THE BIRDS GATHERED TOGETHER AND FLEW BEFORE THEM TO SHOW THE WAY
THE JEWISH PUBLICATION SOCIETY OF AMERICA
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
PRESS OF THE JEWISH PUBLICATION SOCIETY
To our yet living master
I dedicate in reverence and love
the work he bade me do
To three lovely flowerets:
NAHUM, my son, my first-born, my pride;
ZIONAH, my daughter, my only, my treasure;
MALKAH, darling daughter of my friend Isaac Edelman.
Many the blossoms, bright of hue,
Pouring their fragrance out for you,
But rank weeds grow in the gardens, too,
And brambles and thorns whose stab you'll rue,
Many the boys that are brave and true,
Many the maidens that rightly do,
But some of the children are naughty, too,
Laddies and lassies–quite a few,
Learn to shun badness, and goodness woo:
The fruit that we eat is the fruit that we grew,
Seeds of good deeds in life's garden strew;
Precious will be their yield for you,
Twenty years ago this selection of the Hebrew tales of Judah Steinberg was rendered into English. They were reprinted once and now are issued for the third time. This is clear testimony to their verity. They have afforded the children of yesterday glimpses into the world of reality through the portals of the world of imagination. And likewise will they give such glimpses to the children of today and tomorrow. For they belong to that literature that is timeless; and to those juveniles that are not for children only but which "grown-ups" can read with interest and pleasure, and in reading will find that the whimsies, fantasies, allegories, and satires that make up the volume have point in the confused world of today, even as they had in the latter half of the nineteenth century when they were written.
The translator of this volume with the permission of the publisher recently dramatized two of the stories, "The Magic Top" and "The Eagle and the Cat," as part of her plan to recreate legend and history for the puppet stage. These two scripts were designed for production by Habubot, a portable puppet theater for children, which was an adjunct to the Puppet Theater of Josef and Mary Gerson of Philadelphia. They and the translator collaborated in Habubot and in the dramatization of the Steinberg stories. The scripts are designed for production by puppets, but are so written that they may be presented by human actors, particularly children.
It is needless to say that the translator is deeply gratified at the reception of the plays, and at the reprinting of this volume, for it confirms her judgment in having presented "The Breakfast of the Birds" to English-speaking children.
In the eight years since the Third Edition of this book appeared, one of the stories has been adapted for radio and presented by Uncle Mal, a narrator of children's stories; two of the stories were dramatized by Emma Warfield and produced by her Shadow Puppet Theater.
These tales from the Hebrew, enjoyed by an ever-widening circle of children, have justified their translation and proved their universal appeal.
JUDAH STEINBERG, the author of the stories that appear here in English, was born in 1863 in Lipkany, Russia. He lived for a while in Rumania, then in a Bessarabian village, Yedintsy, and died in 1908 in Odessa. He was one of that ever-increasing number of Jews, who, in the lands of their dispersion, think and work in Hebrew–the tongue of the people they have never forsaken, of that fatherland they hope again to possess. His purpose in the writing of these stories was primarily to stimulate children to use Hebrew; for, to a child, the story is often the gateway of knowledge. This part of the author's purpose is necessarily lost in a translation; but the tales of Steinberg, some of them mere bits of fancy, some delightful satires, some pleasant allegories, possess a literary and ethical quality that make them well worth rendering in any tongue. They belong, perhaps, to that rare group of juveniles best appreciated by children of a larger growth.
It was at the wish of Solomon Schechter that the translator undertook to put a selection of Steinberg's tales into English, that their inspiration might not be lost to those children in our land who cannot read them in the original. She is happy that she was able to have many of the translations read by Dr. Schechter. It is her great grief that she cannot bring to him her completed work.
Stories provoke different pictures in the child mind and in the adult. A child was chosen to illustrate this book that the child point of view might find expression and the value of the book be enhanced for all readers. The artist is Edith Rudin, a pupil of Miss Deborah Kallen, who, in the Boston Museum of Art, is teaching drawing to children by a new method said to be comparable in its effects with that of Madame Montessori in other fields.
The translator is glad to acknowledge her debt to her father, and to Professor Max L. Margolis, who kindly read this volume to assure the faithfulness of the translation.
She also here expresses her appreciation of the courtesy and valuable suggestions of Mr. Samuel Strauss, with whom she consulted concerning the book form in which the stories could best be presented so that they might win, perhaps, other than Jewish readers.
The translator thanks the editors of the Jewish Exponent and of the American Hebrew for permitting the inclusion of stories that had appeared in their columns.
PHILADELPHIA, TISHRI, 5677, OCTOBER, 1916.
|THE BREAKFAST OF THE BIRDS||13|
|THE FACE ON THE CLOUDS||20|
|THE MESSENGERS OF SPRING||37|
|THE MAGIC TOP||42|
|STAY-AT-HOMES AND WANDERERS||51|
|THE HOLY DUST||56|
|THE LAST FARTHING||70|
|THE SPOILED HOLIDAY||76|
|THE FRIEND IN THE SKY||93|
|THE PAINTER-LAD AND THE PRINCESS||101|
|THE EAGLE AND THE CAT||133|
|GENTLEMEN AND CHURLS||170|
TWO hundred and ten years were our fathers slaves, absolute slaves, to Pharaoh in Egypt. Everything that their masters commanded them, whether to break stones or to dig sand, whether by day or by night, that had they to do. Nor did they hope for pay, or dream that when their toil was over they could go free. They were bondmen.
Whenever the master bade the slave do two days' work in one, in that time it had to be done. Over him always was the rod of the taskmaster to hasten his toil. His days were the days of his owner, who used them at will.
Should a man order his slave: "Cast thyself into the sea and drown," the slave did so. The life of a slave was the property of his master, by whose whim it was shortened or permitted to run its course.
Did the command come: "Part thy wife from her sons and slay thy daughters, that I may mix my wine and dye my apparel in their blood," even this also must the slave do. For whose are a slave's sons and daughters? The chattels of his master, bought with gold, even as are flocks and herds.
Such was the bondage of Israel in Egypt.
From morning until night did Israel toil, and darkness brought no rest. At daybreak there would sound a rapping at the door, and there stood the taskmaster whirling a scourge. The men arose from their couches and went out to hard labor. The women also arose and sod pottage which they fetched to their unhappy husbands in the fields. The little children were left at home; forlorn and lonely, they stole out of doors to look upon the sun.
Birds gathered and circled about their heads.
The little ones ran to gather the crumbs from the breakfast their mothers had left for them, and they fed the birds. The grateful songsters regaled them with tales of the land of the palm beyond the mountains. In their notes was the lapping of the waters of the Jordan, in their chirping was the gossip of the roses of En-gedi. The cadence of their songs was as the lowing of the flocks pasturing on mount Gilead; they voiced the mysterious converse in the forest of Lebanon.
The birds sang laments over slavery, and chanted pæans to freedom. The children heard in awe, and questioned: "Lovely birds, slaves are ye, or free?"
Joyful carolled the birds:
"Free, free, dearies, free;
Where we list there fly we."
"This freedom ye sing of, birds, is it good?"
"Good!" echoed the birds:
"Never let this be forgot:
There's no good where Freedom's not.
Starve and go an instant free;
Feast not, slaves eternally!"
The birds lingered with the children, delighting the hearts of their lonesome playmates. When the fathers and mothers came home from the fields and prepared supper, the birds were again the guests of the children.
"God bless you!" called the children.
"The Lord shower you with blessings!" sang the birds as they flew away to their nests.
From the wing the birds counselled:
"Think, oh think on what we say:
Freedom learn to love alway.
If they but determine so,
Forth from bondage slaves can go."
Every day this happened, until the birds and the children became the closest of friends, and told their woes to one another.
Mourned the birds:
"By an arrow Goldwing's slain;
She will never sing again."
The children wept. Then they poured forth their sorrow. "Birdies dear! Little Naaman was taken to the palace. They will slit his throat that Pharaoh's leprosy may be cleansed in our playmate's blood."
Birds and children wailed in chorus for Naaman.
Days lengthened into years. Years became centuries. The children grew up slaves. The birds died or were slain.
The friendship descended through the generations. The birds loved the children and freedom. The children loved the birds, and yearned for freedom.
"Lovely birds, slaves are ye, or free?" questioned the children.
"Free, free, darlings, free!
In the cage dwells misery.
Above all, prize liberty."
Thus, morning after morning, they met and talked and separated. The children fed the birds with open hand, and the birds ate and were satisfied.
At length there dawned a morning when the birds sought their comrades, and lo! a new vision was before their eyes. Men and women with loins girt, staves in their hands and kneading-troughs on their backs, were hastening out of Egypt, leaving bondage forever.
The children saw the birds. They shouted:
"We're free! Birdies, we're free!
Forth we go to liberty."
How the birds clapped their wings and twittered: "Hurrah! Hurrah!"
One boy was heart-broken and cried and did not shout, for neither he nor his companions had bread crumbs for their friends.
The birds comforted him, saying that their breakfast could wait; then they trilled a gladsome lay:
"Better to hunger with the free
Than feast at board of slavery;
Follow where the fire-cloud leads
Freedmen's sons to freemen's deeds!"
Now the fathers were so hurried and walked so fast that little legs could not keep up with them, and the children lagged and lost the way.
Then the birds gathered together and flew before them to show the way, until they overtook their parents at the edge of the wilderness beside the sea.
It happened that the mixed multitude that had followed Israel fell alusting in the desert for meat, and they cried: "Would that we were given flesh to eat!" The children of Israel also wept, and thought to return to the land of bondage and of flesh-pots.
Quickly the birds who heard gathered together, and twittered and twittered, uttering sounds that no human ear could understand. They took counsel, and this was the result: hosts of quail fell from the skies and came of glad purpose to the hands of men, that the lust of Israel for flesh-food might be satisfied.
Thus the birds prevented the return to the land of slavery.
Even then the children mourned, for they had not a morsel of food for their loyal friends,
Sang the birds:
"No matter, dearies. Birds do not cry
For crumbs of bondage. They'd rather die.
Of Freedom's breakfast we'll take full share
In the days to come, in that land so fair."
Upon Shabbat Shirah the sidra of quails is read in the synagogue, retelling the story of the way in which the birds gave their lives to keep Israel's children free.
On that Sabbath it is the privilege of every Hebrew child to scatter crumbs for the birds. It is the breakfast of Egypt–the breakfast Israel's little ones owe the birds because they were unable to feed their saviors during the journey into the land of freedom.
Now must they pay the debt.
To-day the songsters flutter at our windows. They eat out of our hands. They fly away.
Hark! Their song:–
"Sweet though feasts of the cage may be,
Sweeter to hunger and perish free."
IT CAME to pass, when Israel was encamped in the plains of Moab, that God spoke unto Moses: "Get thee up into this mountain of Abarim, unto mount Nebo, and behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession, and die in the mount whither thou goest up."
Moses did not tarry, but climbed the mountain as he had been commanded; for he understood that it was the Lord's will that Israel should not cross over the Jordan into the land of the fig-trees and the pomegranates until he had yielded his spirit to God. Israel's children, who forty years ago had longed for this land, had since grown into men. Not a father had died but had promised his children the fig-trees and the pomegranates and all the luscious fruits of Canaan.
Now was the time fulfilled. Now must Moses make haste to go up the mountain to be gathered unto his people, that the promise of the fathers in Israel to their children might the sooner be kept.
Upon the summit of Pisgah stood the man Moses.
The winds of the wilderness were stopped in their course. The young birds that had opened their beaks to sing their morning songs were suddenly silenced. The leopard, crouching above his prey, his teeth set to crunch the bones of his quarry, became as stone, with mouth agape. The whimpering lamb, writhing in its captor's claws, lay still. The eagle spread his wings to soar, and hovered patiently between heaven and earth. The thick clouds crashed together to thunder–and the peal was hushed. The mountains, Nebo, Horeb, and Hermon, looked one on the other, whispering softly.
The desert itself knew that holy and awful was this moment and that stupendous events were preparing upon the earth.
"Does God purpose to come from heaven to reclaim His Law which He gave to the children of Israel?" mount Sinai quaked.
"Or is God to descend for the second time to give a new Law and to make a new covenant with one of the peoples?" trembled the mountains of Ararat.
Mount Nebo alone knew that the moment was holy because to the great man it was the last moment of life.
Upon Pisgah stood the man Moses.
The face of Moses was mirrored in the limpid waters of the Red Sea.
The fish stirred; they drew a new breath, a breath clean and deep; they struck fins one with the other, and vowed love and enduring friendship.
The sun came out over the sea to draw up its waters to the clouds, that a veil of mourning and a tear bottle might be made ready for the sky to lament for the chosen of God and to weep for him. The cloud spread out over the wilderness toward the sea. And the reflection of the face of Moses that was in the sea became visible on the clouds and in the air.
And the children of Israel in grief gathered around Joshua son of Nun, and Eleazer the priest, and strove with them: "Give us back our shepherd Moses the man of God." For they could not believe that the angel of death would dare to smite the great man. So they cried: "Ye have hidden the place of his abiding from us." And they murmured against their princes, threatening to stone them with stones.
Suddenly, quite without purpose, each man of Israel lifted: his gaze to the skies, and beheld his prophet, the son of Amram, among the clouds.
"Lo, there he is!" they cried all a-quiver. "Look, our shepherd rides upon the swift cloud."
"Oh, see," prattled the children. "He is looking at us, and his eyes are so kind. He is promising us roses and sweet fruit in that goodly land."
"He is frowning on us. He is wroth," said the sinners, and they trembled.
Thus was it made plain to Israel that his leader who had brought him through the wilderness was taken from him, and his heart was heavy.
The sun itself looked on the cloud, and saw the likeness of the face of Moses, and grew covetous of its beauty. And the reflection of the face on the cloud was likewise stamped upon the sun.
The stars saw it; they leaped in their courses around the sun. The far-off stars which were at the very ends of the heavens soared swiftly, and yet more swiftly, through the night, that they might reach the sun and see the face of Moses. They were not satisfied to gaze on the wonder, but thronged around it, and sang songs.
Thus has it come to be said: "The face of Moses is as the face of the sun."
From the East to the West the sun journeys in his course round about the earth and looks upon seas and rivers. Upon them all he impressed the wondrous likeness.
When those who could not see drank of the waters, their eyes were opened, and they became enlightened. When those who did not hear drank of the waters, their ears were unstopped, and they comprehended the songs of the angels. Oppressors grew ashamed before the oppressed. Every mouth spoke peace, and every heart loved justice, and sin and evil fled from the earth and buried themselves beneath the mountains of darkness.
Heaven smiled benignly upon earth, and said: "The froward earth has set about mending its ways. Forever and forever, from everlasting to everlasting, has the cry of oppression been hushed. Nevermore will a tear be shed."
Now Satan was displeased with all this. Satan is none other than that prompter of evil which enters the hearts of children and makes them play tricks on their teachers and vex their parents and tell tales and do all sorts of naughtiness. The prompter of evil stays in the heart of a child like a worm in an apple. If a child pays heed, he departs and takes another name, as all evil-doers are wont to do. He becomes the Accuser, and complains of all the naughtiness that he himself has put into human hearts.
It was vexing to Satan when mankind no longer did wrong. But he was not to be discouraged. When he discovered that from disuse the hinges of his dwelling were rusty, he squeezed through a crack in the door, and donning a hairy garment came among men.
He entered the house of an humble man. He bowed, and scraped, and said in oily tones: "O thou good man of holy ways! Thou hast found grace in the eyes of God. In the well in thy courtyard is the sign and the wonder–the likeness of Moses, the man of God."
The owner of the well disclaimed merit: "That's nothing. A likeness such as that is in the well of my neighbor. In fact there is one in every well in this place."
"What a modest man!" exclaimed Satan yet more unctuously. "The likenesses in all the other wells are mere shadows, the shadows of a shadow. Thine is the likeness. It went from thy well straight to the moon whence the others have stolen it."
In such wise Satan spoke to the second man and to the third man. To all the people he spoke separately. They all believed him. It is not hard to agree with one who says: "Thou art a fine fellow." It is still easier to be made to think that one's neighbor is bad.
Thus the people became jealous and hated each other for no cause. Men no longer said "Good-morning," but ridiculed and jeered at the reflections in the wells of their neighbors, calling them mere shadows and things of naught. The reflection in his own well every man extolled.
From this they came to quarreling, and from quarreling to blows. Every man fought in the name of God for the glory of his own possession. At length brother rose against brother, and went out to slay.
Blood was shed upon the sea; the waters were stained; the reflection was hidden.
Day succeeded day; groans multiplied and grew into tempests which bound the tears of men into black clouds that covered the face of the sun.
The face of Moses was concealed.
