Satan Mekatrig
by Israel Zangwill

Suffer not the evil imagination to have dominion over us ... deliver me from the destructive Satan - Morning Prayer.

Without, the air was hot, heavy and oppressive; squadrons of dark clouds had rolled up rapidly from the rim of the horizon, and threatened each instant to shake heaven and earth with their artillery. But within the little synagogue of the "Congregation of Love and Mercy," though it was crowded to suffocation, not a window was open. The worshippers, arrayed in their Sabbath finery, were too intent on following the quaint monotonous sing-song of the Cantor reading the Law to have much attention left for physical discomfort. They thought of their perspiring brows and their moist undergarments just about as little as they thought of the meaning of the Hebrew words the reader was droning. Though the language was perfectly intelligible to them, yet their consciousness was chiefly and agreeably occupied with its musical accentuation, their piety being so interwoven with these beloved and familiar material elements as hardly to be separable therefrom. Perspiration, too, had come to seem almost an ingredient of piety on great synagogal occasions. Frequent experience had linked the two, as the poor opera-goer associates Patti with crushes. And the present was a great occasion. It was only an ordinary Sabbath afternoon service, but there was a feast of intellectual good things to follow. The great Rav Rotchinsky from Brody was to deliver a sermon; and so the swarthy, eager-eyed, curly-haired, shrewd-visaged cobblers, tailors, cigar-makers, peddlers, and beggars, who made up the congregation, had assembled in their fifties to enjoy the dialectical subtleties, the theological witticisms and the Talmudical anecdotes which the reputation of the Galician Maggid foreshadowed. And not only did they come themselves; many brought their wives, who sat in their wigs and earrings behind a curtain which cut them off from the view of the men. The general ungainliness of their figures and the unattractiveness of their low-browed, high-cheekboned, and heavy-jawed faces would have made this pious precaution appear somewhat superfluous to an outsider. The women, whose section of the large room thus converted into a place of worship was much smaller than the men's, were even more closely packed on their narrow benches. Little wonder, therefore, that just as a member of the congregation was intoning from the central platform the blessing which closes the reading of the Law, a woman disturbed her neighbours by fainting. She was carried out into the open air, though not without a good deal of bustle, which invoked indignant remonstrances in the Judisch-Deutsch jargon, of "Hush, little women!" from the male worshippers, unconscious of the cause. The beadle went behind the curtain, and, fearing new disturbances, tried to open the window at the back of the little room, to let in some air from the back-yard on which it abutted. The sash was, however, too inert from a long season of sloth to move even in its own groove, and so the beadle elbowed his way back into the masculine department, and by much tugging at a cord effected a small slit between a dusty skylight and the ceiling, neglecting the grumblings of the men immediately beneath.

Hardly had he done so, when all the heavy shadows that lay in the corners of the synagogue, all the glooms that the storm-clouds cast upon the day, and that the grimy, cobwebbed windows multiplied, were sent flying off by a fierce flash of lightning that bathed in a sea of fire the dingy benches, the smeared walls, the dingily curtained Ark, the serried rows of swarthy faces. Almost on the heels of the lightning came the thunder - that vast, instantaneous crash which denotes that the electric cloud is low.

The service was momentarily interrupted; the congregation was on its feet; and from all parts rose the Hebrew blessing, "Blessed art thou, O Lord, performing the work of the Creation;" followed, as the thunder followed the lightning, by the sonorous "Blessed art thou, O Lord, whose power and might fill the Universe." Then the congregation, led by the great Rav Rotchinsky, to whose venerable thought-lined face, surmounted by its black cap, all eyes had instinctively turned, sat down again, feeling safe. The blessing was intended to mean, and meant no more than, a reverential acknowledgment of the majesty of the Creator revealed in elemental phenomena; but human nature, struggling amid the terrors and awfulness of the Universe, is always below its creed, and scarce one but felt the prayer a talisman. A moment afterward all rose again, as Moshe Grinwitz, wrapped in his Talith, or praying-shawl, prepared to descend from the Al Memor, or central platform, bearing in his arms the Scroll of the Law, which had just been reverentially wrapped in its bandages, and devoutly covered with its embroidered mantle and lovingly decorated with its ornamental bells and pointer.

Now, as Moshe Grinwitz stood on the Al Memor with his sacred burden, another terrible flash of lightning and appalling crash of thunder startled the worshippers. And Moshe's arms were nervously agitated, and a frightful thought came into his head. Suppose he should drop the Holy Scroll! As this dreadful possibility occurred to him he trembled still more. The Sepher Torah is to the Jew at once the most precious and the most sacred of possessions, and in the eyes of the "Congregation of Love and Mercy" their Sepher Torah was, if possible, invested with a still higher preciousness and sanctity, because they had only one. They were too poor to afford luxuries; and so this single Scroll was the very symbol and seal of their brotherhood; in it lay the very possibility of their existence as a congregation. Not that it would be rendered "Pasul," imperfect and invalid, by being dropped; the fall could not erase any of the letters so carefully written on the parchment; but the calamity would be none the less awful and ominous. Every person present would have to abstain for a day from all food and drink, in sign of solemn grief. Moshe felt that if the idea that had flitted across his brain were to be realized, he would never have the courage to look his pious wife in the face after such passive profanity. The congregation, too, which honoured him, and which now waited to press devout kisses on the mantle of the Scroll, on its passage to the Ark - he could not but be degraded in its eyes by so negligent a performance of a duty which was a coveted privilege. All these thoughts, which were instinctively felt, rather than clearly conceived, caused Moshe Grinwitz to clasp the Sacred Scroll, which reached a little above his head, tightly to his breast. Feeling secure from the peril of dropping it, he made a step forward, but the bells jangled weirdly to his ears, and when he came to the two steps which led down from the platform, a horrible foreboding overcame him that he would stumble and fall in the descent. He stepped down one of the steps with morbid care, but lo! the feeling that no power on earth could prevent his falling gained tenfold in intensity. An indefinable presentiment of evil was upon him; the air was charged with some awful and maleficent influence, of which the convulsion of nature seemed a fit harbinger. And now his sensations became more horrible. The conviction of the impending catastrophe changed into a desire to take an active part in it, to have it done with and over. His arms itched to loose their hold of the Sepher Torah. Oh! if he could only dash the thing to the ground, nay, stamp upon it, uttering fearful blasphemies, and shake off this dark cloud that seemed to close round and suffocate him. A last shred of will, of sanity, wrestled with his wild wishes. The perspiration poured in streams down his forehead. It was but a moment since he had taken the Holy Scroll into his arms; but it seemed ages ago.

His foot hovered between the first and second step, when a strange thing happened. Straight through the narrow slit opened in the skylight came a swift white arrow of flame, so dazzling that the awed worshippers closed their eyes; then a long succession of terrific peals shook the room as with demoniac laughter, and when the congregants came to their senses and opened their eyes they saw Moshe Grinwitz sitting dazed upon the steps of the Al Memor, his hands tightly grasping the ends of his praying-shawl, while the Sepher Torah lay in the dust of the floor.

For a moment the shock was such that no one could speak or move. There was an awful, breathless silence, broken only by the mad patter of the rain on the roof and the windows. The floodgates of heaven were opened at last, and through the fatal slit a very cascade of water seemed to descend. Automatically the beadle rushed to the cord and pulled the window to. His action broke the spell, and a dozen men, their swarthy faces darker with concern, rushed to raise up the prostrate Scroll, while a hubbub of broken ejaculations rose from every side.

But ere a hand could reach it, Moshe Grinwitz had darted forward and seized the precious object. "No, no," he cried, in the jargon which was the common language of all present. "What do you want? The mitzvah (good deed) is mine. I alone must carry it." He shouldered it anew.

"Kiss it, at least," cried the great Rav Rotchinsky in a hoarse, shocked whisper.

"Kiss it?" cried Moshe Grinwitz, with a sneering laugh. "What! with my wife in synagogue! Isn't it enough that I embrace it?" Then, without giving his hearers time to grasp the profanity of his words, he went on: "Ah, now I can carry thee easily. I can hold thee, and yet breathe freely. See!" And he held out the Scroll lengthwise, showing the gilded metal chain and the pointer and the bells contorted by the lightning. "I didn't hurt thee; God hurt thee," he said, addressing the Scroll. With a quick jerk of the hand he drew off the mantle and showed the parchment blackened and disfigured.

