one little Jewboy say that Palestine is our land. ...Did you mean to tease me, Mr. Kingscourt?"
"No, may lightning strike me if I did! I meant it seriously. Really, I don't understand you Jews. If I were a Jew, I should be frightfully proud of that sort of thing. And yet you are ashamed of it. You needn't wonder that you are despised. Present company excluded, of course."
"Herr von Koenigshoff, are you perhaps an anti-Semite?" asked Friedrich annoyed. He had called his companion by his German name for the first time, without himself knowing why.
"Now you're excited, my son." Kingscourt was smiling. "I'm a hater of mankind. You know all about that. But you take it amiss if I don't care for the Jews. Comfort yourself, man. I hate the Jews no more and no less than I hate Christians, Moslems, and fire-worshipers. The whole lot aren't worth a charge of powder. I understand good old Nero. One single neck, to be run through at a single stroke. Or, no! Rather let the rascally crew live and worry each other to death."
Friedrich was mollified. "I was stupid," he said. "You took me with you. That's the best proof."
"I'm reminded," continued Kingscourt, "of an affair I once had with one of your fellow-nationals or co-religionists or-Devil take me! In short, with a Jew. It happened in the regiment. We had a volunteer there. Cohn was the creature's name, a low... excuse me! This Cohn was a damned bow-legged fellow, as if created for the cavalry. It happened during the riding lesson. I made the swine jump the barriers. That is, I wanted to make them jump. They didn't want to, or couldn't. It was a bit high, that's true. Well, I cursed them as such God-forsaken swine deserved. I. could still swear in those days, Devil take me! I've forgotten since. ..I gave them to understand in cavalry oaths that they were a cowardly bunch of scamps. I went for Cohn in particular. 'You probably ride notes of exchange better,' I sneered. The blood rushed to the Jew's face. He took the jump, but fell and broke his arm. That worried me for a while. Why must such carrion have a sense of honor into the bargain?"
"Do you think a Jew should have no sense of honor?"
"Oh, I say! How you twist my words....Well, and if the Jews have a sense of honor, why do they put up with all the mischief?"
"What would you have the Jews do, Mr. Kingscourt?"
"What would I have them do? Really, I don't know. Something like that Cohn in the Tiding school. I respected him more after that."
"Because he broke his arm?"
"No, because he showed that he had a will of his own....If I were in your place, I'd do something bold, something big, something that would make my enemies gape. Prejudices, my dear fellow, there will always be. The human pack nourishes itself on prejudices from the cradle to the grave. Well, then. Since prejudices cannot be wiped out, they must be overcome....The more I think of it, the more it seems to me that it must be quite interesting to be a Jew these days. Just because one has the whole world against him."
"Ah, but you don't know how that feels."
"Not pleasant, I can imagine....Now, how about that old Palestine? Shall we have a look at it before we vanish?" "As you please, Mr. Kingscourt."
The prow of the yacht was turned toward Jaffa.
Kingscourt and Friedrich spent several days in the old land of the Jews. Jaffa made a very unpleasant impression upon them. Though nobly situated on the blue Mediterranean, the town was in a state of extreme decay. Landing was difficult in the forsaken harbor. The alleys were dirty, neglected, full of vile odors. Everywhere misery in bright Oriental rags. Poor Turks, dirty Arabs, timid Jews lounged about-indolent, beggarly, hopeless. A peculiar, tomblike odor of mold caught one's breath.
They hurried away from Jaffa, and went up to Jerusalem on the miserable railway. The landscape through which they passed was a picture of desolation. The lowlands were mostly sand and swamp, the lean fields looked as if burnt over. The inhabitants of the blackish Arab villages looked like brigands. Naked children played in the dirty alleys. Over the distant horizon loomed the deforested hills of Judaea. The bare slopes and the bleak, rocky valleys showed few traces of present or former cultivation.
"If this is our land," remarked Friedrich sadly, "it has declined like our people."