Then the unseeing returned to their blindness. Ears were stopped against all counsel. Those who had lost the way wandered aimlessly.
Thus it was. Thus it is. Thus it evermore shall be.
When envy seizes the hearts of men and arrogance possesses the peoples, that they cry. "Mine is the counterpart and not thine," the prompter of evil will steal forth from beneath the mountains of darkness and fill men with a savage rage that will make them rise to slay.
Wailing will go up from the earth, tempests will blow and bind the tears of men into black clouds, and upon rivers, or upon seas, or in the air, the likeness of Moses shall be seen no more.
The unseeing shall return to their blindness. Ears shall be stopped against all counsel. Those that have lost the way shall wander aimlessly.
But when man shall again lift his gaze to heaven to view the likeness of the man of God, his heart will flood with good and overflow in mercy. A glad wind blowing over the earth will clear the sky that the face of Moses may be visible. Upon seas, upon rivers, and upon all the gatherings of water the Face on the Clouds will be mirrored.
The unseeing shall be enlightened.
Deaf ears shall be unstopped, and shall hear the words of instruction.
Those that wandered astray shall become understanding.
IN JERUSALEM, once upon a time, there lived a swallow. Morn after morn, nestling in the foliage of the myrtle she sang, oh, so sweetly! Little children gathered around to listen to her song. The swallow told them wonder tales of the lands of wonder. She sang of the comely Shulammite who dwells in the hill land; of the hinds of the field, that slake their thirst in the river Pishon; of the Tree of Life and of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, on whose boughs perch golden birds with faces of children. Boys gave joyous ears to all these stories. They filled their hands with seed for the swallow. The swallow fed and was satisfied, and blessed God and the children.
Even had the children not given seed to the swallow, she never would have refrained from twittering and from story-telling, for she loved children dearly. The birds of the wood questioned the swallow: "Why openest thou thy beak all day to no purpose?"
"To no purpose!" exclaimed the swallow. "Lovely little children listen for my voice, and ye say 'to no purpose!'"
Now it happened, when Solomon was building the Temple in Jerusalem, that this swallow neither stayed nor rested, but from morn till eve carried in her beak water and clay and crumbs of earth to aid the builders of the Sanctuary. Then the wood-birds mocked her, saying: "In vain dost thou toil and labor all thy days! That building will not be called by thy name!" Whereupon the swallow made reply: "Not for the glory of my name and not to win praise do I toil, but for the service and the work's sake and for the building."
The birds taunted and jeered at her: "In a stone building, three hundred cubits in length, what matter a few beakfuls, more or less, of clay?"
"Good work," answered the swallow, "be it ever so slight, is better than none at all!"
Day by day the Temple walls rose higher. Day by day the work of the swallow grew. As every row of hewn stones was laid, the swallow refilled her beak. A row of stone–a beakful of clay!
When it came time to dedicate the Temple, the building of the swallow was completed; a building graceful and comely, even though small and slender as its maker.
The angels of God descended to view the work of Solomon. In their eyes did the building of the swallow find favor above all else. They even said: "Were it not small and slender and placed behind the waterspout, it would be altogether fitting for the high priest."
But because it was small and narrow, and placed behind the waterspout, the swallow was permitted to stay in her nest herself, and she dwelt therein unmolested. When the Levites ascended the Ducan to chant the hymn of the morning, the swallow twittered an accompaniment; and when the high priest blessed the people, the swallow sang: "Amen!"
The children visited the little priestess on her nest, and brought her a morning offering–handfuls of seeds the size of stars.
The swallow twittered to them tales of marvels–of Lebanon, and of the land of Havilah, and of the city Luz where there are children of an hundred years.
The swallow lived a long life, and saw the grandchildren of the myrtle, in whose foliage she had nestled. She, too, reared children, and children's children, who kept ever the way of the fathers, for swallows love little children with a pure and steadfast love.
When the spider saw all this, she became envious of the swallow, declaring: "I will spin me a web for an altar on the holy mount, and I will be priestess thereof, that the children may bring me an offering and a libation of the blood of flies."
Now this spider was too arrogant to build behind the waterspout, but spun even from the mercy seat to the candlestick, whence she drew a thread to the curtain, and within the folds of the curtain she made her home and dwelled there, expecting sacrifice. Many a day she waited, but no man saw her, for none dared enter the Holy of Holies save the high priest, and he but once a year.
The spider starved and grew lean. She deserted her web, and went out into the court, and there wove her mesh.
The indignant children called to one another: "Look! Here is a web, a snare!" and they began to picture the flies caught by the cobwebs. They grew sad. The biggest and boldest of the boys cried: "I can't save all the flies from the spider-web, but I'm not afraid! I'll remove as much of the web as I can." Then he raised a stick, and broke the mesh.
When the spider found that she could find no favor with children, she took a notion to hate them. This hatred she has bequeathed to her descendants for generations and generations.
When Nebuchadnezzar set fire to the Temple, the swallows flew a little distance away. They gathered water in their beaks to quench the fire. The wood-birds renewed their jeers: "Verily, wanting in sense are the swallows! The fire of God rages from floor to ceiling. With beakfuls of water they think to put it out!"
Again did the swallows reply: "Good work, be it ever so slight, is better than none at all. If only one coal is extinguished, our work is not in vain."
In their efforts to conquer the flames, the swallows stayed not, nor took rest, but toiled, even as their grandmother had toiled at the building of the Sanctuary. Nor was their labor unrewarded. They saved the western wall of the Temple, and lo, it is still standing upon mount Moriah.
The spiders carried fire to increase the fire of God, which fell from heaven, and to add to the conflagration. Many creatures mocked them: "The burning is mighty enough without you! Why do you toil in vain?"
Then spoke the spiders: "The work of destruction is sweet to us only when we have a share in it."
Thus it is that children hate spiders, and crush them.
But oh, the love that children have for swallows Woe to the boy who ever thought to destroy a swallow's nest!
Yearly, upon Tish'ah be-Ab, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple, the swallows flock about the western wall, in hope that the builders will have come, and that they may help in the work for the Temple.
Slow are the builders in coming.
THE BIRDS QUESTIONED THE SWALLOW
WHEN Solomon, the king, was ready to erect the Temple, he had proclamation made throughout all the lands of his dominion. From Tiphsah even unto Gaza went the heralds, crying: "Let him whose heart desireth come and build a house to the God of heaven!"
Solomon did not find in his own heart courage sufficient to build the Sanctuary of God alone. "For," he mused, "what is man–even a monarch upon his throne, clasping in his hand a golden staff? Let sickness overtake him but for a day, and he cannot so much as lift his sceptre; perchance he will not have the strength to sit upon his throne. If it happen that a stone–a single, little stone–roll from the building upon the head of the king, his crown will not save him from death. Therefore, let it be the people that come to build the Lord's House. In the midst of my people I will toil, even I, and thus will I bear my share in the labor."
From the furthest corners of the land the people of Israel gathered together, eager to take part in the work of the building of the Temple.
The wise men volunteered to work upon the southern wall. For from of old they knew that the south of the Sanctuary was the place of the Menorah, and were not the sages, from the beginning of time, lovers of light and haters of darkness? Therefore the wise men took it upon themselves to build the southern wall, the place where the Menorah abides and where the sacred oil is kept.
The priests asked permission to give comely shape to the northern wall. For they knew from aforetime that at the north stands the table and the showbread. And who would have delight in the purity of the bread that is before the Lord, if not the priests?
Therefore was the building of the northern wall assigned to the sons of Aaron. They toiled with diligence. They used correct measurements, and were careful to weigh out the exact amount of gold needed to overlay the showbread table.
It was toward the eastern section of the ground that the rich and the mighty started, for such is the wont of men of power and lords of the purse, to rush for the east. A purse-proud man may come rarely to the House of God to pray, but once he has reached the synagogue, he does not mind the trouble of taking the few steps more that will bring him to the choice place. It is not for him to speak with his God from the threshold.
So the men of means chose the eastern wall, and sent their slaves to lay the bricks in their stead.
With tears and in anguish of spirit the slaves toiled. Their labor was the labor of their masters. They knew that it would be accounted to the merit of other men, so they did their work carelessly, and did not make brick cleave to brick as was needful for the strength of the wall.
The needy of Israel also gathered together. But they did not find it in their hearts to approach the work before there had come the slaves of the rich and the sages and the priests. For they said: "Who are we, and what is our service, matched with these, the mighty of the land, in whose right hand is wisdom and strength and the fear of God?"
Thus it happened that it was left for the poor to build the western wall.
They collected with their whole strength, and came, men, women, and children, and removed rocks, and laid bricks. They toiled with a song on their lips and gladness in their hearts. They joined stone to stone, and fitted brick to brick.
So the Temple was built, and God came to view the House which His children had made for Him. And God chose for the habitation of the Shekinah the western wall–the glad handiwork of the poor and the upright. The Lord has no pleasure in walls erected under the groans of rich men's slaves!
And when Israel sinned, God forsook His House, and the Shekinah returned to heaven. Yea, the Lord sent fire against the Sanctuary until it became utterly wasted. Throughout every corner of the Temple the fire had mastery, save at the western wall. There was the conflagration stayed.
Even to this day the western wall stands firm on its foundations.
The flames of the Chaldeans had no power over it.
The fire of the Romans could not destroy it.
The blazing rays of the sun have not made it to crumble.
THE winter was past, the rain was over and gone. The melted snow wound into the creeks and streamlets, which flowed into brooks and rivers, hastening their course to the sea. But Winter's trusty servants, Hail and Frost, still lingered, wondering whether to desert their posts, or to try to war with their foes. They did neither, and day by day they weakened. Soon they came to realize that, if they would not be driven away like cowards, they must go of themselves. So they left the land like soldiers going to set up their king's rule over a distant country.
Queen Spring awoke from her sleep and called: "Who will go before us to proclaim to the earth-dwellers that freedom draws nigh with Spring?"
Nightingales and larks circled about the throne, singing: "Send us, O queen, and we will herald thy coming."
Then the owl pleaded with Spring: "Year after year, and year after year, dost thou honor these songsters, appointing them thy messengers. Why should I never have the privilege? Send me this once, I pray thee, and I will announce thee, even I."
Queen Spring had pity on the owl, and said: "Fly forth and proclaim: 'O ye who dwell upon earth, know that King Winter is fled.'"
Nature has given the owl eyes that are too weak to bear the strong light of day. The sun smites him blind, and he reels helpless. Therefore with the dawn he seeks refuge in dark caverns. So soon as night throws her protecting mantle over the earth, he comes forth and flies whither he will.
Thus it was that the messenger of Spring awaited nightfall to start on his mission. Three nights he flew on his way, and three days he hid, until at last he reached an inhabited place. That night he took his station at the mouth of a dark cavern, and cried: "Hoot! Hoot!"
Then he made his proclamation:
"Men and beasts, close tight your eyes,
The sun of Spring doth mount the skies!
I proclaim the time of light–
Quick betake yourselves to flight,
Ere the foe comes in his might,
And you all shall lose your sight!"
Like music on the ears of men fell the name of Spring. They donned festive garb, and made haste to hear the joyous herald.
The hooting of an owl is as the song of the mourner, and his chant sounds like a dirge. He is past master of weeping. When he opens his mouth to sound tidings of joy, he utters harsh wails.
Men heard the hoots and wept. The very heavens shed tears, and the sun went behind a cloud. Shadows crept forth and laid hold of the earth.
Hail and Frost felt the chilliness of the air, and looking back saw terror and confusion everywhere. Their spirit revived at the sight, and they started to return.
The trees clashed their branches in fright. The budding blossoms fainted, and drew back their pretty heads, seeking the warm bosom of the earth. And the earth was naked and ashamed. Then the snow covered her.
Queen Spring, about to follow the owl, saw that things were awry. So she quickly summoned the swallow, and dispatched him as her herald.
Both by night;and day the swallow flew on his errand. The hurricane heard his rustling wings, and fled headlong, scattering the thick clouds. The sun laughed for joy, strangling Frost with his hot breath.
Then sang the swallow:
I am the swallow
Herald of Spring!
Soon will she follow,
Blessings to bring.
"I am the swallow,
Hark to my voice,
Springtime doth follow;
Glad earth, rejoice!
In all the bowers
Let warm winds blow,
Quickening the flowers,
That lilies may grow.
I am the swallow,
Springtime doth follow;
In the tree that now cowers
Life soon shall flow!
To the gardens speed!
On every glad breeze
Sniff the odor of weed
And the fragrance of trees!
Springtime is here,
Naught shall ye fear!
Spring, queen, is here,
Spring, queen, is here!"
Every casement was flung wide. Men breathed the balmy, scent-laden air. Their blood quickened. New life awoke in their hearts.
Youths led their sweethearts into the gardens to listen to the hymns of the woodland choir.
IT IS the custom for Jewish children in all their countries to play with a Hanukkah top. Upon each of its four faces is a Hebrew letter. These are: Nun (נ), Gimel ( ג), He (ה), Shin (ש), the first letters of the words Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, "a great wonder was (performed) then,"–when a handful of Asmoneans defeated the hosts of Greece.
The owner of the top twirls it between his fingers, and sets it spinning on the ground. All the players watch eagerly to see upon which face the top will fall, for some reward is set upon each letter.
Now, once upon a time, there lived a widow whose name was Dinah. She had two sons, Nadab, who was twelve years old, and Amaziah, who was two years younger. Dinah was so poor that she often had not money enough to buy a loaf of bread. Many were the days when the meal could not satisfy three, and not a crumb passed her lips.
Hanukkah drew near, and Dinah had no pennies for tops.
Nadab made the best of his lot, and did not worry his mother. "Surely, better days are coming," he comforted himself, "and then my mother will buy me a pretty Hanukkah top–a galgelon–with wings–a real flyer! Perhaps even next year!"
But the naughty Amaziah plagued his mother by whining all day long. His mother could not withstand his tears, so she took her last pennies that she had saved for supper, and bought a Hanukkah top–one for the two boys.
Nadab didn't have the heart to touch the top, for he knew how it had been bought, with his mother's bread. She had gone hungry all day, feeding her portion to her sons; and now it was night, and she had nothing wherewith to break her fast.
Amaziah, however, made merry over the top. He took it between his fingers, and spun it on the table. The top danced from edge to edge of the table, and dropped on the floor where it whirled merrily on. Amaziah, gleeful, hopped in front of it, and let it have its way, to go where it would. The top spun to the door, and lingered spinning on the threshold. Amaziah rushed to open the door to see if the top would fall outside. Then the top fled out of doors. From street to street and from place to place it whirled, and the two boys after it. It forsook the town. By that time the children were at the end of their strength, and could only follow it with their eyes. They watched it climb hills and descend into valleys, until at length it vanished.
Nadab wept bitterly, for he thought of his hungry mother and the pennies she had intended for a loaf of black bread. Amaziah wept, too, but his cry was: "Where is my top? I want my top!"
The boys went sobbing on their way. By and by they met a rabbit, to whom Nadab said:
"Bunny, bunny, tell to me
Where my straying top can be!
Didst thou meet it on thy way?
Dost thou know where it doth stay?
In the woods, on mountain side,
In the fields, doth it abide?"
The rabbit pricked his pointed ears, and tucked his tail between his legs, but before he raised his feet to spring, he replied:
"Mine eyes have seen no galgelon,
Mine ears heard not its whirring drone;
But a rolling loaf of poor black bread,
Soaked with the tears that a mother shed,
The bunny would have continued, but one look at the scowling face of Amaziah frightened him, and he scooted away.
"The loaf of bread which the bunny saw," sobbed Nadab, "it was our mother's, the very bread she meant for supper, and now to-day, even as yesterday, she is famished."
Amaziah only wailed: "I want my top!"
The boys trudged along, crossing hills and vales, until they met a deer. Nadab asked the deer:
"O pretty hind,
So gentle and kind,
Dost thou know
Where my top did go?"
The deer answered:
"Yea, my boy, I've seen thy toy.
And wouldst thou know where?
First promise a share
Of thy breakfast to me
For the next days three!"
Nadab answered: "Whatever I have, be it honey cake or sour bread, thou shalt have it." But Amaziah would not agree, so the deer leapt over their heads, and bounded away.
It was now dusk, and the children thought to go home, but they had lost the road. They sat down on a grassy bank, and cried and cried: Amaziah from cold and hunger, and Nadab at the thought of his mother.
"Is it not enough that she is hungry, that she must also have to fret because we are not home?"
At the sight of the setting sun the children were afraid. Never were they allowed out of doors after nightfall. Then Nadab prayed: "O God, have pity on mother. Bring us back to her."