A groan burst from some; others looked on in dazed silence. The pecuniary loss, added to the manifestation of Divine wrath, overwhelmed them. "Thou hast no soul now to struggle out of my hands," went on Moshe Grinwitz contemptuously. "Look!" he added suddenly: "The lightning has gone back to hell again!" The men nearest him shuddered, and gazed down at the point on the floor toward which he was inclining the extremity of the Scroll. The wood was charred, and a small hole revealed the path the electric current had taken. As they looked in awestruck silence, a loud wailing burst forth from behind the curtain. The ill-omened news of the destruction of the Sepher Torah had reached the women, and their Oriental natures found relief in profuse lamentation. "Smell! smell!" cried Moshe Grinwitz, sniffing the sulphurous air with open delight.

"Woe! woe!" wailed the women. "Woe has befallen us!"

"Be silent, all!" thundered the Maggid, suddenly recovering himself. "Be silent, women! Listen to my words. This is the vengeance of Heaven for the wickedness ye have committed in England. Since ye left your native country ye have forgotten your Judaism. There are men in this synagogue that have shaved the corners of their beard; there are women who have not separated the Sabbath dough. Hear ye! To-morrow shall be a fast day for you all. And you, Moshe Grinwitz, bench gomel - thank the Holy One, blessed be He, for saving your life."

"Not I," said Moshe Grinwitz. "You talk nonsense. If the Holy One, blessed be He, saved my life, it was He that threatened it. My life was in no danger if He hadn't interfered."

To hear blasphemies like this from the hitherto respectable and devout Moshe Grinwitz overwhelmed his hearers. But only for a moment. From a hundred throats there rose the angry cry, "Epikouros! Epikouros!" And mingled with this accusation of graceless scepticism there swelled a gathering tumult of "His is the sin! Cast him out! He is the Jonah! He is the sinner!" The congregants had all risen long ago and menacing faces glared behind menacing faces. Some of more heady temperament were starting from their places. "Moshe Grinwitz," cried the great Rav, his voice dominating the din, "are you mad?"

"Now for the first time am I sane," replied the man, his brow dark with defiance, his tall but usually stooping frame rigid, his narrow chest dilated, his head thrown back so that the somewhat rusty high hat he wore sloped backward half off his skull. It was always a strange, arrestive face, was Moshe Grinwitz's, with its sallow skin, its melancholy dark eyes, its aquiline nose, its hanging side-curls, and its full, fleshy mouth embowered in a forest of black beard and mustache; and now there was an uncanny light about it which made it almost weird. "Now I see that the Socialists and Atheists are right, and that we trouble ourselves and tear out our very gall to read a Torah which the Overseer himself, if there is one, scornfully shrivels up and casts beneath our feet. Know ye what, brethren? Let us all go to the Socialist Club and smoke our cigarettes. Otherwise are you mad!" As he uttered these impious words, another flash of flame lit up the crowded dusk with unearthly light; the building seemed to rock and crash; the fingers of the storm beat heavily upon the windows. From the women's compartment came low wails of fear: "Lord, have mercy! Forgive us for our sins! It is the end of the world!" But from the men's benches there arose an incoherent cry like the growl of a tiger, and from all sides excited figures precipitated themselves upon the blasphemer. But Moshe Grinwitz laughed a wild, maniacal laugh, and whirled the sacred Scroll round and dashed the first comers against one another. But a muscular Lithuanian seized the extremity of the Scroll, and others hung on, and between them they wrested it from his grasp. Still he fought furiously, as if endowed with sinews of steel, and his irritated opponents, their faces bleeding and swollen, closed round him, forgetting that their object was but to expel him, and bent on doing him a mischief. Another moment and it would have fared ill with the man, when a voice, whose tones startled all but Moshe Grinwitz, though they were spoken close to his ear, hissed in Yiddish: "Well, if this is the way the members of the Congregation of Love and Mercy spend their Sabbath, methinks they had done as well to smoke cigarettes at the Socialist Club. What say ye, brethren?" These words, pregnant and deserved enough in themselves, were underlined by an accent of indescribable mockery, not bitter, but as gloating over the enjoyment of their folly. Involuntarily all turned their eyes to the speaker.

Who was he? Where did he spring from, this black-coated, fur-capped, red-haired hunchback with the gigantic marble brow, the cold, keen, steely eyes that drew and enthralled the gazer, the handsome clean-shaven lips contorted with a sneer? None remembered seeing him enter - none had seen him sitting at their side, or near them. He was not of their congregation, nor of their brotherhood, nor of any of their crafts. Yet as they looked at him the exclamations died away on their lips, their menacing hands fell to their sides, and a wave of vague, uneasy remembrance passed over all the men in the synagogue. There was not one that did not seem to know him; there was not one who could have told who he was, or when or where he had seen him before. Even the great Rav Rotchinsky, who had set foot on English soil but a fortnight ago, felt a stir of shadowy recollection within him; and his corrugated brow wrinkled itself still more in the search after definiteness. A deep and sudden silence possessed the synagogue; the very sobs of the unseeing women were checked. Only the sough of the storm, the ceaseless plash of the torrent, went on as before. Without, the busy life of London pulsed, unchecked by the tempest; within, the little synagogue was given over to mystery and nameless awe.

The sneering hunchback took the Holy Scroll from the nerveless hands of the Lithuanian, and waved it as in derision. "Blasted! harmless!" he cried. "The great Name itself mocked by the elements! So this is what ye toil and sweat for - to store up gold that His words may be inscribed finely on choice parchment; and then this is how He laughs at your toil and your self-sacrifice. Listen to Him no more; give not up the seventh day to idleness when your Lord worketh His lightnings thereon. Blind yourselves no longer over old-fashioned pages, dusty and dreary. Rise up against Him and His law, for He is moved with mirth at your mummeries. He and His angels laugh at you - Heaven is merry with your folly. What hath He done for His chosen people for their centuries of anguish and martyrdom? It is for His plaything that He hath chosen you. He hath given you over into the hand of the spoiler; ye are a byword among nations; the followers of the victorious Christ spit in your faces. Here in England your lot is least hard; but even here ye eat your scanty bread with sorrow and travail. Sleep may rarely visit your eyes; your homes are noisome styes; your children perish around you; ye go down in sorrow to the grave. Rouse yourselves, and be free men. Waste your lives neither for God nor man. Or, if you will worship, worship the Christ, whose ministers will pour gold upon you. Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow ye die."

A charmed silence still hung over his auditors. Their resentment, their horror, was dead; a waft of fiery air seemed to blow over their souls, an intoxicating flush of evil thoughts held riot in their hearts. They felt their whole spirit move under the sway of the daring speaker, who now seemed to them merely to put into words thoughts long suppressed in their own hearts, but now rising into active consciousness. Yes, they had been fools: they would free themselves, and quaff the wine of life before the Angel of Death, Azrael, spilled the goblet. Moshe Grinwitz's melancholy eyes blazed with sympathetic ardour.

"Hush, miserable blasphemer!" faltered the great Rav Rotchinsky, who alone could find his tongue. "The guardian of Israel neither slumbereth nor sleepeth." The hunchback wheeled round and cast a chilling glance at the venerable man. Then, smiling, "The maidens of England are beautiful," he said. "They are even fairer than the women of Brody."

The great Rav turned pale, but his eyes shone. He struck out feebly with his arms, as though beating back some tempting vision.

"You and I have spoken together before, Rabbi," said the hunchback. "We shall speak again - about women, wine, and other things. Your beard is long and white, but many days of sunshine are still before you, and the darkness of the grave is afar."

The rabbi tried to mutter a prayer, but his lips only beat tremulously together.

"Profane mocker," he muttered at length, "go to thy work and thy wine and thy pleasure, if thou wouldst desecrate the sacred Sabbath-day; but tempt not others to sin with thee. Begone; and may the Holy One, blessed be He, blast thee with His lightnings."