"Yes, it's pretty bad," agreed Kingscourt. "But much could be done here with afforestation, if half a million young giant cedars were planted-they shoot up like asparagus. This country needs nothing but water and shade to have a very great future."
"And who is to bring water and shade here?"
"The Jews!" And Kingscourt swore a great cavalry oath.
It was night when they reached Jerusalem-a marvelous white moonlit night.
"Donnerwetter!" shouted Kingscourt. "I say, this is beautiful!"
He stopped the cab which was taking them from the station to a hotel, and called to the guide, "You stay here, and tell that camel of a driver to follow us slowly."
"Let's walk a bit, shall we, Dr. Loewenberg?" Again turning to the guide, the old man asked, "What's the name of this region?"
"The Valley of Jehoshaphat, sir," replied the man meekly.
"Then it's a real place, Devil take me! The Valley of Jehoshaphat! I thought it was just something in the Bible. Here our Lord and Savior walked. What do you think of it, Dr. Loewenberg? ...Ah, yes! Still, it must mean something to you also. These ancient walls, this Valley…"
"Jerusalem!" cried Friedrich in a half-whisper, his voice trembling. He did not understand why the sight of this strange city affected him so powerfully. Was it the memory of words heard in early childhood? In passages of prayer murmured by his father? Memories of Seder services of long-forgotten years stirred in him. One of the few Hebrew phrases he still knew rang in his ears: "Leshana Ha-baa be-Yerushalayim,"-"Next Year in Jerusalem!" Suddenly he saw himself a little boy going to synagogue with his father. Ah, but faith was dead now, youth was dead, his father was dead. And here before him the walls of Jerusalem towered in the fairy moonlight. His eyes overflowed. He stopped short, and the hot tears coursed slowly down his cheeks.
Kingscourt smothered a few "Devils!" in his windpipe, motioned violently to the coachman behind them to stop, and slipped silently a few paces behind Friedrich.
The latter came out of his trance sighing and embarrassed.
"Forgive me, Mr. Kingscourt," he murmured, "for making you wait here. It was...I feel…so peculiar. I don't know what it is."
But Kingscourt linked arms with the young man, and spoke with unusual gentleness. "You, Friedrich Loewenberg, I like you."
Arm in arm Jew and Christian approached Jerusalem the Holy City by the white light of the moon.
Jerusalem by daylight was less alluring-shouting, odors, a flurry of dirty colors, crowds of ragged people in narrow, musty lanes, beggars, sick. people, hungry children, screeching women, shouting tradesmen.. The once royal city of Jerusalem could have sunk no lower.
The travelers viewed all the famous sites, buildings, and ruins. They walked down the noisome little lane that leads to the Wailing Wall, and were revolted by the appearance of the praying beggars there.
"You see, Mr. Kingscourt," said Friedrich, "we have really died dead. There's nothing left of the Jewish kingdom but this fragment of the Temple wall. And though I fathom my soul to its depths, I find nothing in common with these traffickers in the national misfortune."
He had spoken loudly, without realizing that he might be overheard. Besides the praying beggars and the guides, there was present a gentleman in European clothing who turned and spoke to them. His German accent was foreign but cultured.
"You seem to be a Jew, sir, or of Jewish descent."
"Yes," replied Friedrich, somewhat taken by surprise.
"If that is so, perhaps you will allow me to correct your error," continued the stranger. "More remains of the Jews than the stones of this ancient bit of masonry and these poor wretches here who, I grant you, ply no wholesome trade. The Jewish people nowadays should be judged neither by its beggars nor by its millionaires."
"I am not rich," declared Friedrich.
"I see what you are-a stranger to your people. If you ever come to us in Russia, you will realize that a Jewish nation still exists. We have a living tradition, a love of the past, and faith in the future. The best and most cultured men among us have remained true to Judaism as a nation. We desire to belong to no other. We are what our fathers were."
"Excellent!" cried Kingscourt.