No sooner had Nadab made this short prayer than he spied a dove fluttering her wings. He ran to her, and sobbed out his woe. The dove said: "I will take pity upon you for I pity your mother. I, too, am a forsaken mother. My fledglings left my nest, and never flew back. I feel sure that you are not more than a few yards distant from your village. As for your top, it is close by." And the dove pointed to a forest which had suddenly sprung up. "Go to this wood. In its depths is a cave, at whose mouth lies a serpent. Enter the cave and go far into it. There is your top. But be warned. A wizard lies in wait for you. If you utter a word or even wink your eye, you will be caught in his snare."
The boys did as they were bid. In the forest they found an old man, blind in one eye, seated on a heap of bones. He winked at the boys; but they did not wink back. In his hand was a pretty top, which he displayed before their gaze, twirling it in his fingers. Nadab looked at it hard; it seemed to be perfect in all its parts. But in a moment he noticed that the Hebrew letters were missing. In their stead were images and idols. Then Nadab knew that this was the wizard. He kept his lips closed tight. Amaziah was about to cry: "There is my top!" But Nadab was too quick for him and clapped a hand over his mouth so that he could not speak. Then they hurried on.
Once in the forest, they counted several trees, turned to the right, and took seven steps, and there was the cave, and at its mouth lay a huge serpent. The boys were terrified; but a voice called to them: "Count the tsitsis of your arba canfos; if you find eight threads, do not fear, but enter the cave."
Amaziah looked at his fringes, and lo, on the one side were only six threads, and on the other the seventh was torn; Nadab's set was perfect, so he went into the cave, while his brother waited outside.
At the mouth of the cave Nadab found himself in thick darkness, and he trembled. He went back and forth many times, groping along the walls like a blind man hunting for a door. At last, from the right, there shone a great light. Nadab realized that this must be a doorway, so he felt along, unlatched the bolt, and found himself in a huge court. Its floor was of inlaid marble, its walls were mirrors, and its roof was as the sky of a starry night. In the middle of the court there stood a golden Menorah on a high pedestal. It had eight branches, but the branches were not like those on our lamps. Upon every branch was a dove with outstretched wings, holding in her bill a precious stone. The place was bathed in light as of the moon. Each stone was engraved with a Hebrew letter. On the one side, ת , ו , ר , נ ; on the other,ה , כ , נ , ח. Read together, the letters spelled Nerot Hanukkah: "Lights of Dedication." The mirrors in the walls multiplied the lights into thousands, reflected back and forth, till the whole place was ablaze.
In the court was also a golden table with ivory thrones round about it. On the highest throne sat an old man, above whose head, on the back of the throne, was carved, MATTATHIAS, THE PRIEST. On the other thrones, with their names above them, were his five sons, Johanan, Simeon, Judah, Eleazar, and Jonathan.
When Mattathias saw the child, his eyes softened. He arose, and taking from the table a loaf of bread, handed it to Nadab, saying: "Here, good little boy, here is your top. From a loaf of bread it came, and into a loaf of bread has it returned forever. Take it to your mother. When you are hungry, eat of it, and you will taste whatever you desire. The loaf will last forever."
Then Mattathias gave Nadab a golden top with wings. Judas Maccabeus arose and girt a sword of pure gold on the thigh of Nadab, saying: "This is a Hanukkah present from the sons of Mattathias."
Then Jonathan led Nadab outside, where he joined his brother. Jonathan bade them: "Close your eyes." They obeyed.
Then a voice commanded: "Open your eyes." They did so, to find themselves standing just without the gate of their village.
Quickly they ran home. Their mother was overjoyed to see them, for it was dark and she had begun to worry. Her joy grew when she heard the storv of Nadab.
The loaf of bread was as Mattathias had promised. When she wished for meat or fish or milk or wine, she had but to taste the loaf, which never failed.
Such fun as Nadab had with his top and sword! The sword was not sharp or keen, but it gave its owner charmed power over the boys who played at battle with him.
Amaziah was sullen. Whenever he ate of the loaf his conscience smote him.
Every boy who heard the story of the brothers set forth in search of the forest and the cave. But not a trace could be found.
THERE was much ado among the feathered folk. It was drawing near the end of the autumn harvesting, and winter was close at hand. The birds flocked to their meeting-place to talk over plans for defending themselves against the siege of winter.
"Every day," twittered a group, "the sun goes to bed earlier, and covers his face. How shall we be able to live without his light and warmth?"
"How indeed?" chattered their fellows. "Let us haste away. Our feathers are light, our wings are strong; let them bear us to a land of sunshine, that we may live."
"Even should our feathers become a burden, we can soon moult them. It were better to fly naked than to remain here in darkness to die."
But there were birds who thought otherwise. "Are you counselling us to forsake our nests? We have been reared in them. Do you ask us to leave our birthplace? It has given us light and heat a-plenty, and many a day of joy. Who can tell what may befall us in a strange land? We may not be able to live. We may become the prey of them that lie in wait to devour us on the way. We shall be strangers in a strange land, and perhaps not be able to pounce on even one worm that has been born in the land."
"It may be," agreed other of the birds, "that, even if we fly to the lands that have the sun, we shall not have any good of it. It will be the sun of a strange land. Not for us will it shine, but for the native birds."
"Yet what of hunger?"
"And what of cold?"
"Is it little to us if we starve?" chirped the first speakers. "We know as well as you that it is good to be fed and good to be warm, and sweet to sing to the light; but, comrades, what avail will sunshine be for us if we build no nests?"
From dawn until set of sun the birds argued, and no plan did they form. On the morrow they went at it again, and the next day, and the next. It was not possible for the birds of either view to yield. They that wished to migrate kept on saying that, even if leaving should mean death, it would be better than living without the sun; while they that wished to stay at home kept on saying that worse than any death was life in a foreign land.
The sun kept on sinking earlier and earlier, and the light kept on growing less and less, and the cold grew keener and keener. Mighty glad were the birds that they had not molted their feathers, for naked they would never have been able to withstand the cold.
Shorter and shorter were the days, until at last there was no time for conclaves; for no sooner were the birds all gathered than twilight came, and they had to go back to their nests. They felt that there was no use striving for a plan that all would like. So they agreed that each should be free to go his own way.
Then the birds set themselves off into two camps: the stay-at-homes and the migrators. The light-lovers who longed for the sun were in one group, and facing them were those who loved home above all else. The two companies chanted blessings, each on each, and stretched out their wings in farewell.
Those who had taken wing looked back until their nests were lost to view.
Those who stayed gazed at the sinking sun and at their brethren on the wing. Suddenly from throat to throat went up a song of wailing.
Days of hunger and of cold, days of homesickness and of sadness passed over the rovers, in whose vision was the memory of the home-dwellers sitting on their nests. The wanderers seemed to hear the stay-at-homes carolling the glad anthems of their birthplace.
In the land of strangers their hearts longed for their nests. They sang:
"Land of our birth!
Land of our birth!
The sun here is bright,
The worms a delight;
Yet for thee do we yearn,
To thee our hearts turn–
Land of our birth!
Land of our birth!"
The home-dwellers? How fared they? Came days of cold and days of darkness. In their vision arose their brethren, happy in the lands of sunshine. They sang:
"Land of the light!
Land of the light!
Our nests are good,
Sweet is our food;
Yet for thee do we yearn,
To thee our thoughts turn–
Land of the light!
Land of the light!"
Soon there were more and more hours of day. Winter fled. Spring returned.
The news reached the travellers that in their home the sun was staying awake longer, and that their native woodlands were warm and bright. Straightway they turned homeward and flew by night and by day.
It was told the home-dwellers that their comrades were on the way back, and they chirped: "Let us meet our brothers."
But they could not do it. They were in dread of the question: "How could you be content a whole season without light?"
For their part, the returning birds flew stealthily and hesitated at the boundary of the forest. They were in dread of the question: "How could you be content to desert your birthplace and to forsake your nests in the woodland?"
IN THE house of his father Benaiah had never seen silver or gold, neither gems nor precious stones. In his father's pocket no silver watch dangled on a gold chain, nor did diamonds sparkle in his mother's ears. Chests and bags lay open and empty. At night the household slept peacefully, with no fear of burglars.
But there was one chest in the house that had a strong lock. Benaiah's mother set closer watch over it than she would have set over any vast fortune. Benaiah knew that in the chest was a box, and in the box a small case, and in the case a tiny bag, and in the bag dust, dry and black. It was because of this dust that the patched old bag was guarded. It was the presence of the bag that made the chest precious above all else. The dust was of no ordinary earth, no common soil. Yet it was not the dust of Ophir, not even gold dust. In this old patched bag in the locked chest there was hoarded dust, black and dry, dust from the land of Israel.
Benaiah knew why the dust was sacred. When his father and mother should come to lie in their graves, with this dust sprinkled on the mounds, they would be as though buried in the Holy Land, safe from the Angel of Wrath, safe from the Rolling-over-Stones.
It is said that the Angel of Wrath visits graves, demanding to know what those who lie there did on earth. Woe to them who have not busied themselves with the Torah and with the doing of good deeds. They will be severely punished.
Only in the land of Palestine has the Angel of Wrath no power. He dare not enter the bosom of the Holy Land. Therefore the graves of the exiles should be sprinkled with holy dust, that, perceiving its scent, the angel may be afraid to draw near.
Nor need they whose graves are thus protected have concern about the Rolling-over-Stones. For the day is coming–be it near or be it far–when the great shofar shall be sounded, and the dead of Palestine, old and young, parents and children, shall rise to life; while infants, dead before their time, shall nurse again at their mothers' breasts.
How glorious will be that day!
Jews who have been buried in foreign lands will have to roll through caverns and tunnels and over rocks and stones to reach Palestine, unless they rest in graves made holy by this dust. From such, even in the outlands, shall the dead of Israel arise.
Benaiah, knowing all this, rejoiced in the earth his parents had, and told of its possession to no one. That is to say, he told no grown-up. But he did reveal it to his schoolmates. For who are dearer to a boy than those who study with him under the same teacher? "That which is safe in my heart will be locked up in the hearts of my chums!" he mused.
It was not, however, until Benaiah had sworn the boys to silence that he made the secret known. Then he whispered to each boy that in his house was dust from Palestine. His comrades did not speak. The soil of Palestine was sacred, its name too holy to bandy from tongue to tongue, and they knew no words lofty enough to express their awe. The silence did not last long. No boy sits quiet if, his work over, he is but waiting for the teacher to return from Minha to dismiss the class.
So all the boys chattered together.
"What do you say to telling stories?" asked one.
"Bully!" echoed the others. Then they crowded together to be near their favorite story-tellers.
"I know a tale of the Gibboré Israel, the heroes of Israel," said a lad whose name was Gabriel.
"Mine will be of the sages of Israel," whispered Bezalel.
The class decided to listen to Bezalel. They loved his gentle face, his pale, hollow cheeks, his broad brow. His eyes sparkled, and he had such pretty curls. Best of all they loved his pleasant tales.
But Gabriel cried: "Here, fellows, listen to me first!"
The boys turned obediently. Gabriel was a good story-teller. Moreover, he had hard fists and sharp nails. Was he called Gabriel the Terror for naught?
This was the story Gabriel told:
"When the enemy laid siege to Jerusalem,–you know what city I mean?"
"Yes, yes, we know," said the impatient boys. "Go on. Jerusalem, the holy city."
"That's right, Jerusalem, the holy city! Well, the heroes of Israel fought bravely against the foe, and crippled them greatly. But the enemy were as locusts for number, and so could lengthen the siege day after day and week after week.
One day, during the siege, two boys climbed up on the walls, the walls around the city–"
"Yes, yes; the walls of Jerusalem."
"As I said, the two boys climbed up on the wall to taunt the enemy beneath. One was Zebi, the fleet of foot, the other was Boaz, the strong. Boaz had a sister Keziah. Now, the cassia whose name she had was not so pretty as was she. The boys took the little girl with them on the wall. From her perch she saw a garden, and in the garden a gazelle, and she set her heart on having that gazelle for a pet.
The garden was beyond the camp of the enemy. Keziah looked longingly at the animal for a while. Then she said: 'The boy who brings me that gazelle shall be my hero.'
Hardly had she spoken than Zebi tightened his sandals to leap. When he saw the array of the enemy's tents, his heart grew faint, and he glanced timidly at Boaz."
Gabriel paused in the story, and pulled himself together, just as if he were about to attempt the daring deed. The listeners held their breath, and huddled on the benches.
"In an instant Boaz had leaped from the wall, dragging Zebi with him. They ran swiftly until halted by two sentries. Quick as a flash, Boaz snatched their swords and killed them. Giving one blade to Zebi, he bade the lad follow him and hew a way through the foe. Then he made Zebi run to the garden and get the gazelle, while he kept the road clear. Afterward, Boaz himself returned to Keziah, strolling leisurely as from an outing in the garden."
Gabriel fell silent. The boys drew deep breaths, but he paid no heed, and sat dumb, with lowering brows, staring straight in front of him with bloodshot eyes, intent on heroic deeds. A boy sat down on his mighty fist, and he did not know it. When Gabriel made no attempt to continue, the boys turned to Bezalel, who began his story:
"In the days of yore there were many people in the world, but mighty few wise ones. In fact, all the wise men of the Gentiles lived in one city, Athens in Greece. They were only seventy in number.
From all parts of the earth men came to Athens to learn wisdom. Yet, if all the wisdom of these sages had been put in one pan of a scale and the knowledge of a stripling in Jerusalem in the other, the wisdom of the Greeks would have mounted light as air.
The fame of the Greek sages reached the ears of the Roman emperor, who, although he knew them not, honored them in his heart. One day the emperor was talking with Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah who was frequently invited to the court. This day the Roman extolled the Athenians, setting their wisdom above that of the sages of Israel.
Then said Rabbi Joshua: 'Pardon, my lord emperor, if I ask but a small favor. Give me, I entreat thee, seventy ships, and have placed on every one of them seventy chairs. I will show the emperor that I can outwit these wise Greeks and bring them, against their will, to Rome.'
The emperor was glad to comply. He ordered a fleet of seventy ships placed under the command of Rabbi Joshua. On each ship were placed seventy chairs.
The Rabbi set sail, and after having crossed the seas, came to Athens, and anchored the vessels in the harbor. Then he sought the sages.
He found them engaged in their favorite sport, testing one another's wit by riddles and puzzles. He asked that they include him in the trial. This they did. Rabbi Joshua found great favor with the wise men of Greece because of his ready answers and hard puzzles. At last he made this proposition:
'Let each of you set me a riddle. If I cannot answer them all, I will serve you for seven years. If I do solve them all, I shall give you but one riddle. If only one man among you answers it correctly, I shall be conquered. But if there be not one of you that can guess it, I ask that you all do me the honor of breakfasting with me to-morrow on my ship in the harbor.'
To this they agreed.
Seventy riddles were given Rabbi Joshua, and he answered each directly it was put, with scarce a moment's thought. At the close of his trial he gave the sages one riddle. They puzzled over it until sundown, when not one of them was near a solution. Then they humbled themselves before the Rabbi.
At daybreak next morning the seventy sages stole one by one from their homes, and slunk through the bystreets of Athens. They did not come together, or at a later hour, lest there be men to see them and to say: 'One Jew is a match for all the sages of Greece.'
Rabbi Joshua was ready for the expected guests, and as the first man came, gravely greeted him, led him to one of the ships, and bade him be seated. Next him the Greek saw sixty-nine empty chairs, and thought: 'These are for my companions. They will be here ere long.' The next that came Rabbi Joshua led to another ship. Thus did each of the Greeks fare. When the last man had been seated on a separate ship awaiting his comrades, the Jew went on shore, filled a sack with earth, and returning to his own ship, bade the mariners set sail.
After the lapse of a few weeks Rabbi Joshua was back in Rome with the seventy wise men of Athens, whom, according to promise, he brought before the emperor.
The sages were so terrified by the strangeness of their experience, that their wits left them, and they became tongue-tied. A sorrier lot of men had never been at the Roman court. The emperor began to think that he had been duped. He could not believe these trembling fools to be the world-famed Greeks.
Rabbi Joshua enjoyed the scene for a brief while, then he opened the sackful of earth, and strewed its contents over the Greeks. Their spirits revived, their fear vanished, and their confidence returned. Unabashed they discoursed wisely with the emperor. So he kept them with him for a time, and then sent them home in honor, with rich gifts.
Such is the power of the dust of one's fatherland. When men are exiles in distant lands their spirit is broken and their courage weakened. But let them be touched by the dust of their native soil, and they become wise and brave."
Bezalel could not continue, for the boys began to shout with one accord:
"We've a great scheme! Benaiah shall bring us the dust in his father's bag, and we'll sprinkle our heads and become like Boaz and the other heroes of Israel."
"Right you are! And the bad boys of Peter the blacksmith won't set on us any more on our way to school."