"The Holy One blasteth only that which is holy," grimly rejoined the dwarfish stranger, exhibiting the Scroll, while a low sound of applause went up from the audience. "Said I not, ye were a sport and a mockery unto Him? Ye assemble in your multitude for prayer, and the vapour of your piety but prepares the air for the passage of His arrows. Ye adorn His Scroll with bells and chains, and the gilded metal but draws His lightnings."

He looked around the room and a cat-like gleam of triumph stole into his wonderful eyes as he noted the effect of his words. He paused, and again for a moment the tense, awful silence reigned, emphasized by the loud but decreasing patter of the rain. This time it was broken in a strange, unexpected fashion.

"Yisgadal, veyiskadash sheme rabbo," rang out a clear, childish voice from the rear of the synagogue. A little orphan child, who had come to repeat the Kaddish, the Hebrew mourners' unquestioning acknowledgment of the Supreme Goodness, had fallen into a sleep, overcome by the heat, and had slept all through the storm. Awakening now amid a universal silence, the poor little fellow instinctively felt that the congregation was waiting for him to pronounce the prayer. Alone of the male worshippers he had neither seen the blaspheming hunchback nor listened to his words.

The hunchback's handsome face was distorted with a scowl; he stamped his broad splay-foot, but hearing no verbal interruption, the child, its eyes piously closed, continued its prayer -

"In the world which He hath created...."

"The rain has ceased, brethren," huskily whispered the hunchback, for his words seemed to stick in his throat. "Come outside and I will tell you how to enjoy this world, for world-to-come there is none." Not a figure stirred. The child's treble went unfalteringly on. The stranger hurried toward the door. Arrived there, he looked back. Moshe Grinwitz alone followed him. He hurled the Scroll at the child's head, but the lad just then took the three backward steps which accompany the conclusion of the prayer. The Scroll dashed itself against the wall; the stranger was gone and with him Moshe Grinwitz. A great wave of trembling passed through the length and breadth of the synagogue; the men drew long breaths, as if some heavy and sulphurous vapour had been dissipated from the atmosphere; the child lifted up with difficulty the battered Scroll, kissed it and handed it to his neighbour, who deposited it reverently in the Ark; a dazzling burst of sunshine flooded the room from above, and transmuted the floating dust into the golden shafts of some celestial structure; the Cantor and the congregation continued the words of the service at the point interrupted, as though all the strange episode had been a dream. They did not speak or wonder among themselves at it; nor did the rabbi allude to it in the marvellous exhortation that succeeded the service, save at its close, when he reminded them that on the morrow they must observe a solemn fast. But ever afterward they shunned Moshe Grinwitz as a leper; for the sight of him recalled his companion in blasphemy, the atheist and socialist propagandist, who had insidiously crept into their midst, after perverting and crazing their fellow as a preliminary; and the thought of the strange hunchback set their blood tingling and their brain surging with wild fancies and audacious thoughts. The tidings of their misfortune induced a few benevolent men to join in purchasing a new Scroll of the Law for them, and before the Feast of Consecration of this precious possession was well over, the once vivid images of that stormy and disgraceful scene were as shadows in the minds of men not unaccustomed to heated synagogal discussions, and not altogether strangers to synagogal affrays.

She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. - Prov. xxxi. 12.

As Moshe Grinwitz followed his new-found friend down the narrow windings that led to his own home, his whole being surrendered itself to the new delicious freedom. The burst of sunshine that greeted him almost as soon as he crossed the threshold of the synagogue seemed to him to typify the new life that was to be his. He drew up his gaunt form to his full height, stiffened his curved shoulders, bent by much stooping over his machine, and adjusted his high hat firmly on his head. It was not a restful, placid feeling that now possessed him; rather a busy ferment of ideas, a stirring of nerve currents, an accumulation of energy striving to discharge itself, a mercurial flowing of the blood. The weight of old life-long conceptions, nay, the burden of old learning, of which his store had been vast, was cast off. He did not know what he should do with the new life that tingled in his veins; he only felt alive in every pore.

"Ha! brother!" he shouted to the hunchback, who was hurrying on before. "These fools in the synagogue would do better to come out and enjoy the fine weather."

"They breathe the musty air to offer it up as a sweet incense," responded the dwarf, slackening his steps to allow his companion to come up with him.

Their short walk was diversified by quite a number of incidents. A driver lashed his horse so savagely that the animal bolted; two children walking hand in hand suddenly began to fight; a foreign-looking, richly dressed gentleman, half-drunk, staggered along. Moshe felt it a shame that one wealthy man should wear a heavy gold chain, which would support a poor family for a month; but ere his own temptation had gathered to a head, the poor gentleman was felled by a sudden blow, and a respectably clad figure vanished down an alley with the coveted spoil. Moshe felt glad, and made no attempt to assist the victim, and his attention was immediately attracted by some boys, who commenced to tie a cracker to a cat's tail. Occupied by all these observations, Moshe suddenly noted with a start that they had reached the house in which he lived. His companion had already entered the passage, for the door was always ajar, and Moshe had the impression that it was very kind of his new friend to accept his invitation to visit him. He felt very pleased, and followed him into the passage, but no sooner had he done so than an impalpable cloud of distrust seemed to settle upon him. The house was a tall, old-fashioned and grimy structure, which had been fine, and even stately, a century before, but which now sheltered a dozen families, mainly Jewish. Moshe Grinwitz's one room was situated at the very top, its walls forming part of the roof. Every flight of stairs Moshe went up, his spirit grew darker and darker, as if absorbing the darkness that hung around the cobwebbed, massive balustrades, upon which no direct ray of sunlight ever fell; and by the time he had reached the dusky landing outside his own door the vague uneasiness had changed into a horrible definite conception; a memory had come back upon him which set his heart thumping guiltily and anxiously in his bosom. His wife! His pure, virtuous, God-fearing wife! How was he to make her understand? But immediately a thought came, by which the burden of shame and anxiety was half lifted. His wife was not at home; she would still be in the Synagogue of Love and Mercy, where, mercifully blinded by the curtain, she, perhaps, was still ignorant of the part he had played. He turned suddenly to his companion, and caught the vanishing traces of an ugly scowl wrinkling the high white forehead under the fur cap. The hunchback's hair burnt like fire on the background of the gloom; his eyes flashed lightning.

"Probably my wife is in the synagogue," said Moshe. "If so, she has the key, and we can't get in."

"The key matters little," hissed the hunchback. "But you must first tear down this thing."

Moshe's eyes followed in wonder the direction of his companion's long, white forefinger, and rested on the Mezuzah, where, in a tin case, the holy verses and the Name hung upon the door-post.

"Tear it down?" repeated Moshe.

"Tear it down!" replied the hunchback. "Never will I enter a home where this superstitious gew-gaw is allowed to decorate the door."

Moshe hesitated; the thought of what his wife would say, again welled up strongly within him; all his new impious daring seemed to be melting away. But a mocking glance from the cruel eyes thrilled through him. He put his hand on the Mezuzah, then the unbroken habit of years asserted its sway, and he removed the finger which had lain on the Name and kissed it. Instantly another semi-transformation of his thoughts took place; he longed to take the hunchback by the throat. But it was an impotent longing, for when a low hiss of intense scorn and wrath was breathed from the clenched lips of his companion, he made a violent tug at the firmly fastened Mezuzah. It was half-loosed from the woodwork when, from behind the door, there issued in clear, womanly tones the solemn Hebrew words: -

"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the council of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful."

It was Rebecca Grinwitz commencing the Book of Psalms, which she read through every Sabbath afternoon.

A violent shudder agitated Moshe Grinwitz's frame; he paused with his hand on the Mezuzah, struggled with himself awhile, then kissed his finger again, and, turning to defy the scorn of his companion, saw that he had slipped noiselessly downstairs. A sob of intense relief burst from Moshe's lips.

"Rivkoly, Rivkoly!" he cried hysterically, beating at the door; and in another moment he was folded in the quiet haven of his wife's arms.