Friedrich shrugged slightly, but exchanged a few civil remarks with the stranger, and then went on. When they turned to .look back from the end of the lane, they saw the Russian Jew sunk in silent prayer beside the Wall.
That evening they saw him again at the English hotel where they were staying. He was dining with a young lady, evidently his daughter. When they met later in the lobby, the conversation of the morning was resumed without any sense of restraint. The Russian introduced himself as Dr. Eichenstamm. "I am an oculist," he explained. "My daughter too."
"What!" cried Kingscourt. "Is this young lady a doctor?"
"Yes. She studied under me at first, and later in Paris. Now she is my assistant. A very learned person, my Sascha."
The young lady doctor blushed at her father's praise. "Oh, papa!" she cried deprecatingly.
Dr. Eichenstamm stroked his long gray beard. "One may say what is true," he said. "We are not here solely for pleasure, gentlemen. We are interested in eye diseases. Unfortunately, there is no lack of them here. Dirt and neglect revenge themselves. Everything is in ruins here. And how beautiful it could be, for it is a golden land!"
"This country?" inquired Friedrich incredulously. "The milk and honey description is no longer true."
"It is always true!" cried Eichenstamm enthusiastically.
"If only we had the people here, all else would follow."
"No," asserted Kingscourt decisively, "there's nothing to be expected from people."
Dr. Sascha turned to her father. "You ought to suggest that the gentlemen see the colonies."
"Which colonies?" asked Friedrich.
"Our Jewish settlements," replied the old gentleman. "Don't you know anything about them either, Dr. Loewenberg? They are the most remarkable phenomenon in modern Jewish life. Societies in Europe and America, the so-called 'Lovers of Zion,' promote the transformation of Jews into farmers in this old land of ours. A number of such Jewish villages already exist. Several rich philanthropists have also contributed funds for the purpose. Our old soil is productive again. You must visit the Jewish villages before you leave Palestine."
"We could if you cared to," shouted Kingscourt to Friedrich, who promptly assented.
The next day they went up to the Mount of Olives with Eichenstamm and Sascha. On the way they passed the elegant residence of an English lady.
"You see," said the Russian, "that new mansions can be erected on our ancient soil. Very good idea to live up here. My own dream too."
"Or at least to have an eye clinic," smiled Dr. Sascha.
From the top of the mountain they admired the view of the hilly city and of the wide circle of mountains that flowed down in stony waves to the Dead Sea.
Friedrich grew thoughtful. "Jerusalem must have been beautiful," he said. "Perhaps that is why our ancestors could never forget it, and always wanted to return."
"It reminds me of Rome," cried Eichenstamm. "A splendid city, a metropolis, could be erected upon these hills once more. What a view from here! Grander than that from the Gianiculo. Ah, if my old eyes might still see it. ..."
"We shall not live to see it," said Sascha wistfully.
Kingscourt marveled silently as he listened to their fantastic notions. When they were alone again, he said to Friedrich, "A remarkable pair, that doctor-father and the doctor-daughter. So practical and yet so foolish. I always imagined the Jews quite different."
The next morning Kingscourt and Friedrich said farewell to the Eichenstamms and drove out to the colonies. They looked at Rishon-le-Zion, Rehobot, and other villages that lay like oases in the desolate countryside. Many industrious hands must have worked here to restore fertility to the soil, they realized, as they gazed upon well-cultivated fields, stately vineyards and luxuriant orange groves.
"All this has come into being during the last ten or fifteen years," explained the head of the village council of Rehobot, to whom Eichenstamm had referred them. "The colonization movement began after the persecutions in Russia in the early 1880's. But, there are villages more remarkable than ours. There's Katrah, for instance, founded by university students who forsook their books for the plow. Such peasants are to be found nowhere else in the world-cultured men working in the fields."
"That's a strong card!" cried Kingscourt. Still greater was their surprise when the village president called on the young men of Rehobot to mount their horses. A sort of Arab fantasy was performed in honor of the visitors. The youngsters galloped far off into the fields, threw their steeds about, and rushed back again shouting, throwing guns and caps into the air mid-career and catching them again. Finally, they rode home in single file singing a Hebrew song.