"Hold your tongue!" cried another. "I've a better plan. Let's take the dust, sprinkle a corner of the school yard, and build a temple."
This idea took the boys' fancy, but Benaiah wouldn't hear of it. "Suppose I get the dust, the bones of my parents may be beaten in the grave and have to roll over the stones."
The boys kept a shamefaced silence. This time they were silent for fear of their thoughts, and trembled for what their tongues might say.
However, every day the discussion was renewed, and although they did not directly ask Benaiah, they used to say: "If we had but a handful of dust, that would be enough, and there would be plenty for the graves."
At last Benaiah could hold out no longer, and he begged his mother for a handful of the dust. She gave him what he asked.
The boys gathered together, and chose a secluded spot not far from the school, and prepared to do as they had said, to build a little temple. Before starting they decided to choose a priest. But there was not one who dared minister in the sanctuary.
"Yesterday I was naughty to my mother," said Benaiah. "Am I fit to be a priest?"
"Teacher says I'm the rudest boy in the class," said another. "Surely, it is not for me to serve in God's temple."
"I told a lie!"
"I called names!"
"I was impertinent!"
So they all found in their hearts some fault. None deemed himself worthy to serve in the temple.
Thus this plan had to be abandoned. Then the boys went back to their first idea, to put dust on all their heads. But there was not enough dust for this, so they agreed to sprinkle it about the spot where they had meant to build the temple, and see what would happen.
Wonderful to relate, no sooner had a boy set foot on the black circle of dust than he glowed with the courage of a hero of old.
Whenever the sons of Peter began to stone the Jewish boys, they tore at topmost speed to the sacred earth, and, gaining its shelter, turned and faced their tormentors. But the ruffians did not even fight. When they reached the black line, they were seized with panic and ran away headlong.
Two of the boys scorned to run to the sacred spot; Gabriel especially had no pleasure in the victory.
"The brutes don't run because we are strong; they flee from the black line. What are we?" he asked.
Bezalel was too busy thinking to join in the skirmish. He was bothered by a problem.
"Samuel," he addressed one of the older boys, "if the dust of Palestine turns Jews into heroes, why waste it on the dead?"
"First of all," said Samuel, "if all the ships of all the navies in the world were loaded with the holy dust, there wouldn't be sufficient for all Israel."
"Then," said another, "why does not every man go to Palestine and bring back enough for his family?"
"Why," objected Bezalel, "should a man take a long journey twice? Wouldn't it be better for all Israel to go to Palestine and remain there? Then they would become men of valor."
"Perhaps Zion is not large enough for us all now."
"Not large enough! The sages say that one street in Jerusalem held six hundred thousand Jews. Surely, the whole land of Palestine must be big enough for all Israel!"
But the boys gave up the discussion. They could see no way out of the difficulty. They decided that quite beyond the ken of children were the ways of the grown-ups.
The encounters with the sons of Peter continued. Even Bezalel joined in them. But Gabriel held aloof.
"It is from the black line they flee," he declared. "They are overcome. Yet are we heroes?"
There came a time when Benaiah noticed with fear in his heart that the black line around their refuge was shrinking from day to day. He trembled.
Then Benaiah told his comrades what he had seen. They, too, watched and trembled. And so from day to day the circle narrowed, till at last there was left to them but a tiny place to huddle in.
The boys were troubled, and looked at one another in despair; but, of a sudden, Bezalel uttered a cry of joy: "I have solved the puzzle. Listen to me, boys. From the day that God destroyed the Temple, the land of Israel, bereft, shrank and became wrinkled like the face of a hag. So much the holy books tell us. In the same way the sacred dust about our place of refuge has shrunk. Now I understand why there is not enough dust in all the Holy Land to save Israel in the exile."
Benaiah broke in on the words of Bezalel: "And it means this: Let Israel return to Palestine, smooth out the furrows of his land, and restore it to its former measurement."
But Gabriel sat apart from their odious chattering, saying over and over:
"It is the charmed line that terrifies them. Your foes are fled, but do not think it is because you are heroes. To win a secure peace, be yourselves valiant."
FOR many years did the foe beset Jerusalem, unable to lay her low. For with the fury of lions and of panthers warred the men of Israel, and as long as they could they kept the desecrator away from the Temple of their pride. Single-handed, a soldier in Israel would work havoc among a battalion of the enemy and put their hosts to flight, slaying many ere he himself fell. But so vast was the army of the besiegers, that the hundreds of dead were replaced by thousands, while the number of Israel's fighting men grew less and less as day succeeded day.
Even after their army had perished in the field, the people of Jerusalem kept the gates of the holy city fast locked, choosing to starve in their homes rather than to go into exile shackled and humbled slaves.
But God had ordained otherwise. Brimful was the measure of Israel's sin and rebellion. Wherefore the Lord sent fire against the walls of Jerusalem, and delivered Israel over to the foe.
And the children of Israel set forth into captivity.
On the road to Beth-lehem they came upon the sepulchre of Rachel. They fell prostrate, and kissed the dust of the grave of their mother, and wept sorely.
A deep river of rising waters was formed from the tears of Israel. In it sank the foxes who had been skulking in ambush in the valley. Trees were uprooted and overturned. The merchants of Tyre and of Sidon and of all Canaan launched their vessels upon this stream to ship their wares to the markets of their choice.
Israel's cry rent the earth asunder. The grave opened, and Rachel came forth.
At the glory of her countenance the sun hid, abashed, behind the clouds. At the sound of her bitter sobs the hills melted. Twin streams of tears welled from her eyes, and spread over the face of the earth, until they merged with the Dead Sea. And the Sea grew big and high, and well-nigh overflowed its shores.
Of a sudden the rainbow arched in the clouds, and the voice of God was heard calling to Rachel:
"Restrain thy voice from weeping and thine eyes from tears. Have pity upon the lands of the living, lest they be drowned. Are not these the very lands to which thy sons are journeying! In them shall Israel dwell until he returns to his fatherland. Yea, therein shall he be cleansed of his sins, and there shall be a reward for thy work, and they shall come again from the land of the enemy."
Then Rachel sighed a last sigh, and ceased her weeping. Summoning the prince of the tribe of Benjamin, she thus addressed him: "Beneath the oak of Shechem are buried the teraphim that were in the house of my father. In their midst lies a money bag. Fetch me the bag, that I may divide its contents among my unfortunate children. The money shall be in their hands as a support in their wanderings, as a protecting shield from the fierce wrath of cruel men who will rule over them."
The prince uttered THE NAME. A black cloud fell from heaven, whereon the prince mounted and was borne as on wings to the oak, whence he took the bag of money, and brought it to Rachel.
Rachel divided the money among all the children of the captivity. Lo and behold, after the distribution every man discovered his portion to be the full sum of money that had been in the bag. No purse lacked one single coin.
Then Rachel spread forth her hands in blessing: "Go forth, my unhappy children. Too soon will you kiss the hand of a stepmother. Would that I might teach you how to win her favor. But this, I know, is a vain wish. If you toil, she will sneer at you, and call you 'ear-pierced slaves.' If you cease an instant from your work, she will taunt you as idlers. Your wisdom will be called cunning. Your mistakes will be adjudged crimes. Mother-love you will not find in the heart of the woman who has not borne you. Take, therefore, this money bag. Whenever evil is plotted against you in the lands of your exile, let the sunlight gleam on the metal–your foes will let you be. For there resides in your purse a charm to soothe all anger."
But Israel wept.
"How long, O mother," moaned Israel, "how long must I live in exile? When shall I return home?"
"Only then," replied Rachel, "when the last farthing shall have been spent. Then shall the days of your punishment be fulfilled; then will you know that it is time for you to go home, and that the hour of deliverance is come."
And the children of Israel went forth into captivity.
Israel journeyed unto Edom and unto Babylon, unto Persia and unto Media, and unto all the lands of the East and of the West. In them all he drank mockery like water. His labor was despised. His wisdom was belittled. The peoples ever gnashed their teeth, and opened wide jaws as if to devour him. Then Israel brought forth his money bags, and the nations forsook their wrath, and turned unto him a smiling face.
From hamlet to village and from town to city Israel wandered. His money made him a tradesman among nations. At his touch the mountains became valleys, and the wildernesses pools of water. He transformed the water into steam, whereon to ride as upon cherubim. All that he undertook prospered. He became rich and powerful.
* * *
No longer need Israel wander. He engages in the commerce of nations. For in his hands is the potent metal. But, wonderful to relate, the more he increases his wealth, the fewer become Rachel's farthings. He adds to his riches, the purse grows lighter. Day after day he lays up treasure, and day after day he lessens his heritage. One railroad more he builds, and the farthings dwindle. Another steamship is launched, and the potent store is almost gone.
Then does Israel's heart sicken with worry and dread lest one enterprise more, one other great profit, and there be no farthing in his purse. What then can save him? He will be rent by the foe.
Then lo and behold the second wonder! Although day by day Rachel's coins might have lessened, so that there remained but ten farthings for the hour of need–and on the morrow five, the next day four, then three, two, one–yet this solitary piece always remained.
So the matter was, and so it ever is.
Now it is this last farthing that is in Israel's purse.
Let Israel flaunt himself upon the high places of pride and forget his mother and his birthplace, increase his business and gain in wealth–then less potent and less potent will become Rachel's farthing.
Let Israel become humble and remember Rachel his mother and return to God, then he will long and hope to be rid of that last farthing–that last farthing that is still in Rachel's purse.
Become wise, O children of Israel!
Abandon your possessions. Fling away your last farthing, that the day may dawn when your little ones shall dwell in the land of their fathers.
THE sun rose in haste. So did Pethahiah and Ibzon. They tumbled out of bed, washed, said their prayers, and dressed with all speed. Their mother gave them raisin cakes and fruit and eggs, and they took their bows and arrows and set out for school.
"It's a fine day," said Pethahiah, as he started forth with big strides, "I hope it is not going to get cloudy and spoil our fun."
"Amen!" echoed his brother.
"We'll be the first there," said Pethahiah.
"Sure!" said Ibzon.
The boys' hurry was not for school. To-day was a holiday. It was Lag be-'Omer at which time every year the boys went on a picnic to the woods. There birds sang sweetly, and insects hummed. In the woods flowed a clear stream in whose mirror the trees saw other trees as fair as they.
The children had great sport in the woods. The trees stood high, tempting brave boys to climb. And they did. Up to the very top they went, and their faces, peeping from the foliage as if growing in it, looked very pretty. It was fine, the feeling a boy had when he stood on the top limb of a tree above a flowing stream. Way deep in the woods were the places of the shadows, where lived all sorts of beings, big and small. It took stout-hearted boys to go in there.
There were pleasures also for the weak and for the timid. They could lounge, silent, on the river's bank, listening to the talk of the waves with the birds, counting the bubbles on the water's face.
Pethahiah and Ibzon were surprised on reaching the school to find that, early as they were, there were others ahead of them. One of the boys stretched out his foot. His shoes were wet, for he had risen early to go through the dew-laden grass, and his companions envied him. They had never been out of doors before the dew had left the ground.
After a little while the whole school was assembled. Then the teacher told the boys the meaning of the day's ceremonies:
"This day, hundreds of years ago, died the great rabbi, Simeon ben Johai. Even he, great as he was, could not escape the Angel of Death. So do we eat round things–fruits and round cakes and eggs–to remind us that all the sons of the living are but as eggs, rolling from the cradle to the grave."
Then the teacher explained why the boys had bows and arrows.
"Whenever men are wicked and sin against God, the waters of the sea assemble, they lift up their mighty breakers, they raise themselves up ready to pour forth over the earth. The clouds gather together, waiting the word to send their floods to destroy the world.
Then God shows to the sea and to the clouds the Bow of Promise which He set in the clouds for a token that the waters should no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
Now Simeon ben Johai was upright, and upright were all the men of his day. Thus during the life of the great rabbi there was no need for a rainbow to be seen. Jewish children on Lag be-'Omer, the day of the rabbi's death, in commemoration of his goodness, play with bows and arrows."
Ibzon was not paying attention to the teacher. His eyes were fixed on the egg which his mother had given to his brother. It was larger than the egg she had given him.
"All eggs have a yolk and white," he said to himself, "and in a big egg there must be a large yolk and more white."
Then the naughty thought crossed his mind to exchange eggs with his brother.
It could be done easily, for the faces of the boys were turned toward the teacher. Ibzon put his hand to his brother's lunch bag, taking the egg and putting his own in its stead. Lo and behold, he held the smaller egg. The egg in his brother's bag was the larger. He hastened to repair the mistake. Enchantment must have been at work. No sooner was his own egg in his hand and his brother's egg back in its place than his brother's again seemed big and his small.
Times without number did Ibzon juggle with the eggs. But to no account. His heart beat like the heart of a thief. In his haste, the egg he was putting in his brother's bag slipped and broke.
When Pethahiah saw the mischief that had been wrought, his heart grew heavy and his spirit sad. The boys gathered around to comfort him. Many offered to share their lunch with him, but Pethahiah would not cease crying because of his own smashed egg, and followed the boys broken-hearted.
Armed with their bows and arrows, singing, dancing, and laughing, the boys left the school. But two there were who lagged, and did not join in the fun. They were Pethahiah and his brother grieving over the broken egg.
At sight of the tears rolling down his brother's cheeks, Ibzon was conscience-stricken, and offered Pethahiah his egg and even all his lunch, but Pethahiah would not take it.
The company left the city, and reached the wood. The boys' spirits revived, they began to play and sport for sheer joy.
One boy exclaimed: "Look, fellows! the sky is clear, the sun is bright, let's hope no clouds cross the sky this day."
Ibzon did not find it in his heart to say: "Amen!" "The prayer of a thief is displeasing to God!" he thought. "If the heavens cloud over, it will be a sign that God is angry with me for my brother's tears."
Then he sat apart, and mused thus: "It is said that God has a tear-bottle to collect all the tears of Israel. Will not my brother's tears go thither?" But he noticed that his brother's tears were not drawn up but ran down like always, and fell on the earth.
"The earth must have swallowed them," he thought. "But no, God cursed the earth for swallowing Abel's blood. The earth knows better than to hide a brother's tears."
In the meanwhile the boys had sat down to enjoy their lunch. A cold wind blew from the north, and the hair of the boys was tossed in the wind; Ibzon's locks got into his eyes and mouth.
Then the teacher stood up and glanced at the sky. A cloud the size of a man's hand appeared in the heaven. He called: "Hurry up, boys! get up quick, and run for the house, there will be a big storm in a minute."
The boys also looked, and their hearts were filled with rebellion against their teacher for making a fuss about a little cloud. But the little cloud grew and grew, and soon the sun was hid, and the wind became a gale, and pillars of dust whirled around and covered the fields. Lightning shot forth, the thunder rumbled, and the boys had not time to reach home before the storm broke in all its fury.
The children sorrowed greatly over the spoiled holiday, and Ibzon beyond them all. He knew in his heart that it was because of his naughtiness that punishment had fallen on the innocent.
Forever after, when the boys began to talk of their spoiled holiday, Ibzon's heart grew heavy and tears filled his eyes.
ONCE upon a time there lived a judge whose name was Imru. He loved justice, and had pity upon the poor, and all who knew his name loved and honored him. Not only was he famous in his native town, but far and near all men who had any manner of dispute or action in law said one to the other: "Come, let us go to the house of Imru, and he shall judge between us, and as he decides, so let it be."
Two would come to the house of Imru quarrelling, each accusing his neighbor; they would go out from before the judge reconciled and feeling kindly toward one another, for they had faith in his words, as they would have had in a prophet of the Lord.
"He whom Imru declares innocent is innocent even in heaven," said the disputants, and they gladly obeyed the decision of the judge.
Imru had two sons. One was named Abu-Hamul, the Compassionate, and the other Abu-Keshot, the Truth-lover. Now Imru was a poor man, and at his death left to his sons only a house and a small field; but already in the days of his life had his children become heirs to a great estate. Abu-Hamul's share was his father's love and compassion for the poor and for all who were troubled, and his pity on those who had gone astray. Abu-Keshot inherited his father's passion for truth and his zeal to discover the exact facts.
The two brothers continued to dwell together in love, and did not leave their father's house. In the sweat of their brow and the weariness of their hands they toiled in the field that their father had left them. They also assumed the duties of judge in their father's stead. They divided between them the two labors. The day that Abu-Hamul acted as judge Abu-Keshot worked in the field for his brother and himself. The day that Abu-Keshot acted as judge Abu-Hamul did double work in the field.