"Who told thee it was I?" said Rebecca, after a moment of delicious happiness for both. "I told them not to alarm thee, nor to spoil thy enjoyment of the sermon, because I knew thou wouldst be uneasy and be wanting to leave the synagogue if thou knewest I had fainted."

"No one told me thou hadst fainted!" Moshe exclaimed, instantly forgetting his own perturbation.

"And yet thou didst guess it!" said Rebecca, a happy little smile dimpling her pale cheek, "and came away after me." Then, her face clouding, "The Satan Mekatrig has tempted us both away from synagogue," she said, "and even when I commence to say Tehillim (Psalms) at home, he interrupts me by sending me my darling husband."

Moshe kissed her in acknowledgment of the complimentary termination of a sentence begun with unquestionable gloom. "But what made my Rivkoly faint?" he asked, glad, on reflection, that his wife's misconception obviated the necessity of explanations. "They ought to have opened the window at the back of the women's room."

Rebecca shuddered. "God forbid!" she cried. "It wasn't the heat - it was that." Her eyes stared a moment at some unseen vision.

"What?" cried Moshe, catching the contagion of horror.

"He would have come in," she said.

"Who would have come in?" he gasped.

"The Satan Mekatrig," replied his wife. "He was outside, and he glared at me as if I prevented his coming in."

A nervous silence followed. Moshe's heart beat painfully. Then he laughed with ghastly merriment. "Thou didst fall asleep from the heat," he said, "and hadst an evil dream."

"No, no," protested his wife earnestly. "As sure as I stand here, no! I was looking into my Chumosh (Pentateuch), following the reading of the Torah, and all at once I felt something plucking my eyes off my book and turning my head to look through the window immediately behind me. I wondered what Satan Mekatrig was distracting my thoughts from the service. For a long time I resisted, but when the reading ceased for a moment the temptation overcame me and I turned and saw him."

"How looked he?" Moshe asked in a whisper that strove in vain not to be one.

"Do not ask me," Rebecca replied, with another shudder. "A little crooked demon with red hair, and a fur cap, and a white forehead, and baleful eyes, and a cock's talons for toes."

Again Moshe laughed, a strange, hollow laugh. "Little fool!" he said, "I know the man. He is only a brother-Jew - a poor cutter or cigar-maker who laughs at Yiddishkeit (Judaism), because he has no wife like mine to show him the heavenly light. Why, didst thou not see him afterward? But no, thou must have been gone by the time he came inside."

"What I saw was no man," returned Rebecca, looking at him sternly. "No earthly being could have stopped my heart with his glances. It was the Satan Mekatrig himself, who goeth to and fro on the earth, and walketh up and down in it. I must have been having wicked thoughts indeed this Sabbath, thinking of my new dress, for my Sabbath Angel to have deserted me, and to let the Disturber and the Tempter assail me unchecked." The poor, conscience-stricken woman burst into tears.

"My Rivkoly have wicked thoughts!" said Moshe incredulously, as he smoothed her cheek. "If my Rivkoly puts on a new dress in honour of the Sabbath, is not the dear God pleased? Why, where is thy new dress?"

"I have changed it for an old one," she sobbed. "I do not want to see the demon again."

"The Satan Mekatrig has no real existence, I tell thee," said Moshe, irritated. "He only means our own inward thoughts, that distract us in the performance of the precepts; our own inward temptations to go astray after our eyes and after our hearts."

"Moshe!" Rebecca exclaimed in a shocked tone, "have I married an Epikouros after all? My father, the Rav, peace be unto him, always said thou hadst the makings of one - that thou didst ask too many questions."

"Well, whether there is a Satan or not," retorted her husband, "thou couldst not have seen him; for the person thou describest is the man I tell thee of."

"And thou keepest company with such a man," she answered; "a man who scoffs at Yiddishkeit! May the Holy One, blessed be He, forgive thee! Now I know why we have no children, no son to say Kaddish after us." And Rebecca wept bitterly - for the children she did not possess.

Their common cause of grief coming thus unexpectedly into their consciousness softened them toward one another and dispelled the gathering irritation. Both had a melancholy vision of themselves stretched out stiff and stark in their shrouds, with no filial Kaddish breaking in upon and gladdening their ears. O if their souls should be doomed to Purgatory, with no son's prayers to release them! Very soon they were sitting hand in hand, reading together the interrupted Psalms.

And a deep peace fell upon Moshe Grinwitz. So the immortal allegorist, John Bunyan, must have felt when the mad longing to utter blasphemies and obscenities from the pulpit was stifled; and when he felt his soul once more in harmony with the Spirit of Good. So feel all men who have wrestled with a Being in the darkness and prevailed.

They were a curious contrast - the tall, sallow, stooping, black-bearded man, and the small, keen-eyed, plump, pleasant-looking, if not pretty woman, in her dark wig and striped cotton dress, and as they sat, steadily going through the whole collection of Psalms to a strange, melancholy tune, fraught with a haunting and indescribable pathos, the shadows of twilight gathered unnoticed about the attic, which was their all in all of home. The iron bed, the wooden chairs, the gilt-framed Mizrach began to lose their outlines in the dimness. The Psalms were finished at last, and then the husband and wife sat, still hand in hand, talking of their plans for the coming week. For once neither spoke of going to evening service at the Synagogue of Love and Mercy, and when a silver ray of moonlight lay broad across the counterpane, and Rebecca Grinwitz, peering into the quiet sky that overhung the turbid alley, announced that three stars were visible, the devout couple turned their faces to the east and sang the hymns that usher out the Sabbath.

And when the evening prayer was over Rebecca produced from the cupboard the plainly cut goblet of raisin wine, and the metal wine-cup, the green twisted waxlight, and the spice-box, wherewith to perform the beautiful symbolical ceremony of the Havdalah, welcoming in the days of work, the six long days of dreary drudgery, with cheerful resignation to the will of the Maker of all things - of the Sabbath and the Day of Work, the Light and the Shadow, the Good and the Evil, blent into one divine harmony by His inscrutable Wisdom and Love.

Moshe filled the cup with raisin wine, and, holding it with his right hand, chanted a short majestic Hebrew poem, whereof the burden was: -

"Lo! God is my salvation; I will trust, and I will not be afraid. Be with us light and joy, gladness and honour." Then blessing the King of the Universe, who had created the fruit of the Vine, he placed the cup on the table and took up the spices, uttering a blessing over them as he did so. Then having smelled the spice-box, he passed it on to his wife and spread out his hands toward the light of the spiral wax taper, reciting solemnly: "Blessed be Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who createst the Light of the Fire." And then looking down at the Shade made by his bent fingers, he took up the wine-cup again, and chanted, with especial fervour, and with a renewed sense of the sanctities and sweet tranquillities of religion: "Blessed be Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who makest a distinction between the Holy and the non-Holy, between Light and Darkness."

As for that night, let darkness seize upon it. - Job iii. 6.

It was Kol Nidre night, the commencement of the great White Fast, the Day of Atonement. Throughout the Jewish quarter there was an air of subdued excitement. The synagogues had just emptied themselves and everywhere men and women, yet under the solemn shadow of passionate prayer, were meeting and exchanging the wish that they might weather the fast safely. The night was dark and starless, as if Nature partook of the universal mournfulness.

Solitary, though amidst a crowd, a slight, painfully thin woman shuffled wearily along, her feet clad in the slippers which befitted the occasion, her head bent, her worn cheek furrowed with still-falling tears. They were not the last dribblets of an exhausted emotion, not the meaningless, watery expression of over-excited sensibility. They were real, salt, bitter tears born of an intense sorrow. The long, harassing service, with its untiring demands upon the most exalted and the most poignant emotions, would have been a blessing if it had dulled her capacity for anguish. But it had not. Poor Rebecca Grinwitz was still thinking of her husband.

It was of him she thought, even when the ministers, in their long white cerements, were pouring forth their souls in passionate vocalization, now rising to a wail, now breaking to a sob, now sinking to a dread whisper; it was of him she thought when the weeping worshippers, covered from head to foot in their praying-shawls, rocked to and fro in a frenzy of grief, and battered the gates of Heaven with fiery lyrics; it was of him she thought when she beat her breast with her clenched fist as she made the confession of sin and clamoured for forgiveness. Sins enough she knew she had - but his sin! Ah! God, his sin!

