Old Zelig was eyed askance by his brethren. No one deigned to call him “Reb” Zelig, nor to prefix to his name the American equivalent—“Mr.” “The old one is barrel with a stave missing,” knowingly declared his neighbours. “He never spends a cent; and he belongs nowheres.” For “to belong,” on New York’s East Side, is of no slight importance. It means being a member in one of the numberless congregations. Every decent Jew must join “A Society for Burying its Members,” to be provided at least with a narrow cell at the end of the long road. Zelig was not even a member of one of these. “Alone, like a stone,” his wife often sighed. In the cloakshop where Zelig worked he stood daily, brandishing his heavy iron on the sizzling cloth, hardly ever glancing about him. The workmen despised him, for during a strike he returned to work after two days’ absence. He could not be idle, and thought with dread of the Saturday that would bring him no pay envelope.

His very appearance seemed alien to his brethren. His figure was tall, and of cast-iron mould. When he stared stupidly at something, he looked like a blind Samson. His grey hair was long, and it fell in dishevelled curls on gigantic shoulders somewhat inclined to stoop. His shabby clothes hung loosely on him; and, both summer and winter, the same old cap covered his massive head.

He had spent most of his life in a sequestered village in Little Russia, where he tilled the soil and even wore the national peasant costume. When his son and only child, a poor widower with a boy of twelve on his hands, emigrated to America, the father’s heart bled. Yet he chose to stay in his native village at all hazards, and to die there. One day, however, a letter arrived from the son that he was sick; this sad news was followed by words of a more cheerful nature—“and your grandson Moses goes to public school. He is almost an American; and he is not forced to forget the God of Israel. He will soon be confirmed. His Bar Mitsva is near.” Zelig’s wife wept three days and nights upon the receipt of this letter. The old man said little; but he began to sell his few possessions.

To face the world outside his village spelled agony to the poor rustic. Still, he thought he would get used to the new home which his son had chosen. But the strange journey with locomotive and steamship bewildered him dreadfully; and the clamour of the metropolis, into which he was flung pell-mell, altogether stupefied him. With a vacant air he regarded the Pandemonium, and a petrifaction of his inner being seemed to take place. He became “a barrel with a stave missing.” No spark of animation visited his eye. Only one thought survived in his brain, and one desire pulsed in his heart: to save money enough for himself and family to hurry back to his native village. Blind and dead to everything, he moved about with a dumb, lacerating pain in his heart—he longed for home. Before he found steady employment he walked daily with titanic strides through the entire length of manhattan, while children and even adults often slunk into byways to let him pass. Like a huge monster he seemed, with an arrow in his vitals. In the shop where he found a job at last, the workmen feared him at first; but ultimately finding him a harmless giant, they more than once hurled their sarcasms at his head. Of the many men and women employed there, only one person had the distinction of getting fellowship from old Zelig. That person was the Gentile watchman or janitor of the shop, a little blond Pole with an open mouth and frightened eyes. And many were the witticisms aimed at this uncouth pair. “The big one looks like an elephant,” the joker of the shop would say; “only he likes to be fed on pennies instead of peanuts.”

“Oi, oi, his nose would betray him,” the “philosopher” of the shop chimed in; and during the dinner hour he would expatiate thus: “You see, money is his blood. He starves himself to have enough dollars to go back to his home; the Pole told me all about it. And why should he stay here? Freedom of religion means nothing to him, he never goes to synagogue; and freedom of the press? Bah—he never even reads the conservative Tageblatt!”

Old Zelig met such gibes with stoicism. Only rarely would he turn up the whites of his eyes, as if in the act of ejaculation; but he would soon contract his heavy brows into a scowl and emphasise the last with a heavy thump of his sizzling iron.

When the frightful cry of the massacred Jews in Russia rang across the Atlantic, and the Ghetto of Manhattan paraded one day through the narrow streets draped in black, through the ertswhile clamorous thoroughfares

  By PanEris using Melati.

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