Now it happened that when there appeared before Abu-Hamul for judgment a poor man and a rich man, he would muse in this wise: "That poor fellow hungers and thirsts; he is ill-shod and meanly clad. All he asks is bread to satisfy his need. That big-bellied man is rich. His stomach is full. He is well clothed. He hunts for pleasures and luxuries. The more he has, the less he is satisfied. Is it right that I should take from the needy and give to the wealthy? Suppose the poor man does get from the rich one a few pennies more than his due, the man of means will not suffer, but the other can buy bread for his wife and little ones."
So the judge would exact payment from the rich man and hand it over to the poor one.
But Abu-Keshot loved truth. When there appeared before him for judgment a poor man and a rich man, he searched and studied in order to make his judgment fit the facts. If he saw that the poor man owed money to the rich man, he did not respect the person of the poor, but would order the debtor to work and give his wages in payment to the creditor. If necessary, Abu-Keshot would order the man's children sent out to work in order that the debt might be paid.
It therefore came about that upon the days Abu-Hamul judged the poor brought their cases into court.
But they who had right on their side always sought judgment from Abu-Keshot.
One day a rich man came before Abu-Keshot to complain about his poor neighbor. Abu-Keshot was not satisfied until he had laid bare the facts in the case, which were that the poor man had borrowed a sum of money which he now denied that he owed. The judge thereupon ordered the furniture of the debtor sold. From the money received he paid the creditor. The poor man left the judge in great indignation, and on the morrow came to Abu-Hamul with the story:
"Your brother Abu-Keshot sold my bed from under me, and gave the money to my rich neighbor who unjustly claimed that I owed him money."
The heart of Abu-Hamul was stirred by the plight of the poor man, and he summoned his brother to make explanation. Abu-Keshot came at once, and said that justice had been with the rich man and that according to law he had ordered the furniture sold.
And the poor man began to weep loudly and to cry: "Not a single bed or cover is left me, and I must lie on the ground like a dog in the street."
Then said Abu-Hamul to himself: "Whether the claim of the rich man was just or not, God knows. But of one thing there can be no doubt: this poor wretch has neither bed nor chair. My brother has furniture in plenty. He will not have to lie on the floor if one bed is taken from him."
Thereupon the judge pronounced his decision: "Abu-Keshot shall give a bed and a chair to the poor man."
Abu-Keshot promptly obeyed his brother, who on that day was judge, and gave a bed and a chair to the poor man.
The morrow had but begun when a rich man sought the ear of Abu-Keshot to complain about Abu-Hamul: "Yesterday a shoemaker and I had a dispute that was brought for settlement before your brother. He took money from me unjustly, and gave it to the shoemaker. The man had agreed to make me a pair of shoes and that if the shoes should be the least bit larger or smaller than the proper measurement the price was to be lessened accordingly. The right shoe proved too loose, and the left shoe was too tight. So I, according to our agreement, paid him less than his full price. Your brother ordered me to return the shoes to the shoemaker and also to pay him for his labor."
Abu-Keshot inquired into the man's story, and found it true. The shoemaker had so agreed.
"The judgment is God's," said Abu-Keshot. "Abu-Hamul is my brother, but this time he did not make a just decision."
Thereupon the judge of the day summoned Abu-Hamul, and ordered him to take the shoes from his feet and give them to the rich complainant, and, in addition, money to the amount that had been paid to the shoemaker at his order.
Abu-Hamul obeyed his brother.
When news of these two decisions spread abroad, there began to come rich men before the one brother, and poor men before the other, to complain of decisions against them. In these disputes also Abu-Hamul gave judgment to the poor, and Abu-Keshot to the rich.
The two brothers toiled in the sweat of their brows and in the weariness of their hands on their own field and also upon the land of strangers to obtain the wherewithal to satisfy the judgments that rich and poor obtained against them.
When they found that they would never be able to earn enough money to pay everybody, Abu-Keshot said to Abu-Hamul: "Listen, my brother, to my advice. Let us sell our field and pay our debts, and seek work in the fields of our good neighbors, that on the fruit of our labor we may live."
"Your words are good," answered his brother. "The day that you act as judge I will do double work for you and myself. The next day I will judge, and you shall work in the same way."
The brothers sold their inheritance, and paid off all the judgments. Day by day they sought work in the fields of others. They lived happily, content with their labor.
Once it happened that Abu-Hamul was not able to find work in the daytime, and he undertook to act as night watchman in a vineyard. While he was on duty, he heard men talking softly in the neighboring vineyard:
"What did you say to your creditor?" asked one voice. "I brazened it out," answered the other. "I denied the debt, for I knew he had no witnesses. And that wasn't all I did to him. I made him pay me for seven days' work that I had never done. The man was angry, and upbraided me, but I played the injured one, and wept. Of course, when Abu-Hamul saw my tears, he gave me the decision. I tell you what, so long as Abu-Hamul is judge in our village, there'll be no need for a poor man to wear himself out with hard work! If you are hungry, just go before the judge and swear that some rich fool owes you money. Make your oath–what if it is false?–and moan and cry. You can be mighty sure that it will be you that Abu-Hamul will believe, and it will be the rich man that will do the paying up."
When Abu-Hamul heard these words, his heart was distressed, and he said to himself: "I have always believed that poor men were wronged and put upon, and now behold, they cheat and swear falsely. Who knows but that because of me they have sought to wrong their fellows and have become idlers. They shirk work, knowing from the first that with lies and false tears they can blind my eyes and that I will make the rich pay unjustly. Now I see that I have erred. Justice and truth are God's. From this day forth I shall not regard the face of suitors, but condemn the guilty and acquit the guiltless."
In the morning Abu-Hamul went to his brother and told what he had heard.
At the close of the story, Abu-Keshot arose and said: "Listen now to me, my brother. Yesterday, as you know, I sat in the seat of judgment, and behold, two brought their complaint before me. Reuben the porter and Benjamin the tailor were journeying together, and lost their road. Reuben's pack had been empty of bread for a day, but Benjamin had yet many loaves. Reuben became hungry, and said to Benjamin: 'Here is money, give me bread.'
Benjamin replied: 'Your money is of no use to me. I'll give you nothing.'
'Take also my cloak and my shirt. I will strip myself to the skin.'
'Of what use to me are your clothes?'
'Then take me as servant.'
'Of what use is your work? There is just one thing of yours I have use for. It is your tongue. Do you not remember that time your tongue insulted me? You spoke evil against me before all the congregation, and oh, how I was put to shame before witnesses! Come now, and I will cut out your tongue. Then you may take my pack and eat your fill.'
It did not please the unhappy porter to think of parting with his tongue. But the next day his hunger became so keen that at last he took a solemn oath that if Benjamin would keep him in food until they reached home, he would then allow his tongue to be cut out. So the tailor gave the porter bread the rest of the way. The last three days of the journey Benjamin ate nothing, for there was not enough for both.
Yesterday they returned to their village, and came before me.
The cruel tailor demanded the tongue that he had bought with his bread.
'If the journey had lasted but one day longer,' he complained, 'I should have died of hunger, and this fellow would have returned to his home well fed and happy.'"
"Then did I see," Abu-Keshot concluded, "that, although judgment was in strictness with this revengeful tailor, yet the world is not built upon justice alone. My heart smote me that until now I had not taken pity upon the poor and miserable. The judgment is indeed God's, but God deals with His creatures in pity."
"Listen, brother," said Abu-Keshot after a brief silence, "the truth is that we are not able to judge the people. I do not know pity; you do not know justice. Let us call the villagers together and advise them to choose for themselves a judge who can be both just and merciful."
This they did that selfsame day.
The brothers remained farm laborers, and the townspeople chose other judges.
Poor men and rich men continued alike to lament the change and to long for the day when Abu-Keshot and Abu-Hamul should again sit in the seat of judgment.
But that time never came.
Abu-Keshot and Abu-Hamul spent the rest of their days together in love–poor and contented.
ALL the children loved little David. He loved them too, but none was quite so dear to him as Jacob who lived next door. The two children were brought up together, and now were in the same school with the same teacher. Both had curly heads; both had bright eyes and rosy lips that smiled together. If Jacob was late to rise in the morning, David was late also; if David lingered along the road, Jacob lingered likewise, for neither would do aught to vex the other. So it came to be said: "Jacob and David are two boys, but they have one mind."
Nevertheless David did make for himself a friend whom he came to love as well as he did Jacob. The new comrade was not to be found in the school, nor in any of the houses of the neighborhood, nor even in any place in the whole of the earth. Up in the sky was he, a star standing solitary and alone, apart from all companions.
David had gone out of doors evening after evening to watch the star, until the star became friendly, and winked, and broke into twinkling smiles, and talked to him.
Now it was not at all in the speech of men that the star spoke, nor yet in the chatter of idle boys. Star language is not made of sounds or of words. The star speaks by shining, and when it wishes to be silent, it is dark. In the gloom of night, from corner to corner of the heavens, flash the greetings of star to star: "Brother, I love thee." "Friend, I wish thee peace."
David heard the talk of the stars, and understood it. He listened attentively to every bit of wisdom that glittered on the lips of the lone star. Then he began himself to talk to the star, and they became chums, and the boy poured out his whole heart.
From that time forth David did not fight boy-fashion with any of his schoolmates. Even when they were rough or rude, or tried to pick a quarrel, or taunted him for not fighting and called him names, David choked back his anger; for when night time came the star was there to whom he could tell everything. The praise he had from the gleaming star made him glad that he had not let anger get the better of him. Boy and star kept up their exchange of confidences until slumber stole on David and almost overcame him. Then he bade his friend good-night and went home to bed.
David slept well, and dreamed; in his dream he saw soft lights and stars winking and twinkling, and in the morning he arose happy and content.
Not to a solitary human being did David speak of the star. He did not tell his brothers or sisters or his father or his mother, but he kept the secret locked in his heart, until he could no longer hide it from Jacob.
"Come over to my house this evening, Jacob," he whispered, "and I will make you acquainted with a friend of mine who is mine alone. No one else knows him. He is as beautiful as–as–as a star in heaven. He is as gentle as our mothers. He is as bright and cheery as a spring day. Will you come? I will wait for you."
"Indeed I will come," answered Jacob, whose heart began beating like a trip-hammer, and whose eyes roved in search of the mysterious friend. He counted the minutes–they were as hours. His anger grew against the sun which seemed to be dawdling purposely on its course. Every other second he looked at the clock that hung on the schoolroom wall, until he began to hate its hands and to call them "mean old crawling worms." He was so vexed, that he forgot what he had learned from his teachers and parents that not a thing in the world is to be hated–not they that God has gifted with speech, not they that are dumb, not that which is living nor that which has no life. Had he but known it, Jacob had much for which to be thankful. Instead of fussing and fuming at the dragging minutes, he might better have used that wasted time to prepare the lessons his teachers had given him for the next day. Had he taken out his books and begun to study, he would soon have found that the sun was going quite fast enough, and that the hands of the clock were moving on without a stop. But such is ever the way of foolish children. Faults have a way of their own, too. One leads straight to another, and mistakes have a habit of catching on to the heels of the errors that have gone before. Thus it was that impatience led to forgetfulness, and anger made Jacob lose the time that he might have used to his own profit.
At length evening did come, and David took Jacob out of doors. "Look up at the sky," he directed. "There to the right. What do you see?"
Jacob saw the wondrous star, the lover of children. Its beams of light seemed to speak to him, too. He listened carefully, and was able to understand all the star said to David. Straightway a naughty thought popped into Jacob's head. He began to think that he might steal the star's love from David.
The naughty Jacob said to David: "You think that you are showing that star to me for the first time. Well, you are not. I have known it for a long while. It was there waiting for me to be born, to be my special friend."
All the time he was talking Jacob found it hard to meet David's gaze, but he managed to do so, although he knew very well that what he was saying was not true.
David felt his heart grow cold, and he answered: "Jacob, how can you say such a thing? The star is my comrade. You know very well that it is I who have made the star known to you, for I am the one who found it right there in the sky opposite our house, standing lonely, night after night."
"How can you say such a thing?" retorted Jacob. "From the beginning of the world that star has been there, waiting to be my friend."
The happy face of David clouded, and his lips quivered. He kept very still, and thought, and thought, and then said brightly: "You are right, Jacob. Of course, you are. I see it now. My friend and your friend must be the same. The star is ours together–yours and mine. It couldn't be otherwise, could it?"
"I tell you," persisted Jacob, "that star is mine, all mine. It never was your friend."
Big tears gathered in the eyes that David turned to the sky; but the star spoke tenderly unto his heart, and he was comforted.
"Didn't you hear that time?" he asked, happy once more. "You saw, Jacob, didn't you, how it twinkled at me?"
"I heard and I saw, certainly," was the reply. "It was not to you that my friend spoke but to me, to cheer me because you are vexing me."
Then David became angry clear through. "I'll show you who is right," he cried. "We'll ask the star whom it loves best and which of us, you or me, it wishes for its friend?"
David could have done nothing worse than this. Star language is very different from that of human beings. The language of man has in it signs to show whether one person is meant or more than one. But in star talk there is no sign for many. If a star speaks of another star, it says: "I love it," and it means "I love them all." The most distant star is to it the same as the neighbor close at hand. Stars never single out one from its fellows. When there flashes the star call: "Brother, how fares it?" one, two, three, ten, a dozen, a myriad of stars answer: "I fare well, my brother. How goes it with thee?" One is as all, and all are as one. Among stars there is no need of signs for the words which to us mean more than one.
But David, used to the speech of preference, asked: "Star, dear, please tell us which one of us you love the best. To which of us do you belong?"
And the star beamed on them both and said: "I love him. I love him," which was to say: "I love you both."
But how could the boys understand this? David cried to Jacob: "The star means me. It is sparkling for me." Jacob cried to David: "It means me. Its twinkling is for me."
Then these two fell on each other in black rage, and fought. They hit and bit and tore, until their clothes were rent and their faces blood-spattered. When they saw the blood, they grew afraid and stopped, and Jacob slunk home. David looked at his torn suit, his scratched hands, felt his rumpled hair, his blood-spattered cheeks, and remembered that Jacob was in the same condition. David had not the strength to lift his eyes to the sky, and from shame he could not seek the face of the star. So he too went home.
The next evening David hastened out of doors, and looked up to the sky. The star was not to be seen. And every evening after that he searched, but the star was gone. In its place was a strange star, cold and mute.
Months went by, and the boys made up their quarrel. Yet the star never came back. Not once did they see its twinkling, not once did they hear its speech.
THEN THESE TWO FELL ON EACH OTHER AND HIT AND BIT AND TORE
AS A PRINCESS LOVES
ONCE upon a time there lived a young lad whose name was Bezalel. He was the son of a poor miller who worked in a watermill that stood by the river's brink not far from town. The family dwelt in a low, narrow hut close by the mill.
Bezalel loved the roses in his father's garden which morning after morning sanctified their Maker; he loved the wheat stalks in the fields that bowed in adoration; he loved the crickets that all the livelong day chirped in praise.
The lad loved also the grim forest with its exultant birds; the river rippling in the broken rays of the sun; the night with its moon and with its heavens dotted with glimmering stars; the day with its fleecy cloud-piles floating high in the skies. Yea, all that was in heaven above and earth beneath Bezalel loved.
But above all Bezalel cherished his paper and pencil, for with the pencil upon the paper he could reproduce all that had charmed his senses, all that he beheld on the swift river and in the recesses of the wood and in heaven's height.
When he looked upon his pictures he thrilled with joy. However, he showed them to no one, not even to his schoolmates; for one time the boys had seen a sketch in his hand and had cried out against him: "Look, Bezalel is counterfeiting the heavens and the earth!" And they nicknamed him "Counterfeiter."
Even the miller scolded to find his son sitting, marking lines upon paper. "Sluggard, why waste time on such useless things? Quick, get about your tasks in the house, and do not fritter away good hours in idleness."
Then Bezalel would hide in a corner of the barn or behind the hedge and sketch, and no one knew. He had one big trouble. His parents were poor, and he often had no money to buy paper for his work.
There came a day when Bezalel went to town, and in a shop he saw a young girl seated at a counter. She wore the fine clothes of a nobleman's daughter. The salesmen were dancing attendance upon her. She purchased a flask of perfume. Before this was allowed to go into her hands, every clerk in turn had to wrap it for her.
"If that girl would give me just one of those sheets!" murmured Bezalel. "She can't want so many, and I need them so."
The girl overheard the low words. "Tell me, lad," she said gently, "how you can use the paper, and I will give you ten sheets."
"I can draw pictures on it," he answered shyly.
"That's splendid," said the girl. "Here is the paper. You must bring me what you draw; if it is good, I will buy it." She gave him several sheets of paper and also her card that he might find her house.
Bezalel returned home, and went straightway to the barn, and took out his crayons, and sat thinking. Then he drew a vine with thick clusters of grapes and over them hovered birds with beaks opened to pluck the fruit.