For Moshe had gone from bad to worse. He refused to re├źnter the synagogue where he had been so roughly handled. His speech became more and more profane. He said no more prayers; wore no more phylacteries. Her peaceful home-life wrecked, her reliance on her husband gone, the poor wife clung to him, still hoping on. At times she did not believe him sane. Gradually rumours of his mad behaviour on the Sabbath on which she had fainted reached her ears, and remembering that his strangeness had begun from the Sunday morning following that delicious afternoon of common Psalm-saying, she was often inclined to put it all down to mental aberration. But then his talk - so clever, if so blasphemous; bristling with little pointed epigrams and maxims such as she had never before heard from him or any one else. He was full of new ideas, too, on politics and the social system and other unpractical topics, picturing endless potentialities of wealth and happiness for the labourer. Meantime his wages had fallen by a third, owing to the loss of his former place, his master having been the president of the Congregation of Love and Mercy. What wonder, therefore, if Moshe Grinwitz intruded upon all his wife's thoughts - devotional or worldly? In a very real sense he had become her Satan Mekatrig.

Up till to-night she had gone on hoping. For when the great White Fast comes round, a mighty wave as of some subtle magnetism passes through the world of Jews. Men and women who have not obeyed one precept of Judaism for a whole year suddenly awake to a remembrance of the faith in which they were born, and hasten to fast and pray, and abase themselves before the Throne of Mercy. The long-drawn, tremulous, stirring notes of the trumpet that ushers in the New Year, seem to rally and gather together the dispersed of Israel from every region of the underworld of unfaith and to mass them beneath the cope of heaven. And to-night surely the newly rooted nightshade of doubt would wither away in her husband's bosom. Surely this one link still held him to the religion of his fathers; and this one link would redeem him and yet save his soul from the everlasting tortures of the damned. But this last hope had been doomed to disappointment. Utterly unmoved by all the olden sanctities of the Days of Judgment that initiate the New Year, the miserable man showed no signs of remorse when the more awful terrors of the Day of Atonement drew near - the last day of grace for the sinner, the day on which the Divine Sentence is sealed irrevocably. And so the wretched woman had gone to the synagogue alone.

Reaching home, she toiled up the black staircase and turned the handle of the door. As she threw open the door she uttered a cry. She saw nothing before her but a gigantic shadow, flickering grotesquely on the sloping walls and the slip of ceiling. It must be her own shadow, for other living occupant of the room she could see none. Where was her husband? Whither had he gone? Why had he recklessly left the door unlocked?

She looked toward the table gleaming weirdly with its white tablecloth; the tall wax Yom Kippur Candle, specially lit on the eve of the solemn fast and intended to burn far on into the next day, had all but guttered away, and the flame was quivering unsteadily under the influence of a draught coming from the carelessly opened window. Rebecca shivered from head to foot; a dread presentiment of evil shook her soul. For years the Candle had burnt steadily, and her life also had been steady and undisturbed. Alas! it needed not the omen of the Yom Kippur Candle to presage woe.

"May the dear God have mercy on me!" she exclaimed, bursting into fresh tears. Hardly had she uttered the words when a monstrous black cat, with baleful green eyes, dashed from under the table, sprang upon the window-sill, and disappeared into the darkness, uttering a melancholy howl. Almost frantic with terror, the poor woman dragged herself to the window and closed it with a bang, but ere the sash had touched the sill, something narrow and white had flashed from the room through the gap, and the reverberations made in the silent garret by the shock of the violently closed window were prolonged in mocking laughter.

"Well thrown, Rav Moshe!" said a grating voice. "Now that you have at last conquered your reverence for a bit of tin and a morsel of parchment, I will honour your mansion with my presence."

Instantly Rebecca felt a wild longing to join in the merriment and to laugh away her fears; but, muttering a potent talismanic verse, she turned and faced her husband and his guest. Instinct had not deceived her - the new-comer was the hunchback of that fatal Sabbath. This time she did not faint.

"A strange hour and occasion to bring a visitor, Moshe," she said sternly, her face growing even more rigid and white as she caught the nicotian and alcoholic reek of the two men's breaths.

"Your good Frau is not over-polite," said the visitor. "But it's Yom Kippur, and so I suppose she feels she must tell the truth."

"I brought him, Rivkoly, to convince thee what a fool thou wast to assert that thou hadst seen - but I mustn't be impolite," he broke off, with a coarse laugh. "There's no call for me to tell the truth because it's Yom Kippur. Down at the Club we celebrated the occasion by something better than truth - a jolly spread! And our good friend here actually stood a bottle of champagne! Champagne, Rivkoly! Think of it! Real, live champagne, like that which fizzes and sparkles on the table of the Lord Mayor. Oh, he's a jolly good fellow! and so said all of us, too. And yet thou sayest he isn't a fellow at all."

A drunken leer overspread his sallow face, and was rendered more ghastly by the flame leaping up from the expiring candle.

"Roshah, sinner!" thundered the woman. Then looking straight into the cruel eyes of the hunchback, her wan face shining with the stress of a great emotion, her meagre form convulsed with fury, "Avaunt, Satan Mekatrig!" she screamed. "Get thee down from my house - get thee down. In God's name, get thee down - to hell."

Even the brazen-faced hunchback trembled before her passion; but he grasped his friend's hot hand in his long, nervous fingers, and seemed to draw courage from the contact.

"If I go, I take your husband!" he hissed, his great eyes blazing in turn. "He will leave me no more. Send me away, if you will."

"Yes, thou must not send my friend away like this," hiccoughed Moshe Grinwitz. "Come, make him welcome, like the good wife thou wast wont to be."

Rebecca uttered a terrible cry, and, cowering down on the ground, rocked herself to and fro.

The drunkard appeared moved. "Get up, Rivkoly," he said, with a tremour in his tones. "To see thee one would think thou wast sitting Shivah over my corpse." He put out his hand as if to raise her up.

"Back!" she screamed, writhing from his grasp. "Touch me not; no longer am I wife of thine."

"Hear you that, man?" said the hunchback eagerly. "You are free. I am here as a witness. Think of it; you are free."

"Yes, I am free," repeated Moshe, with a horrible, joyous exultation on his sickly visage. The gigantic shadow of himself that bent over him, cast by the dying flame of the Yom Kippur Candle, seemed to dance in grim triumph, his long side-curls dangling in the spectral image like barbaric ornaments in the ears of a savage, while the unshapely, fantastic shadow of the hunchback seemed to nod its head in applause. Then, as the flame leaped up in an irregular jet, the distorted shadow of the Tempter intertwined itself in a ghastly embrace with her own. With frozen blood and stifled breath the tortured woman turned away, and, as her eyes fell upon the many-cracked looking-glass which adorned the mantelpiece, she saw, or her overwrought fancy seemed to see - her husband's dead face, wreathed with a slavering serpent in the place of the phylacteries he had ceased to wear, and surrounded by endless perspectives of mocking marble-browed visages, with fiery snakes for hair and live coals for eyes.

She felt her senses slipping away from her grasp, but she struggled wildly against the heavy vapour that seemed to choke her. "Moshe!" she shrieked, in mad, involuntary appeal for help, as she clutched the mantel and closed her eyes to shut out the hideous vision.

"I am no longer thy husband," tauntingly replied the man. "I may not touch thee."

"Hear you that, woman?" came the sardonic voice of the hunchback. "You are free. I am here as a witness."

"I am here as a witness," a thousand mocking voices seemed to hiss in echoed sibilance.

A terrible silence followed. At last she turned her white shrunken face, which the contrast of the jet-black wig rendered weird and death-like, toward the man who had been her husband, and looked long and slowly, yearningly yet reproachfully, into his bloodshot eyes.

Again a great wave of agitation shook the man from head to foot.

"Don't look at me like that, Rivkoly," he almost screamed. "I won't have it. I won't see thee. Curse that candle! Why does it flicker on eternally and not blot thee from my sight?" He puffed violently at the tenacious flame and a pall fell over the room. But the next instant the light leaped up higher than ever.