Kingscourt was beside himself with delight. "May salty lightning strike me! These fellows ride like the devil! That was the sort of thing my great-great-grandfather during the attack at Rossbach-"
But Friedrich was little interested in these manifestations of sound and joyous life, and was glad when they left the villages and returned to Jaffa.
The yacht was under steam. They left the sunny strand of Palestine in December, and steered toward Port Said, where they anchored for two days, and then sailed on through the Suez Canal. On the evening of December 31, 1902, they entered the Red Sea. Friedrich relapsed into deep melancholy. In that mood nothing mattered to him.
After the sun had set Kingscourt called him to the foredeck.
"This evening," said he, "we shall dress for dinner. Here's the menu. Plenty of silvernecks on the ice."
"What's the occasion, Mr. Kingscourt?"
"Don't you know, man! It's the last day of the year. That's no ordinary date, if dates have any meaning at all."
"They have no meaning for us," answered Friedrich listlessly. "Timelessness begins for us now. Isn't that so?"
"Yes, yes, of course. But it's a damned queer day. At midnight we shall sink Time into your Red Sea. Then, with the end of the stupid epoch in which we have been doomed to live, we shall think of something big...I'm having an excellent punch brewed, too. That's the most genuine thing in the universal depravity."
They celebrated. The ship's cook outdid himself. The wines were excellent. Kingscourt, a mighty drinker before the Lord, drank three times as much as Friedrich, and remained quite fresh and clear-headed. But his young companion felt a mist rising before his eyes, and heard Kingscourt's voice as in a dream when the clock struck twelve.
"Midnight!" boomed Kingscourt. "Die, Time! I empty my glass to your death. What were you? Shame, blood, depravity, progress. Put up your glass, man, my isolated contemporary!"
"I can drink no morel" stuttered Friedrich.
"Weak generation!...You ought to be standing on tiptoe here. A classic region! Here your old Moses performed his greatest deed....They went through dryshod. Obviously it must have been just at ebb tide. And that donkey of a Pharoah went right into the flood! No magic, But it's the very naturalness of the thing that impresses me. The simplest means! But one must see those means, be able to make use of them. Just think how poor a time that was, and yet what your old Moses achieved. If he were to come back today and see all our marvels-railways, telegraphs, telephones, machines, this yacht with her screw propeller, electric searchlights-he would understand nothing at all. For three whole days" probably, things would have to be explained to him. But after that he would understand everything. And what do you think he would do then? He'd laugh-laugh-grimly-terribly. Because with all this wonderful progress, humanity doesn't know which way to turn. In private life one comes to the conclusion that humanity is base. But, taking it by and large, one discovers that it is merely stupid. Infinitely stupid, stupid, stupid! Never was the world so rich as now, and yet never have there been so many poor. People starve while corn lies moldering. It's all the same to me. The more perish, the fewer the ingrates, liars, and traitors will be left in the world!"
Friedrich spoke thickly. "Don't you think, Mr. Kingscourt, that people would be much better if they were better off?"
"No! If I believed that, I should not be going off to my lonely island; I should have stayed in the midst of humanity. I should have told them how to better themselves. They needn't wait to begin. Not a thousand years, not a hundred, not even fifty. Today! With the ideas, knowledge, and facilities that humanity possesses on this 31st day of December, 1902, it could save itself. No philosopher's stone, no dirigible airship is needed. Everything needful for the making of a better world exists already. And do you know, man, who could show the way? You! You Jews! Just because you're so badly off. You've nothing to lose. You could make the experimental land for humanity. Over yonder, where we were, you could create a new commonwealth. On that ancient soil, Old-New-Land!"
Friedrich heard Kingscourt's words only in a dream. He had fallen asleep. And, dreaming, he sailed through the Red Sea to meet the future.