He took the picture, and went to town to find the kind girl who had given him the paper. When he showed a passer-by the card she had given him, the man gazed at him in astonishment.
"Why, that's the card of our princess!" (For this was a royal city.) "What has a poor boy like you to do with the daughter of the king?"
Bezalel answered innocently that a young girl had given him the card and invited him to her house.
The man hesitated a bit, then took the lad's arm, and led him to the palace.
When the princess saw the pictured grapes in the boy's hand, she thought they were real, ripe and luscious. She was alarmed for them, and tried to drive the birds away, that the fruit might not be spoiled. But afterward, when she discovered that it was all a marvellous drawing, she laughed heartily.
She gave great praise to the youthful artist, and said: "Sell me this picture, lad. Tell me what you wish, and I will give you your price."
"My wish? I wish to paint," said Bezalel, and he looked at the ground.
"Very well," answered the princess, laughing lightly. "Take this card, and go to the shop where you found me yesterday, and they will give you paper and paint and crayons and all you wish."
The princess had written on the card an order for one thousand shekels.
Bezalel came to the shop, and gave the shopkeeper the card.
"What do you wish for this card?" asked the merchant.
"I wish to paint," answered Bezalel simply.
"A most praiseworthy desire," the man chuckled. "Paint and paint and paint. You'll be a great artist yet."
"But I have no paper or colors or crayons or anything, and the princess said you would give them to me here."
"All right, all right." The shopkeeper called: "Here you, give this boy as much as he can carry. Colors and paper." In his heart he said: "My, but this is my lucky day. This boy is the biggest simpleton yet. Instead of a thousand shekels he takes paper and colors and drawing material."
The clerks gave Bezalel a dozen bundles of paper, a dozen packages of crayons and paint brushes and color-tubes, and all this wrapped in large sheets of paper, sheet upon sheet, and Bezalel went his way rejoicing.
He reached home, and made straight for his corner. He stored the paper and materials in a secret place. Then he took out a new brush, and began to work.
He painted a tempest-swayed forest. The trees were bowed, lilies were swooning, birds were tumbling from their nests, and the skies were lowering with black clouds. Amidst all this he painted the face of the king's daughter.
When he looked upon his work it did not please him. "What connection has a forest in the storm with the daughter of the king?" And he tore up the picture.
And a second time he painted. He portrayed a placid river with light ripples swirling beneath the rays of the sun. Glad fish, disporting themselves below, darted hither and thither, trying to swallow the sunbeams. On the bank stood the princess, watching.
Nor did this please its maker. "What has the princess to do with the fish of a river?" He laughed and destroyed the picture.
He kept on painting, and every picture had in it somewhere the face of the princess, but none satisfied him. At last he took a fresh paper and fresh colors, and sketched the princess standing in the shop giving him the paper. He was pleased, and set out for town to show the portrait to the princess.
The maiden was filled with astonishment at the lovely picture. "Give it to me, lad," she said, "I will pay you well for it."
But Bezalel kept his gaze on the ground, and made no reply. This was a token that not for any price would he sell the picture. And the princess understood that she was very precious in the eyes of the little artist. Her heart was thrilled. Then she realized that also to her was he precious and that she loved him beyond all else in the world.
She took the picture, and across its back she wrote a second draft for a hundred thousand shekels. Not a word of what she had done did she say to Bezalel. The lad said good-bye, and returned home with the portrait.
Now among the courtiers of her father was one much beloved by the king. He was a rascally flatterer who knew how to keep himself in the royal favor. To him the monarch had promised the princess in marriage. But the maiden hated him, and could not even bear to greet him.
Every day this rascal tried to press his suit, and a thousand times he swore that of all the world he loved the princess alone. But she knew that on every possible occasion liars swear, and that all their oaths are worthless in their eyes and that none is sacred. Therefore she did not believe him, and she would have nothing to do with him, repulsing him time and again.
Finally she said: "If you will pay all the debts I have incurred in town and bring to me all my written pledges, I will give you my consent."
The suitor lost no time in going to all the stores where he knew the princess liked to deal, and he paid all her bills, and brought them to her.
Then said the princess: "There is still one pledge remaining. You will find it in the possession of a painter-lad who lives just out of town by the river. Bring me that pledge also."
The man went at once to do the bidding of the princess, and came that very day to the house of Bezalel's parents. The lad himself was not indoors. Search soon revealed him in his hiding-place, painting.
The courtier said: "My lad, I am come to buy the paper the princess gave you."
"Do you mean that you wish to buy her likeness?" asked Bezalel. "That is not for sale, my lord."
"The paper that you choose to call a likeness," said the rascal, "has it not on it an order for money? Bring it out, and let us see."
Bezalel fetched the portrait, and found written across its back the order for the hundred thousand shekels.
"See," exclaimed the courtier, much excited. "Read for yourself. This is an order for money on the back of which there happens to be a portrait. Don't be stubborn."
"Indeed not, my lord," insisted Bezalel stoutly. "No matter what is written on the other side, it is the likeness of the princess. Nothing to me is all your money. I will not part with her portrait for any price."
In vain did the would-be purchaser plead. He tried flattery and even threats, but to no avail. Bezalel was firm in his determination not to sell the portrait.
Then the suitor of the princess talked with Bezalel's father, and promised him the money, if within three days he would procure the picture.
The miller argued, and stormed at Bezalel. "What is this bit of paper, anyhow? Is it not more profit to accept a hundred thousand shekels? We can buy a fine house and dwell like lords."
When the miller could not force his son to yield, he whipped the lad, and when this punishment did not bring results, he turned the boy out of doors.
So Bezalel departed from his parents' home, and hid for three days.
The king's favorite was incensed. He came back to the palace, and related the whole matter to his sovereign. "It comes to this. Your daughter has set her heart on this lad to marry him, to the shame of the king and to the hurt of the kingdom."
The king was wroth with the princess. He made up his mind to punish her, so he had a decree issued that she should be locked up until she yielded to the marriage he desired.
Now the city was built on the coast. About as far as a dove flies from the shore was an uninhabited island. There the king had a tower built in which he imprisoned his daughter with twelve of her handmaidens. Once every three days three of the maidens returned to the mainland in a small boat for food and drink for the princess and her attendants.
The princess lived on the lonely island, and would not submit to her father's will, for she hated the courtier with her whole heart. She was not ashamed to confide to her maidens that her love was for the painter-lad. "None will I wed," she declared, "unless it be he."
The princess had a pigeon that she had found when it was still a fledgling, the day its mother had died.
Her own mother had died on the same day. The bereft princess had pity upon the orphan bird, and had carried it in her bosom until it had grown into a handsome pigeon. Then she had trained it to carry letters to her friends, and had called it "messenger birdie."
When Bezalel heard that the princess was locked up, he became frantic, and said: "I will give my precious picture to my princess, and she may do with it as she chooses, and she will not have to live as a bird in a cage."
Bezalel went down to the sea and waited until the maidens were returning to the island with food for the prisoner, and he entrusted the portrait to them to take to their mistress.
The princess understood that out of compassion for her the lad had given up the picture, and she took the pigeon, and put both it and the portrait in the hands of the maidens, and said: "Give my pigeon, my messenger birdie, to the painter-lad, and tell him that it is a gift to him from his sweetheart, and that I will not retain the portrait, it is his own. Say to him also that I am praying to God to keep him on the journey he is about to go."
The maidens stole quietly back to Bezalel, and delivered the message, and he knew that such was the way the princess chose to counsel him to leave the city. He took the bird and the portrait, and set out.
The royal prisoner dwelt on the island far from all life. Her maidens spoke comfort to her continually, and tried to cheer her up; for she was kind to them, and they loved her greatly.
From time to time the maidens stole out of doors to gather flowers and to catch birds, for the princess loved flowers and birds. Of the blossoms she twined wreaths, and crowned her companions, and praised their beauty. The birds she set free, whispering: "Lovely creatures! Lovers and beloved! God keep you from the cage and the snare. Fly to the four corners of the heavens. If you meet with my painter-lad, bless him in my name."
The cruel courtier went often to the island to glut his vengeance. He beheld the joy and the consolation the princess had in the birds and in the flowers, and he begrudged her even that bit of solace. So he plotted, and came to the king: "My lord king, it is well known that painters are sorcerers who can understand the language of birds. The painter your daughter loves is one of these. He sends messages to your daughter by the birds. Often have I seen them perch on her shoulder and whisper in her ear. Doubtless they speak ill of you, her father. Heed then my advice. Let the king have all the land of the island plowed and the plants uprooted, that the birds shall no longer be able to nest there. Then will your daughter forget the painter and humble herself to do your will."
The plan seemed good in the sight of the king. He commanded that all be done according to his councillor's desire.
No more did the birds come to the island.
No more did the flowers bloom, for the wretch had the soil sown with salt.
Thus the princess lost her songsters and her flowers, but she was not brought to yield.
Bezalel trudged on foot from town to town. In order to get food for himself and his messenger birdie he would spend one day working, and travel three. In one village he was asked: "Whither are you bound, lad? What is your wish?"
As was his wont, Bezalel replied: "My wish? I wish only to paint."
"If that is your desire," said his questioner, "then go from here. You will come to a fork of the roads. One path goes up among crags and rocks, the other drops down into the valley. Three days by the mountain road will bring you to a vast city that men call Dreamrealm. Ask there for Raphael the artist. Some one will be kind enough to direct you to his house. There you can study painting to your heart's content."
Bezalel was happy at this kindness, and that very day he left the village, and after he had tramped for three days up the height, he came upon Dreamrealm.
Dreamrealm lies far from all cities. All who live there are artists. Its homes are wondrously decorated within and without. When a traveller walks through its streets and on every hand sees handsome buildings and fine works of art, he asks himself: "Am I not walking in a vision of the night? Is not this the realm of dream?"
And thus the place became known as Dreamrealm.
No one king rules over Dreamrealm for life. Every three years the citizens meet at the house of Raphael. He is the oldest and most illustrious artist of them all. Every one displays his work, and the man who it is agreed has conceived and executed the finest painting is chosen to rule. He remains in power for three years.
When Bezalel reached Dreamrealm, he asked for the dwelling of Raphael. He found the master in a large studio surrounded by pupils. Bezalel told Raphael what he wished.
Now Raphael never used ordinary speech, the language of the man of the street. Instead, he drew symbols and pictures. Even to his servants he made known his wants in this fashion. When he was hungry, he drew a wolf showing its teeth, and when his appetite was satisfied, he drew a fat-bellied man.
In this wise, therefore, he replied to Bezalel. He drew a man much stooped, with broad chest, high forehead, large ears, and deep-set eyes; and above, angels' wings. This meant: "Listen much, watch much, and understand. Stoop constantly over the work table, only then will the angel of inspiration descend."
Bezalel's answer was a large ear, to say: "I will pay heed to your words and do all that you bid me."
In the three years Bezalel studied with Raphael he made remarkable progress. His paintings were bold and original. Raphael grew to love the lad, and honored him; his was the place at the master's right.
Many of the nobles of Dreamrealm made advances to Bezalel to marry their daughters, but he would not even listen to them.
"I am but young. It is too soon to think of building a house."
Every once in a while he sent the pigeon forth with a letter for the princess under her wings or in her beak. At every return the pigeon cooed, now triumphant love melodies, now notes of wailing, but never a line of writing had she from the princess.
Bezalel became discouraged, and did not know what to make of it. "Why does not the princess answer my notes?"
He had no way of suspecting the truth, that the poor girl had not a single scrap of paper on which to write, for every day the courtier had the boat in which the maidens went for provisions searched, and he did not permit a scrap of paper to reach her.
The princess complained to her maidens that the painter-lad wrote from one end of the page to the other and did not leave her the tiniest space in which to squeeze even the words: "I love you as my life"; or "I watch for you daily."
Raphael soon noticed that his favorite pupil was downcast, and he drew a man's heart cleft in twain. That invited Bezalel: "Confide in me the troubles that are breaking your heart."
Bezalel sketched a graceful dove in a golden cage and a paint-soiled hand stretched out to the cage, unable to reach it.
Raphael was lost in thought. Then he drew a paint brush standing erect, and rolling at its base were the broken pieces of a golden scepter. Thus he prophesied: "Art will triumph over kingship. Creative genius will be of more avail than wealth and power."
Bezalel trusted in the blessings of his master, and his heart took new courage.
The three years of the reigning king of Dreamrealm were completed, and the men of the place met at the house of Raphael to choose a new sovereign. Of all the works of art that were displayed those created by Bezalel won the most praise, and he was therefore chosen to rule over the folk of Dreamrealm.
Straightway he dispatched the messenger birdie to his sweetheart. He did not use the script of his youth which he had almost forgotten, but he employed the symbols of artists, and drew a wayfarer's staff and knapsack resting in a car of state drawn by four horses. So did he tell the princess that the wanderer who had left his birthplace on foot would return to his home in the chariot of a king.
The princess understood. She was happy, for this time she was able to answer. She used the back of the drawing, and she, too, employed the language of symbols. She had no ink or colors, for the man she hated kept them from her. So she pricked her finger, and used her blood for the letter. She drew a lock and key and at the end of the key a paint brush. This read: "My heart is locked to all men. But my painter-lad can open it."
When Bezalel saw the scarlet message, his blood boiled, and his soul knew no rest. No matter upon what his eyes gazed, they saw only the princess weeping and longing for him.
He called together his council and his generals, and told them his story: how the princess was imprisoned on a desolate island, and how she gave her heart to him alone, and how he in his turn loved none other, and how the king, her father, and a rascally courtier had locked her up like a bird in a cage.
Then all the generals and nobles cried in one voice: "If the king has put up bars of iron, we will shatter them like glass. If he has dug deep trenches round about, we will make for ourselves wings and fly over, and the princess, your sweetheart, we will bring to you."
This seemed good in the eyes of Bezalel, and he made choice of a picked army to go with him to his native land. The pigeon flew before them to point the way.
They came to the seashore. There they tarried to build a large ship. Bezalel and the army embarked, and set sail after the pigeon. Every morning and afternoon and evening Bezalel stood on the prow of the ship, and gazed around and about to discover from afar off the island of his princess.
But in vain. Many islands, large and small, did he see, but the pigeon flew past them all, and Bezalel knew that the captive was not on any of them.
At last there came a day when Bezalel discerned a black mass near the horizon. Thither flew the guide. Bezalel understood that there was the goal, the land of his hopes. He nearly fell from the ship in his joy.
Within a few hours, that seemed like the longest days of a long summer, they arrived at the island. Bezalel did not pay much attention to the pigeon, so engrossed was he in landing the army.
The messenger birdie flew straight to the tower, and pecked at the window of the princess' chamber. The girl trembled to see the bird, for in its beak was no letter. All it did was to flutter its wings and trill such music as had never been heard before.
The maidens of the princess hurried out of doors to learn if the bird had really returned forever or whether it had not some message from Bezalel. As they walked on, they came upon him suddenly; but they did not know him, for he was clad in royal attire.
The girls were startled, and hastened to the princess.
"Return," she bade, "and count the locks of this man's hair if they be seven."
The maidens ran out, and counted the locks of his hair, and said: "Yea, princess, the locks of his hair are seven, black and glossy."
"Return," she bade, "and look at his eyes if they be large and deep-set."
The maidens ran out, and looked, and said: "Yea, princess, his eyes seem not eyes but deep, blue pools."
"Return," she bade, "and look at his fingers if they be stained with paint."
The maidens ran out, and looked, and said: "Yea, princess, his right hand is besmeared with paint, and the fingers of his left hand are slender and pale as lily stems."
Not a word said the princess, but she ran out to meet the traveller. And behold, a mighty army was drawn up before her.
Bezalel fell on his knees, and cried: "Pardon, my precious one. For my sake have you suffered. But with the sword and with blood I will avenge you. See my army is with me. Speedily shall you be freed."
But the daughter of the king pleaded with him, saying: "I beseech you, bring not war upon the land of your birth. Already my father repents him of the punishment he put upon me. Many times would he have set me free, but that wicked man has told him that the word which has gone forth in the name of a king can never be withdrawn."
Into Bezalel's memory sprang the blessing of the master, Raphael: "May it please God!–The genius of the artist shall prevail over the power of the throne."
Bezalel stood wrapt in thought. Then he said: "You have spoken well, beloved. Not with sword and not with blood will I restore you from exile."
"Grant me one little favor," he went on. "Give me a room where I may spend the night. Do you and your maidens go into the cellar of the tower, and do not appear until I call: 'Come up.' Then come to me."
The princess consented, and gave Bezalel a room whose windows faced the beach, while she and her maidens withdrew to the cellar.
The whole day Bezalel spent in the room, and no one knew what he was doing.