"Moshe!" Rebecca shrieked in wild dismay. "Dost thou forget it is Kol Nidre night? How canst thou dare to blow out a light? Besides, it is the Yom Kippur Candle - it is our life and happiness for the New Year. If you blow it out, I swear, by my soul and the great Name, that you shall never look upon my face again."

"It is because I do not wish to see thy face that I will blow it out," he replied, laughing hysterically.

"No, no!" she pleaded. "I will go away rather. It is nearly dead of itself; let it die."

"No! It takes too long dying; 'tis like thy father, the Rav, who had the corpse-watchers so long in attendance that one died himself," said Moshe Grinwitz with horrible laughter. "I will kill it!" And bending down low over the broad socket of the candlestick, so that his head loomed gigantic on the ceiling, he silenced forever the restless tongue of fire.

Immediately a thick blackness, as of the grave, settled upon the chamber. Hollow echoes of the blasphemer's laughter rang and resounded on every side. Myriads of dreadful faces shaped themselves out of the gloom, and mowed and gibbered at the woman. At the window, the green, baleful eyes of the black cat glared with phosphorescent light. A wreath of fiery serpents twisted themselves in fiendish contortions, shedding lurid radiance upon the cruel marble brow they garlanded. An unspeakable Eeriness, an unnameable Unholiness, floated with far-sweeping, rustling pinions through the Darkness.

With stifling throat that strove in vain to shriek, the woman dashed out through the well-known door, fled wildly down the stairs, pursued at every step by the sardonic merriment, met at every corner by the gibbering shapes - fled on, dashing through the heavy, ever-open street door into the fresher air of the night - on, instinctively on, through the almost deserted streets and alleys, where only the vile gin-houses gleamed with life - on, without pause or rest, till she fell exhausted upon the dusty door-step of the Synagogue of Love and Mercy.

All Israel have a portion in the world to come. - Ethics of the Fathers.

The aged keeper of the synagogue rushed out at the noise.

"Save me! For God's sake, save me, Reb Yitzchok!" cried the fallen figure. "Save me from the Satan Mekatrig! I have no home - no husband - any more! Take me in!"

"Take you in?" said Reb Yitzchok pityingly, for he dimly guessed something of her story. "Where can I take you in? You know my wife and I are allowed but one tiny room here."

"Take me in!" repeated the woman. "I will pass the night in the synagogue. I must pray for my husband's soul, for he has no son to pray for him. Let me come in! Save me from the Satan Mekatrig!"

"You would certainly meet many a Satan Mekatrig in the streets during the night," said the old man musingly. "But have you no friends to go to?"

"None - none - but God! Let me in that I may go to Him. Give me shelter, and He will have mercy on you when the great Tekiah sounds to-morrow night!"

Without another word Reb Yitzchok went into his room, returned with the key, and threw open the door of the women's synagogue, revealing a dazzling flood of light from the numerous candles, big and little, which had been left burning in their sconces. The low curtain that served as a partition had been half rolled back by devoted husbands who had come to inquire after their wives at the end of the service, and the synagogue looked unusually large and bright, though it was hot and close, with lingering odours of breaths, and snuff, and tallow, and smelling-salts.

With a sob of infinite thankfulness Rebecca dropped upon a wooden bench.

"Would you like a blanket?" said the old man.

"No, no, God bless you!" she replied. "I must watch and weep, not sleep. For the Scroll of Judgment is written and the Book of Life is all but closed."

With a pitying sigh the old man turned and left her alone for the night in the Synagogue of Love and Mercy.

For a few moments Rebecca sat, prayerless, her soul full of a strange peace. Then she found herself counting the chimes as they rolled out sonorously from a neighbouring steeple: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, !


Starting up suddenly when the last stroke ceased to vibrate on the air, Rebecca Grinwitz found, to her surprise, that a merciful sleep must have overtaken her eyelids, that hours must have passed since midnight had struck, and that the great Day of Atonement must have dawned. Both compartments of the synagogue were full of the restless stir of a praying multitude. With a sense of something vaguely strange, she bent her eyes downward on her neighbour's Machzor. The woman immediately pushed the prayer-book more toward Rebecca, with a wonderful smile of love and tenderness, which seemed to go right through Rebecca's heart, though she could not clearly remember ever having seen her neighbour before. Nor, wonderingly stealing a first glance around, could she help feeling that the entire congregation was somewhat strange and unfamiliar, though she could not quite think why or how. The male worshippers, too, why did they all wear the shroud-like garments, usually confined on this solemn occasion to the ministers and a few extra-devout personages? And had not some transformation come over the synagogue? Was it only the haze before her tear-worn eyes or did dim perspectives of worshippers stretch away boundlessly on all sides of the clearly seen area, which still retained the form of the room she knew so well?

But the curious undercurrent of undefined wonder lasted but a moment. In another instant she was reconciled to the scene. All was familiar and expected; once more she was taking part in divine service with no sorrowful thoughts of her husband coming to distract her, her whole soul bathing in and absorbing the Peace of God which passeth all understanding. Then suddenly she felt a stir of recollection coming over her, and a stream of love warming her heart, and looking up at her neighbour's face she saw with joyous content that it was that of her mother.

The service went on, mother and daughter following it in the book they had in common. After several hours, during which the huge, far-spreading congregation alternated with the Cantor in intoning the beautiful poems of the liturgy of the day, the white curtain with its mystic cabalistic insignia was rolled back from the Ark of the Covenant and two Scrolls were withdrawn therefrom. Rebecca noted with joy that the Ark was filled with Scrolls big and little, in rich mantles, and that those taken out were swathed in satin beautifully embroidered, and that the ornaments and the musically tinkling bells were of pure gold.

Then some of the worshippers were called up in turn to the Al Memor to be present at the reading of a section of the Law. They were all well known to Rebecca. First came Moses ben Amram. He walked humbly up to the Al Memor with bowed head, his long Talith enveloping him from crown to foot. Rebecca saw his face well, for though it was covered with a thick veil, it shone luminously through its draping.

"Bless ye the Lord, who is blessed," said Moses ben Amram, the words seeming all the sweeter from his lips for the slight stammering with which they were uttered.

"Blessed be the Lord, who is blessed to all eternity and beyond," responded the endless congregation, in a low murmur that seemed to be taken up and vibrated away and away into the infinite distances for ever and ever.

"Blessed be the Lord, who is blessed to all eternity and beyond," echoed the melodious voice. Then, in words that seemed to roll and fill the great gulfs of space with a choral music of sacred joy, Moses continued, "Blessed be Thou, O Lord, our God, the King of the Universe, who hath chosen us from all peoples, and given unto us His Law. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who givest the Law."

After him came Aaron ben Amram, whose white beard reached to his knees. Abraham ben Terah, Isaac ben Abraham, and Jacob ben Isaac - all venerable figures, with faces which Rebecca felt were radiant with infinite tenderness and compassion for such poor helpless children as herself - were also called up, and after the Patriarchs, Elijah the Prophet. Lastly came a white-haired, stooping figure, whose gait and whose every gesture told Rebecca that it was her father. How glad she felt to see him thus honoured! As she listened to his quavering tones the dusty tombstones of dead years seemed rolled away, and all their simple joys and griefs to live again, not quite as of yore, but transfigured by some solemn pathos.

When the reading of the Law was at an end, David ben Jesse, a royal-looking graybeard, held up the Scroll to the four corners of space, and it was rolled up by his son Solomon, the Preacher; the carrying of it to the Ark being given to Rabbi Akiba, whose features wore a strange, ecstatic look, as though ennobled by suffering. The vast multitude rose with a great rustling, the sound whereof reached afar, and sang a hymn of rejoicing, so that the whole universe was filled with melody. Rebecca alone could not sing. For the first time she missed her husband, Moshe. Why was he not here, like all the other friends of her life, whose beloved faces surrounded her on every side and made a sweet atmosphere of security for her soul? What was he doing outside of this mighty assembly? Why was he not there to have the sacred duty of carrying the Scroll entrusted to him? She felt the tears pouring down her cheeks. She was ready to sink to the earth with sudden lassitude. "Mother! dear mother!" she cried, "I feel so faint."