The next day he sent to tell the father of the princess: "Bezalel, ruler over Dreamrealm, would be honored to meet your majesty on the island."
The king trembled greatly. He had heard of the fame of Dreamrealm and of its wealth and power, and he set out in haste to the place of meeting.
Bezalel made himself known as ruler of Dreamrealm, and the two walked side by side, talking of the affairs of their states and of the conditions in other realms.
When they were near the tower, the father of the princess happened to raise his eyes, and he saw through a window his daughter on the ground, pallid as death. Blood was streaming from her side. Over her stood the courtier wiping blood from his dagger.
"Woe! Woe!" shrieked the king. "My daughter!" He ran to open the door, but it was locked, and he could not.
"Whatever is the matter?" asked Bezalel in feigned surprise.
Between his sobs, the king told Bezalel everything: how he had exiled his poor daughter at the advice of the rascally courtier, her murderer, who had slain her there in that room. And he pointed to the window. Fierce rage seized him, and he strove again to break in the door; but he could not, and he fell on his face, shaken with sobs.
"My lord king," then said Bezalel, "if this wicked courtier worked ill to your daughter during her life and had her made a captive and an exile, should you not now increase your mercy upon her and withdraw your anger from the soul of your daughter and pardon her rebellion, that you may bear to put your hands over her eyes–and your heart be at peace? As for the traitor, you can mete out to him the punishment he has earned. Decree against him the banishment he led you to decree against her, and let him dwell, as did your daughter, alone in this tower."
"Well spoken, king of Dreamrealm," said the royal father. "I shall repeal the decree of exile against my daughter, and I shall pronounce her pardoned. Against her persecutor I will decree exile all the days of his life."
"Would it not be well, O king," said Bezalel, "if you should set down your decree upon this scroll?" and he handed a scroll to the king. "Thus will you restore honor to the soul of your captive daughter, and all the world shall know that the heart of her father has turned to her."
The king wrote the words upon the scroll.
"Suppose, my lord king," asked Bezalel, "that there could be healing for your daughter. What would be my reward if I should restore her to life?"
The king gazed astounded upon Bezalel, and cried: "O king, I know not if you be demon or angel to promise this, but restore my daughter, and whatever you ask shall be given to you."
Bezalel called: "Come up!"
The princess heard, and stood before her father.
The king fell on her neck, and wept, and fondled her. Then he glanced toward the window facing him, and screamed: "I am mad. There, in that room, lies my daughter dead, and here is she in my arms. Which is the counterfeit and which is the reality?"
Bezalel unlocked the door, and the king entered. Lo, that which had appeared real when he looked through the window was but a marvellous picture painted on a huge canvas stretched against the wall.
The king and father stood too dazed for utterance. He recovered himself, and said: "Now do I know you. You are the painter who is beloved of my daughter. Blessed are you of the Lord who has endowed you with wisdom. Blessed is Dreamrealm that you rule over it. With gladness of heart I give you my daughter."
THERE once lived in a town of Assyria, a lad so fine of form and so fine of face that he was called by all who looked on him Hemdan, The Beauteous Youth. None so comely had lived before his day, nor has there been any so handsome since.
It was his delight to go out into the fields to watch the harvesting. No sooner did he appear than the reapers dropped their sickles, and sheaves were left unbound, while the binders feasted their eyes to the full on his marvellous beauty. The men always went back to their toil with hearts that were light and merry.
Whenever the lad walked in the city streets a whisper went along with him: "Look, Hemdan is passing." Women heard it behind their lattices, and cast longing looks at him–and their gaze followed him until he was out of sight.
There was one singular quality to his beauty. It was his only so long as he did not know that he possessed it. So soon as he became aware of what men were saying when they looked after him, so soon as he heard on their lips the praise of his face, and looked at it in stream and in mirror, and knew that he was comely, a cloud came over his countenance, his lips became twisted, his beauty faded. Straightway those that had been loud in his praise fell to taunting him, and loathed to look at him.
The lad had also a voice of rare sweetness. When he used it in song, the minstrels cried: "Hark to the harp!" The tired and burdened and downcast forgot trouble and care, and dried their tears. Men whose hearts were joyous and who had never had sorrow were moved to weeping.
As with his face, so with his voice. So long as Hemdan lived unaware of its power the charm was his; the moment his own ear detected the quality of his song, his voice cracked, and its notes did not hold true. Those who heard were dismayed, and cried out against him, and sought to drive him away.
Sick at heart he wept and prayed: "O God, most gracious, why didst Thou pour out Thy favor upon me to be my sorrow and hurt? Why do the gifts Thou didst bestow on me bring gladness and heartsease to all men save to me alone? Why can I not have joy in the talent wherewith Thou hast endowed me?"
The youth did not know that any heard his supplication, and he put into it his whole soul, and men forsook their tasks and women their looms, and the tired rose from their couches, and one and all drew near and added their prayers to the lad's, and wept with him. Whereupon the boy recognized that there was some peculiar power in his voice to sway men, and he grew vain, and lo, its charm left him.
At last the lad quit his own city, and wandered in many others. Always it was the same story. Men seeing him in the streets, looked and were astounded, and whispered: "It is Hemdan!" No matter how often they saw him, they marvelled at the fineness of his form and face. He paid no heed, until one day he was passing beneath a window behind which was a servant baking the daily loaf. She saw him, and forgetting the coals, put her hand on them; in her pain she dropped her pan out of the window right in the lad's way. He saw in its polished surface the restored beauty of his face, and he was glad. Then a cloud came over his countenance, his lips twisted–his beauty vanished.
Sick and broken-hearted he fled the city. Out into the forest he wandered, and, tired and exhausted, lay down to sleep. The beasts of prey, the lions and tigers and their kin, smelled the blood of a man, and hastened to find him. When they came upon the sleeper, and beheld the beauty of his face, they could do him no harm. They crouched before him, and sheathed their claws, and marvelled at his wondrous beauty.
The murmurs awakened the lad, and he heard his praise before he knew his peril. He was glad. His beauty vanished.
The lions began to growl, the tigers to purr, and they struck at him with their claws, and were about to devour him, when he fell on his knees, and renewed his supplication.
"O God, most gracious, why didst Thou pour out Thy favor upon me to be my sorrow and my hurt? Why do the gifts Thou didst bestow on me bring gladness and heartsease to all men save to me alone? Why can I not have joy in the talent wherewith Thou hast endowed me?"
The birds of the forest were drawn by his song. They hovered close by, and at the close of the prayer responded: "Amen!" Then they sang with him, until the beasts sheathed their claws, and withdrew to their lairs.
The youth sang and sang with no thought save to sing. The sun went down, dusk fell, night cast her black pall over the earth, midnight came, and the lad never arose from his knees. Suddenly thunder crashed, streaks of lightning like flame-colored birds flashed before his eyes. The lad looked up, and wondered to see a clear heaven dotted with dazzling stars and not even a tiny cloud on its surface.
"What meant the thunder and lightning?" he asked himself, afraid. He arose, and the thunder pealed anew, and the sky was rent end to end by the lightning. Down to earth on a black cloud flew a cherub with wings outstretched. The brightness of the cherub's eyes made the night seven times as light as any day. On the cherub's back rode a man clad in linen, who, dismounting, drew near the lad, and thus addressed him:
"Be still. Cease your outcries. The heavens are distressed. They can no longer bear it. The spheres have had to hush their music. It is not seemly that a Hebrew lad should kneel. Arise and listen to me. I set before you two ways. If you wish to gladden the world and find favor in its sight, you will not be aware of your own power. If you wish to have joy in yourself and be self-conscious, certain that you are of value, all men will despise you. Now choose, and as you choose, so shall it be."
The thunder pealed, the lightning flashed. Man and cherub vanished.
The boy stood rooted to the spot. He was wondering which choice to make. Was it better to have joy in himself and be of little worth in the eyes of the world, or was it better to let others have joy and be a burden to himself?
Weeks drifted by, and months followed, and the lad was unable to choose. He stood without food or drink, turning over and over in his mind the choice he must make. The rays of the sun dried his skin. The east wind froze his marrow, and he stood stock still, and never chose, until his life passed from him, and his body became stone in the midst of the forest.
There it stands, a stone image, to this day.
Every year, on the anniversary of the day that the lad went into the forest, a kind wind blows at night over the image, and the lips become rosy again and open in song. The birds draw near and join in the singing. The beasts of prey sheathe their claws. Even the river becomes quiet. Over all is peace.
But when the transformed child hears his praises, and thinks that he is comely and that his voice is sweet, a wind blows a shadow across the face, and drives away its beauty; the birds flee in alarm, and the beasts go forth to rend and tear. The waters become rough and muddy. The child becomes again a silent statue.
GREAT was the cackling and clucking and gobbling of the barn-yard. Herald Crow had just perched on the barn roof and was cawing: "King Eagle is coming! King Eagle is coming!"
The news spread to all the coops and cotes and yards the country round. Wherever there were fowl there was joy and thanksgiving. For was not the Eagle king among birds? Far and wide his subjects began to make ready for his majesty's visit. The old birds held back, for they feared the monarch, but the young who are ever eager to honor kingship kept busily ahead.
"Master Cat and Sir Reynard shall soon be made to know that birds have a king. They will not be able much longer to hold us in scorn."
"Our king shall be told how often Master Cat kills our little ones," clucked the hens. "He will demand of the slayer the blood of White-Hen."
"And Lady Dove."
"Be on your guard, youngsters," warned Grandmother Leghorn. "The talons of King Eagle are longer than the claws of Master Cat. The beak of the monarch is sharper than the teeth of the fox."
Now the fledglings were as rude as could be. "Pray, be quiet, grandmother," they peeped. "King Eagle is coming, and the whole world shall behold our glory that it is great."
Then the young fowl began to cast lots to choose who among them should be prepared for the king's table. The geese cast lots among the chickens; the chickens cast lots among the ducks; the ducks among the pigeons; the pigeons among the geese. They all impatiently awaited the opening of King Eagle's court.
One morning Mousie poked her nose out of her hole, and looked this way and that to find where was Master Cat. She spied Little Chick. "Chickie dear," she squeaked, "have you seen our enemy anywhere–the rascal, murderer, cut-throat, shameless Master Cat?"
Little Chick swelled with pride. Her reply was most haughty: "I would have you know, Madam Mouse, that I am not afraid of Master Cat. What is there in common between you and me that you speak of our enemy? Your foe is not my foe. King Eagle is coming. His terror shall seize on all the cats, for our king is a jealous king and quick to wrath. He will not let the guilty escape. If you do not believe that I am unafraid, just watch and you will see me fly at Master Cat and scratch out his eyes."
Little Chick was doing all this big talking from a safe place. He did not have the courage to carry out his threats. He never moved a step to find Master Cat.
Mousie, however, was much taken with the fine boasts of Little Chick, and she shook with fear, and drew back into her hole in haste to tell all the mice of the wonderful words that had come from the mouth of brave Little Chick. When the mice heard this bold saying, they were filled with awe, and their own courage grew, and they became bold, and instead of nibbling only two kernels of grain apiece, each mouse gobbled three.
Time went by, and the numbers of the barn-yard fowl grew less and less. Master Cat is a fine forgetter, and although he had heard that the bird king was about to visit the fowl, he went straight ahead eating birds. And the poor birds had to summon all their courage to endure and be cheerful at the time of the king's arrival.
To while away the time they sang.
For the king's table
A fat fowl.
The king is longing
For a tender fowl.
Princess Swan preened her feathers, and gazed at her beauty in the pond. Then she sang her swan song:
"Joy, Joy, Joy!
Our king cometh.
In glory and might,
I sing his strength;
My beauty is his praise.
If the mirror lies not,
He will choose me.
Joy, Joy, Joy!"
The great day came. A wind blew from the east and ruffled the ponds, and there was a great storm. Branches were blown from the trees and broken. Black clouds covered the face of the sun, and lightning flashed from the heavy clouds, and the thunder pursued it. Thus did the birds know that their king was at hand.
His majesty arrived, and the very first to meet him and do him homage was Master Cat. The young birds hung back for their elders, saying: "It is not meet for us to push ourselves forward until older and wiser birds have come."
The elders were themselves too frightened to stand before the king.
Master Cat had no such scruples, and he hastened to make obeisance, and he talked to King Eagle as to a brother ruler, and he brought to the king the very meal that the fowls had themselves prepared.
There was so much to do that the days in which the Eagle and the Cat were together were prolonged. Even the bolder of the fowl who had at length summoned up courage to greet the king could find no proper moment.
Finally only one day was left of the monarch's sojourn among his subjects, and this day was also spent with Master Cat. These two had accounts to settle. They had to fix the number of worms and creeping things in the domain of the Cat that were to be given to the Eagle in exchange for the birds' nests the Cat had enjoyed.
"I am so forgetful," purred Master Cat, "that I cannot remember all I have eaten. Once a morsel is enjoyed I never think of it again."
Eagle and Cat counted and counted, and at last it was settled that for every nestful Master Cat had enjoyed, King Eagle should have two beakfuls of worms.
Then the birds discovered strength sufficient to come with complaints to their king. But it was after the time set when he already had his wings spread for flight. So he handed the petitions over to the Cat, increasing the Cat's share of fledglings for the work of hearing and answering the petitions.
"Let your heart rest, O mighty king," purred Master Cat, "may your rule be established and stand forever. I will not have mercy on my claws, nor spare my strength until I have wrought justice in your name among your devoted subjects. Justice, justice will I mete out."
"Blessed be your claws, O Cat!" said the Eagle as he flew away.
"Strength to your beak, your majesty," replied Master Cat.
And the birds?
When the mother birds beheld their children slaughtered for the glory of a king, their hearts broke, and they cried:
"O foolish generation that knoweth better than its elders! Must you bask in the glory of a king's countenance?"
And the young blamed the old, saying: "It is you that are foolish. Three days and three nights was your king in your midst, and you could not find it in your hearts to do him honor."
THERE was a rich merchant whose name was Simeon, and he had a great habit of taking oaths on every possible occasion. If a man came to collect money owed him, Simeon swore: "By my head, I'll pay you to-morrow." If a purchaser began to haggle about the price and declare it was too much, Simeon swore: "By my head, if I didn't give more for the thing than I am asking you to pay for it!"
So all the people in the town called him Simeon By-my-head.
Once there came a Tsaddik, one of the thirty-six whose merit sustains the world, and the Tsaddik heard Simeon swearing about everything, and said: "May God grant fulfilment to your oaths, and may everything you ask come to pass."
The merchant responded: "Amen!" and the Tsaddik left him.
Straightway a customer came into Simeon's shop to buy a pomegranate. The merchant handed him the fruit, which the customer took, felt, and said: "It seems to me that this pomegranate must be withered and empty."
"Empty! That pomegranate!" exclaimed Simeon. "May my purse be so empty!"
The customer paid for the pomegranate, and departed. The merchant opened his purse to put in the money, and found it empty. He said: "That man who came in here to buy pomegranates is a thief, and took the money out of my purse." So he ran down the street, and ran and ran, until he came to a corner where two men were standing busily talking. The one was well dressed, and the other was shabby. And the merchant said to himself: "It must be either the one or the other. If I accuse the poor man, he won't have anything to pay with, so it had better be the rich man." He called a policeman: "This fellow here came to my shop to buy a pomegranate, and stole my money."
"Sir," exclaimed the astonished man, "was I ever in your shop? Look well at me. You don't recognize me. Surely you can see that you are mistaken."
"I make a mistake? I not recognize you? So shall I know my own children, and my own house, and so shall they know me, as I recognize you! Come now to my shop, and we'll talk over the matter there."
The stranger, the policeman, and the merchant started to go to Simeon's shop. When they reached it, Simeon could not recognize it. His children did not recognize him. He went from shop to shop and from house to house, without finding his own.
The policeman grew angry: "You're a fine sort of a fellow. It's all right this once, but if you unjustly accuse one of our good people a second time, I'll lock you up."
After the two men had left him, Simeon renewed the search. In shop after shop he found acquaintances and friends, and said to them: "Woe is me. I am in a terrible pass. I am not able to locate my house. Will you kindly take me home?"
"Who are you?" asked the men, for they did not know him.
"Do you not know me?" said Simeon, astonished. "Do you not know your good friend and comrade, Simeon By-my-head? You must recognize me!"
"Simeon By-my-head!" answered the merchants. "We know him well. But you're not Simeon." And they exchanged knowing glances: "This is one of those half-witted chaps who wander from city to city and from town to town."
Then Simeon began to weep, and to tear his hair and to wander around crying: "Woe! Woe! My sons! My daughters! My wife! Where are you? O my children, where are you?" Men passed by, looked at him and nudged one another: "Even his tears are the tears of a crazy man. He doesn't cry like a right-minded person." Children ran after him, hooting: "Crazy, crazy, he's so crazy!"