"You must have some air, my child, my Rivkoly," said the mother, the dearly remembered voice falling for the first time with ineffable sweetness on Rebecca's ears. And she put out her hand, and lo! it grew longer and longer, till it reached up to the skylight, and then suddenly the whole roof vanished and the free air of heaven blew in like celestial balm upon Rebecca's hot forehead. Yet she noted with wonder that the holy candles burnt on steadily, unfluttered by the refreshing breeze. And then, lo! the starless heavens above her opened out in indescribable Glory. The Dark budded into ineffable Beauty; a supernally pure, luminous Splendour, transcendently dazzling, filled the infinite depths of the Firmament with melodious coruscations of Infinite Love made visible, and white-winged hosts of radiant Cherubim sang "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His Glory." And all the vast congregation fell upon their faces and cried "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His Glory." And Moses ben Amram arose, and he lifted his hands toward the Splendour and he cried, "Lord, Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and full of kindness and truth. Lo, Thou sealest the seals before the twilight. Seal Thy People, I pray Thee, in the Book of Life, though Thou blot me out. Forgive them, and pardon their transgressions for the sake of the merits of the Patriarchs and for the sake of the merits of the Martyrs, who have shed their blood like water and offered their flesh to the flames for the Sanctification of the Name. Forgive them, and blot out their transgressions."

And all the congregation said "Amen."

Then a surging wave of hope rose within Rebecca's breast, and it lifted her to her feet and stretched out her arms toward the Splendour. And she said: "Lord God, forgive Thou my husband, for he is in the hand of the Tempter. Save him from the power of the Evil One by Thine outstretched arm and Thy mighty hand. Save him and pardon him, Lord, in Thine infinite mercy." Then a strange, dread, anxious silence fell upon the vast spaces of the Firmament, till from the heart of the Celestial Splendour there fell a Word that floated through the Universe like the sweet blended strains of all sweet instruments, a Word that mingled all the harmonies of winds and waters and mortal and angelic voices into one divine cadence - Salachti.

And with the sweet Word of Forgiveness lingering musically in her charmed ears, and the sweet assurance at her heart that she, the poor, miserable tailor's wife, despised and trodden under foot by the rich and by the heathen around, could lean upon the breast of an Almighty Father, who had prepared for her immortal glories and raptures amid all her loved ones in a world where He would wipe the tears from off all eyes, Rebecca Grinwitz awoke to find the bright morning sunshine streaming in upon her and the fresh morning air blowing in upon her fevered brow from the skylight which Reb Yitzchok had just opened.

Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler. - Psalm xci. 3.

A shroud of newly fallen snow enveloped the dead earth, over which the dull, murky sky looked drearily down. Within his fireless garret, which was almost empty of furniture, Moshe Grinwitz lay, wasted away to a shadow. His beard was unkempt, his cheek-bones were almost fleshless, his feverish eyes large and staring, his side-curls tangled and untended. There did not seem enough strength left in the frame to resist a babe; yet, when he coughed, the whole skeleton was agitated as though with galvanic energy.

"Will he never come back?" he murmured uneasily.

"Fear not; so far as lies in my power, I shall be with you always," replied the voice of the hunchback as he entered the room. "But, alas! I have little comfort to bring you. One pawnbroker after another refused to advance anything on my waistcoat, and at last I sold it right out for a few pence. See; here is some milk. It is warm."

Moshe tried to clutch the jug, but fell back, helpless. A shade of anxiety passed over his companion's face. "Have I miscalculated?" he muttered. He held the jug to the sick man's lips, supporting his head with the other. Moshe drank, then fell back, and pressed his friend's hand gratefully.

"Poor Moshe," said the hunchback. "What a shame I tossed into the gutter the gold my father left me seven months ago! How could I foresee you would be struck down with this long sickness?"

"No, no, don't regret it," quavered Moshe, his white face lighting up. "We had jolly old times, jolly old times, while the money lasted. Oh, you've been a good friend to me - a good friend. If I had never known you, I should have passed away into nothingness, without ever having known the mad joys of wine and riot. I have had wild, voluptuous moments of revelry and mirth. No power in heaven or hell can take away the past. And then the sweet freedom of doing as you will, thinking as you will, flying with wings unclogged by superstition - to you I owe it all! And since I have been ill you have watched over me like - like a woman."

His words died away in a sob, and then there was silence, except when his cough sounded strange and hollow in the bare room. Presently he went on: -

"How unjust Rivkoly was to you! She once said" - here the speaker laughed a little melancholy laugh - "that you were the Satan Mekatrig in person."

"Poor afflicted woman!" said his friend, with pitying scorn. "In this nineteenth century, when among the wise the belief in the gods has died out, there are yet fools alive who believe in the devil. But she could only have meant it metaphorically."

The sick man shook his head. "She said the evil influence - of course, it seemed evil to her - you wielded over her thoughts, and I suppose mine, too, was more than human - was supernatural."

"Oh, I don't say I'm not more strong-minded than most people. Of course I am, or I should be howling hymns at the present moment. But why does a soldier catch fire under the eye of his captain? What magnetism enables one man to bewitch a nation? Why does one friend's unspoken thought find unuttered echo in another's? Go to Science, study Mesmerism, Hypnotism, Thought-Transference, and you will learn all about Me and my influence."

"Yes, Rivkoly never had any idea of anything outside her prayer-book. Rivkoly - "

"Mention not her name to me," interrupted the hunchback harshly. "A woman who deserts her husband - "

"She swore to go if I blew out the Yom Kippur light. And I did."

"A woman who goes out of her wits because her husband gets into his!" sneered the other. "Doubtless her superstitious fancy conjured up all sorts of sights in the dark. Ho! ho! ho!" and he laughed a ghastly laugh. "Happily she will never come back. She's evidently able to get along without you. Probably she has another husband more to her pious taste."

Moshe raised himself convulsively. "Don't say that again!" he screamed. "My Rivkoly!" Then a violent cough shook him and his white lips were reddened with blood.

The cold eyes of the hunchback glittered strangely as he saw the blood. "At any rate," he said, more gently, "she cannot break the mighty oath she sware. She will never come back."

"No, she will never come back," the sick man groaned hopelessly. "But it was cruel of me to drive her away. Would to G - "

The hunchback hastily put his hand on the speaker's mouth, and tenderly wiped away the blood. "When I am better," said Moshe, with sudden resolution, "I will seek her out: perhaps she is starving."

"As you will. You know she can always earn her bread and water at the cap-making. But you are your own master. When you are rid of this sickness - which will be soon - you shall go and seek her out and bring her to abide with you." The words rang sardonically through the chamber.

"How good you are!" Moshe murmured, as he sank back relieved.

The hunchback leaned over the bed till his gigantic brow almost touched the sick man's, till his wonderful eyes lay almost on his. "And yet you will not let me hasten on your recovery in the way I proposed to you."

"No, no," Moshe said, trembling all over. "What matters if I lie here a week more or less?"

"Lie here!" hissed his friend. "In a week you will lie rotting."

A wild cry broke from the blood-bespattered lips! "I am not dying! I am not dying! You said just now I should be better soon."

"So you will; so you will. But only if we have money. Our last farthing, our last means of raising a farthing, is gone. Without proper food, without a spark of fire, how can you hold out a week in this bitter weather? No, unless you would pass from the light and the gladness of life to the gloom and the shadow of the tomb, you must be instantly baptized."

"Shmad myself! Never!" said the sick man, the very word conjuring up an intolerable loathing, deeper than reason; and then another violent fit of coughing shook him.

"See how this freezing atmosphere tells on you. You must take Christian gold, I tell you. Thus only shall I be able to get you fire - to get you fire," repeated the hunchback with horrible emphasis. "You call yourself a disbeliever. If so, what matters? Why should you die for a miserable prejudice? But you are no true infidel. So long as you shrink from professing any religion under the sun, you still possess a religion. Your unfaith is but foam-drift on the deep sea of faith; but lip-babble while your heart is still infected with superstition. Come, bid me fetch the priest with his crucifix and holy water. Let us fool him to the top of his bent. Rouse yourself; be a man and live."

"No, no, brother! I will be a man and die."

"Fool!" hissed the hunchback. "It fits not one who has lived for months by Christian gold to be so nice."

"You lie!" Moshe gasped.

"The seven months that you and I have known each other, it is Christian gold that has warmed you and fed you and rejoiced you, and that, melted down, has flowed in your veins as wine. Whence, then, took I the money for our riotings?"

"From your father, you said."

"Yes, from my spiritual father," was the grim reply. "No, having that belief, which you still lack, in the hollowness and mockery of all save pleasure, I became a Christian. For a time they paid me well, but as soon as I had been put on the annual report I had served my purpose and the supplies fell off. I could be converted again in another town or country, but I dare not leave you. But you are a new man, and should I drag you into the fold they will reward us both well. Instead of subsisting on dry bread and milk you will fare on champagne and turtle-soup once more."

Moshe sat up and gazed wildly one long second at the Tempter. He looked at his own fleshless arms, and shuddered. He felt the icy hand of Death upon him. He knew himself a young man still. Must he go down into the eternal darkness, and be folded in the freezing clasp of the King of Terrors, while the warm bosom of Life offered itself to his embrace? No; give him Life, Life, Life, polluted and stained with hypocrisy, but still Life, delicious Life.

The steely eyes of the hunchback watched the contest anxiously. Suddenly a change came over the wildly working face - it fell back chill and rigid on the pillow, the eyes closed. The room seemed to fill with an impalpable, brooding Vapour, as if a thick fog were falling outside. The watcher caught madly at his friend's wrist and sought to detect a pulsation. His eyes glowed with horrible exultant relief.

"Not yet, not yet, Brother Azrael," he said mockingly, as if addressing the impalpable Vapour; "Thou who art wholly woven of Eyes, canst Thou not see that it is not yet time to throw the fatal pellet into his throat? Back, back!"

The Vapour thickened. The minutes passed. The hunchback peered expectant at the corpse-like face on the dingy pillow. At last the eyes opened, but in them shone a strange, rapt expression.

"Thank God, Rivkoly!" the dying lips muttered. "I knew thou wouldst come."

As he spoke there was a frantic beating at the door. The hunchback's face was convulsed.

"Hasten, hasten, Brother Azrael!" he cried.

The Vapour lightened a little. Moshe Grinwitz seemed to rally. His face glowed with eagerness.

"Open the door! open the door!" he cried. "It's Rivkoly - my Rivkoly!"

The vain battering at the door grew fiercer, but none noted it in the house. Since the shadow of the hunchback had first fallen within that thickly crowded human nest, the doves had become hawks, the hawks vultures. All was discord and bickering.

"Lie still," said the hunchback; "'tis but your fevered imagination. Drink."

He put the jug to the dying man's lips, but it was dashed violently from his hand and shattered into a hundred pieces.

"Give me nothing bought with Christian money!" gasped Moshe hoarsely, his breath rattling painfully in his throat. "Never will I knowingly gain by the denial of the Unity of God."

"Then die like a dog!" roared the hunchback. "Hasten, Brother Azrael!"

The Vapour folded itself thickly about the room. The rickety door was shaken frantically, as by a great gale.

"Moshe! Moshe!" shrieked a voice. "Let me in - me - thy Rivkoly! In God's name, let me in! I bring thee a precious gift. Or art thou dead, dead, dead? My God, why didst Thou not cause me to know he was ill before!"

"Your husband is dying," said the hunchback. "When he is dead, you shall look upon his face. But he may not look upon your face again. You have sworn it."

"Devil!" cried the fierce voice of the woman. "I swore it on Kol Nidre night, when I had just asked the Almighty to absolve me from all rash oaths. Let me in, I tell you."

"I will not have a sacred oath treated thus lightly," said the hunchback savagely. "I will keep your soul from sin."

"Cursed be thou to eternity of eternities!" replied the woman. "Pray, Moshe, pray for thy soul. Pray, for thou art dying."

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one," rose the sonorous Hebrew.

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one," wailed the woman. The very Vapour seemed to cling round and prolong the vibrations of the sacred words. Only the hunchback was silent. The mocking words died on his lips, and as the woman, with one last mighty blow, dashed in through the flying door, he seemed to glide past her and melt into the darkness of the staircase.

Rivkoly heeded not his contorted, malignant visage, crowned with its serpentine wreath of fiery hair; she flew straight through the heavy Vapour, stooped and kissed the livid mouth, read in a moment the decree of Death in the eyes, and then put something small and warm into her husband's fast chilling arms.

"Take it, Moshe," she cried, "and comfort thy soul in death. 'Tis thy child, for God has at last sent us a son. Yom Kippur night - now six long months ago - I had a dream that God would forgive thee, and I was glad. But when I thought to go home to thee in the evening, I learnt that thou hadst been feasting all that dread Day of Atonement with the Satan Mekatrig; and my heart fell, for I knew that my dream was but the vain longing of my breast, and that through thine own misguided soul thou couldst never be saved from the eternal vengeance. Then I went away, far from here, and toiled and lived hard and lone; and I believed not in my dream. But I prayed and prayed for thy soul, and lo! very soon I was answered; for I knew we should have a child. And then I entreated that it should be a son, to pray for thee, and perhaps win thee back to God, and to say the Kaddish after thee when thou shouldst come to die, though I knew not that thy death was at hand; and a few weeks back the Almighty was gracious and merciful to me, and I had my wish."

She ceased, her wan face radiant. The Shadow of Death could not chill her sublime faith, her simple, trustful hope. The husband was clasping the feebly whimpering babe to his frozen breast, and showering passionate kisses on its unconscious form.

"Rivkoly!" he whispered, as the tears rolled down his cheeks, "how pale and thin thou art grown! O God, my sin has been heavy!"

"No, no," she cried, her loving hand in his. "It was the Satan Mekatrig that led thee astray. I am well and strong. I will work for our child, and train it up to pray for thee and to love thee. I have named it Jacob, for it shall wrestle with the Recording Angel and shall prevail."

The hue of death deepened on Moshe Grinwitz's face, but it was overspread by a divine calm.

"Ah, the good old times we had at the Cheder in Poland," he said. "The rabbi was sometimes cross, but we children were always in good spirits; and when the Rejoicing of the Law came round it was such fun carrying the candles stuck in hollowed apples, and gnawing at your candlestick as you walked. I always loved Simchath Torah, Rivkoly. How long is it to the Rejoicing?"

"It will soon be here again, now Passover is over," she said, pressing his hand.

"Is Pesach over?" he said mournfully. "I don't remember giving Seder. Why didst thou not remind me, Rivkoly? It was so wrong of thee. Thou knowest how I loved the sight of the table - the angels always seemed to hover about it. Chad Gadyah! Chad Gadyah!" he commenced to sing in a cracked, hoarse whisper. The child burst into a wail. "Hush, hush, Yaankely," said the mother, taking it to her breast.

"A - a - ah!" A wild scream rose from Moshe Grinwitz's lips. "My Kaddish! Take not away my Kaddish!" He sat up, with clammy, ghastly brow, and glared with sightless eyes, his arms groping. A thin stream of blood oozed from his mouth.

"Hear, O Israel!" screamed the woman, as she put her hand to his mouth to stanch the blood.

He beat her back wildly. "Not thee! I want not thee! My Kaddish!" came the mad, hoarse whisper. "I have blasphemed God! Give me my Kaddish! give me my Kaddish!"

She put the child into his arms, and he clutched it in his dying frenzy. As he felt its feeble form, the old divine peace came over his face. The babe's cries were hushed in fear. The mother was dumb and stony. And silently the Vapour crawled in sluggish folds through the heavy air.

But in a moment the silence was broken by a deep, stertorous rattle. Moshe Grinwitz's head fell back; his arms relaxed their hold of his child, which was caught with a wild cry to its mother's bosom. And the dark Vapour lifted, and showed the three figures to the baleful, agonized eyes of the hunchback at the open door.



End of Satan Mekatrig by Israel Zangwill