Simeon slept out of doors. In the morning, when he woke, he re-commenced the search for his house, crying the while: "O my dear wife, my handsome sons, my beautiful daughters, where are you? Come to your father. To Simeon the merchant, to Simeon By-my-head." And the children continued to run after him and to hoot: "Crazy, crazy, he's so crazy!"
Then Simeon saw that there was only one thing to do: to leave the city. So that night he went away to another place.
The city to which he came was situated some distance away, and its people had never heard his name. Simeon went to the shop which seemed the most important in the city, and said to the owner: "Good-day, sir. I should like to work in your shop. I will do all that you bid me."
The merchant looked him over. "It is true that I need a clerk, but how can I tell whether you are the proper man for the position. My place is large. I once had a salesman who forgot the names of our customers. He never remembered to whom he had sold goods, or to whom to send bills. I had to dismiss him. Maybe you also have a poor memory."
"I? A poor memory? May I forget my own name before I forget anything in your shop! Try me. I will show you that I can work to your satisfaction."
So Simeon was engaged. A week passed by. The shopkeeper, glad to have found so diligent a salesman as Simeon, asked Simeon to stay in his employ for a year. Simeon agreed. A contract was drawn up. The merchant signed it, and gave Simeon the pen. He stood bewildered.
"Why do not you write your name?" asked the merchant. "Do not the terms please you?"
Simeon began to whimper: "I don't know my name. By-my-head, I can't remember it."
"Don't know your own name!" exclaimed the merchant. "You must be crazy." And he dismissed Simeon.
Simeon left that town, and travelled to another and another and another. In city after city he had the same misfortune. The names of the cities he had visited, the very name of his birthplace, escaped his memory.
At length he came to a prosperous-looking city, and, as usual, sought out the finest shop in the whole town. A woman owned that shop. "Gracious Madam," Simeon greeted her, "I have come to you to seek employment. I will do whatever you ask of me."
The woman replied: "My husband has deserted me, my children are little. What can a lone woman do with a big shop like this? Hardly anything. I should like help, but are you sure you are diligent? Here it is necessary to get up with the sun."
"May sleep leave my eyelids," said Simeon, "if I am ever late!"
"If that's so, my good sir, come in, and I shall pay you good wages."
Simeon lived in the woman's house and ate at her table and worked in her shop; but from the day of his coming sleep left him. All day long he stood up working, and at night he tossed upon his bed, and was not able to get even a moment's doze. His eyes were open in the darkness, his mind was agitated, and his thoughts troubled. He strove in vain for sleep, and there was none.
Simeon grew weaker every day, until he was scarce able to stand at his work in the shop and the woman was about making up her mind to dismiss him, when that very day a great Tsaddik visited the city, one of the thirty-six whose merit sustains the world. Men of prominence formed a committee of welcome, each one urging upon the Tsaddik to lodge in his house. But the Tsaddik would go nowhere except to the home of the deserted woman.
The woman said to Simeon: "Come now with me to the Tsaddik, I will lay before him all the trouble of my heart, how my husband has abandoned me these many years. It may chance that he will bless me and have my husband restored to me. But how shall I, a forsaken woman, be able to speak to so wise a man? Come with me and be my mouthpiece."
"Let us go," answered Simeon, "for I also have troubles to tell the Tsaddik. My heart is full of distressing thoughts."
So they two stood before the Tsaddik.
The Tsaddik looked fixedly at Simeon, and asked: "What can I do for you?"
"I cannot sleep."
"What is your name?"
"I do not know."
"From what city do you come?"
"I do not remember."
"And your wife? And your children?"
"I am not able to recognize them, and what is worse they are not able to recognize me."
Simeon began to weep.
But the Tsaddik said: "If you bind yourself not to swear or take oaths, even to the truth, I will pray for you."
Then said the Tsaddik: "Is not your name Simeon?"
Simeon opened his eyes wide, and exclaimed joyfully: "True, my master! Now I remember. My name is Simeon."
Simeon was about to add: "By-my-head," when he remembered what he had promised, and he closed his lips in a hurry.
"Now look at the woman who is standing beside you," said the Tsaddik.
Simeon turned to the woman, and looked at her; she in turn looked at him.
Each recognized the other.
Husband and wife!
"Simeon my husband," wept the woman.
"My wife, my beloved wife!" cried Simeon.
The tears of the man and the woman mingled. Their children heard the weeping, and came running. Simeon folded his children in his arms. They wept.
"Father, father, where have you been?"
The next day Simeon gave a great feast, and invited the whole city. He told all that had befallen him. His guests were much impressed and a little bit frightened. They all agreed never again to swear or to take an oath lightly.
From this it is that the city of Simeon By-my-head is known throughout the world as the city Al Tisshaba', Swear-not.
THE SPIDERS CARRIED FIRE TO ADD TO THE CONFLAGRATION
ELIAB was a wealthy man. He had three sons; the eldest was Issachar the shrewd; the second was Zebulun the glib; and the youngest was Joseph the silent. His brothers called him Joseph the simpleton. But in truth Joseph was no simpleton. Before he spoke a word or before he did anything, it was his habit to think carefully upon the word that he was to say or upon the deed that he was to do. And this was his constant advice to all his friends and acquaintances: "Think three times before you speak once." Therefore his parents called him Joseph the silent. But his brothers said: "He's a stupid fellow and a simpleton. He does not know how to open his mouth to speak, nor how to put out his hand to do anything at all."
It is not to be supposed that these boys were little children. The youngest of them was fully twelve years old, and the eldest was fifteen.
One day Eliab called his sons to him, and said: "My children, I am an old man. God has been good to me, and has given me riches that I may leave to you after my death. But a goodly heritage has no worth save in diligent hands. Therefore do this: Go to another country, and the one of you who proves the most diligent and builds for himself a house and gathers substance with the work of his hands–to him will I give all my possessions."
The two elder brothers agreed to the plan of their father. According to his wont, Joseph said to himself: "Now think thrice before you speak once," and he did not answer his father a word. However, Eliab kept the boys in the house for three days and four nights, that he might talk to them about their venture and give them his blessing before they left home. This gave Joseph ample time to think, and in the end he agreed to go with his brothers.
Eliab had not given his sons any provision for the way, so they started out on their journey with hands empty, but with hearts filled with the hope of doing great things in the world. When the two elder boys saw their little brother trudging, silent, after them, they could not keep from laughing at him, and Issachar said: "Why is this simpleton trailing after us?"
"He will only be a burden to us and also a disgrace," added Zebulun. "His silence will reveal to everyone that he is a fool."
Joseph made no retort, for before he had thought his three thoughts, his brothers were talking about something else, and Joseph never cared to enter any conversation except it were about that over which he had thought.
So the boys went from city to city and from land to land, until they were come to Calah, all of whose dwellers were wise and understanding. A boy of seven years of age knew more than does many an old man among us. Even the men-servants and the maid-servants were knowing. Now there was a law on the statute book of Calah that any stranger who sought to live there should first disclose some new truth, or prove himself able to solve any riddle set before him by the elders of the city.
In the market-place of the city was a high, broad platform. Whenever a stranger sought permission to live in the city he had first to go up on the platform. Then twelve men of the elders of the city, accompanied by maidens, would approach him. The two girls who stood on the right were dressed in white, their faces veiled, wreaths in their hands; the two girls on the left were dressed in black, with uncovered heads, and in their hands were crowns of thorns. Now if the stranger could answer the questions of the old men, the white-robed girls would come up and crown him with flowers and chant:
"To the city of mighty men
A sage hath come:
Without a key
He hath opened the gates."
The elders would answer:
"Come in, O blessed of the Lord!
Tower and fortress,
Stronghold and gate,
All stand open
Before the man of wisdom!"
If the stranger failed to answer the questions and could himself give no new bit of wisdom, the black-robed girls would come up and crown him with briars, chanting:
"Go hence, brazen face!
Brother to the simpleton,
Father to the fool,
Son to the donkey,
Uncle to the clown.
Woe to his father!
Woe to his mother!
Woe to his city!"
The elders would answer:
"Get you forth–
As the wind
So do we
Send you to a waste land."
However, the stranger was allowed to stay in the city the three days enjoined by the law of the wayfarer, and on the fourth day they drove him out.
When our three brothers came to the city's gate, the porter told them the law. The brothers agreed to stand the test.
The two elder boys rejoiced in their hearts, saying: "Now we shall be able to rid ourselves of Joseph the simpleton, and he will not trail after us any longer, like a ravelled thread; for a fool will not be allowed to dwell in Calah."
The three boys, therefore, mounted the platform. And the elders of Calah and the maidens followed.
Issachar was the first to be questioned: "With what can we close the mouths of our enemies when they slander us and speak lies against us?"
Issachar gave the matter no thought, but straightway answered: "With the blow of a hard fist. Smite, and continue to smite those who hate you, until they come to respect you from fear."
The elders of Calah set up a great laugh, and all the people round about, who had come to witness the trial, joined in, and even the little children, who were hanging on to their mother's skirts, laughed and hooted at Issachar.
Thereupon the black-robed maidens came up and put upon the boy's head the crown of briars, and mocked him.
"Go hence, brazen face!
Brother to the simpleton,
Father to the fool,
Son to the donkey,
Uncle to the clown.
Woe to his father!
Woe to his mother!
Woe to his city!"
The elders answered:
"Get you forth–
As the wind
So do we
Send you to a waste land."
Issachar went down from the platform very much ashamed.
Then Zebulun the glib stepped forth for his turn. The question was put:
"With what can we close the mouths of our enemies when they slander us and speak lies against us?"
Zebulun mopped his brow, cleared his throat, and acted as does an orator about to make a great speech. He faced to the right, and then to the left, and at last began to exhort:
"Hearken to me, my lords, ye elders, ye wise men of Calah. If to fist-blows we add tongue-lashings, then shall we hush into silence the enemies who would slander us. That is to say,–"
As is the wont of public speakers, Zebulun thought to go on and explain at length just what his words meant. But a derisive laugh interrupted him. The black-robed girls came up and crowned him with briars, and mocked him in their song:
"Go hence, brazen face!
Brother to the simpleton,
Father to the fool,
Son to the donkey,
Uncle to the clown.
Woe to his father!
Woe to his mother!
Woe to his city!"
The elders answered:
"Get you forth–
As the wind
So do we
Send you to a waste land."
Now it was Joseph's turn to stand up before the elders. He kept his gaze on the ground, not because he admired the floor of the platform, but because he was bashful, knowing that many eyes were gazing upon him and many lips were pursing to praise him or to mock him. Of all eyes he was least able to bear the glance of two which looked at him through the veil that hid the face of one of the white-robed maidens. It seemed as if pearly tears glistened in those eyes. Joseph's heart nearly broke, but he braced himself for the trial.
The elders asked him the same question his brothers had failed to answer:
"With what can we close the mouths of our enemies when they slander us and speak lies against us?"
They also set Joseph this riddle:
"The speech of sleepers,
The strength of the wise,
The hatred of fools,
The distress of the troubled,
The hardship of the happy,
The good of youth,
The bliss of lovers–
What is it?"
Joseph thought that he would have to tell the elders that he did not know the answers, either to the question or to the riddle. However his custom made him hesitate, and he said to himself: "Now think thrice before you speak once."
When the boy had been silent several minutes, the elders looked each man upon his neighbor in astonishment and delight. They believed that Joseph had purposely kept silence, and they exclaimed: "Bravo! Bravo! Behold, without so much as a word this wise lad has given the one answer to all our questions. Truly it is silence alone that can quiet slander. Surely the whole desire of a man's enemies in quarrelling with him is to anger him. When they see that he does not answer them or pay heed to their lies, they soon realize that his heart cannot be moved by their words, and they let him alone."
"Silence! That also is the speech of sleepers," said one of the elders who had been listening attentively. "Everything that sleepers say to others, near or far, enemies or friends, is after all but a dream and a vision. The speech of sleepers is silence."
"Silence! That is the strength of the wise and the hatred of fools," remarked an old man whose snow-white beard covered his breast. "Men of understanding know that if a word is worth a shekel, silence is worth two shekels. Silence is the peculiar property of wisdom. Fools hate what wise men love. Therefore they cannot endure silence. The wise delight to listen, fools–to make themselves heard."
"Silence! That also is the distress of the troubled," added an elder whose brow was wrinkled with thought. "If a man has a great trouble in his heart, it is good for him to reveal it to a friend. With their sharing, sorrows lessen. Loved ones know how to bring comfort."
"Silence! That also is the hardship of the happy," said another of the elders whose white hair belied his handsome youthful face. "Joy, to be true joy, has to be shared."
"Silence! That is the good of youth," said one who was young among the elders and an elder among the youths. "Silence becomes the young when they are in the company of their elders. The less one talks the more apt is he to hear wise words."
"Silence! That is indeed the bliss of lovers," said one of the maidens on the right. It was not known which spoke, for all were veiled. "That which the hearts of lovers cannot by very reason of their love make known through their lips they are able to convey with silence."
She did not finish her speech, for at that moment the maidens with the wreaths drew near to crown Joseph. They gave him praise in the song:
"To the city of mighty men
A sage hath come:
Without a key
He hath opened the gates."
The elders would answer:
"Come in, O blessed of the Lord!
Tower and fortress,
Stronghold and gate,
All stand open
Before the man of wisdom!"
Then the name of Joseph was inscribed in the list of the citizens of the town; and, as a reward to him, his two brothers were given permission to dwell there also; only their names were not placed on the roll of citizens.
The three brothers came together to talk matters over, and to decide what they should do. At once they began to dispute. Issachar said this, and Zebulun said that. Neither agreed with the other. But Joseph did not talk at all. "I will think first, and then I will speak."
Then Joseph went out to walk in the fields, and noticing in one of the plowed fields that there was a portion unplowed, he inquired about it. A passer-by told him that the unplowed portion of the field belonged to the city, and that he could ask the mayor who ruled the city about this part of the field. So Joseph went to the mayor to propose that he might work that portion of the field on shares: half of its yield should come to him as tenant and half to the city. The mayor consented, and gave him a plow, and said: "God bless your work, and may you find blessing in your labor according to your deserts." And a voice very gently answered: "Amen!" Joseph turned around to see who had spoken, and he saw a maiden, in whose eyes glistened two pearly drops, like the tears he had seen in the eyes behind the veil when he had stood on the platform. Then the boy went out to work his portion of the field.
He plowed deep, and his plow found a casket; he opened the casket, and it was filled with gold and silver coins. Joseph hurried to his brothers, and told them of his find. The brothers were very glad, and sat down to discuss what they should do with the money. They talked and talked, but Joseph thought. He said to himself: "It is no labor of mine that brought forth this money. If I turn the earth and sow, the land will bring forth grain and seed–but not silver. The money is not mine. I will take it to the mayor, for he will know what to do with it."
When Joseph came before the mayor and told him what had happened, the mayor was silent for several minutes. Then he said: "Keep the money, for it is yours by right of law. But know also that you have found for yourself a treasure more precious than this casket. What that is I cannot tell you until a later day. But now go on and prosper in the name of God."
Again Joseph heard a soft "Amen" spoken from the door. Joseph turned and saw the speaker. She was very beautiful. Yet he was not able to decide which was the more pleasing, her countenance or her voice.
He asked the house servants about the girl. They told him that her name was Keziah, that she was the daughter, not of the mayor, but of one of the mayor's friends. He had adopted her, and brought her up as his own child when her parents had died.
Joseph left the house very glad and happy, and told his brothers what the mayor had said. But they did not take the time to listen to him, for they were still busily engaged in disputing about what they would do with the money that had been found. Zebulun's idea was to purchase herds and flocks, and then to buy a house for themselves, and later, with the money which they should get from the fleece, to buy a pen and fold for their cattle and sheep. But Issachar wished first to build a house and fold and buy fields for pasture, and then to set about collecting the animals. And they asked Joseph what he thought about it. But Joseph was in no hurry to answer, but said as was his wont: "Think thrice before you speak once."
But before he had himself thought, he took the treasure and divided it between his two brothers. He gave half to Zebulun and half to Issachar. And the boys kept right on with their argument, each insisting that his idea was right.
"Now, what would be the good of fields or sheep-folds, if we had no sheep?" said Zebulun.
"And how will you pasture your flock," retorted Issachar, "if you have no field?"
The two were not able to agree, so they separated. Zebulun bought flocks and herds, and Issachar purchased timber and brick to build a house and a sheepfold. Now all this while Joseph had not thought his three thoughts, so he did not express any opinion but he helped Zebulun to pasture the flocks and Issachar to build a house.
One evening Issachar was hungry, for he had had nothing to eat since morning, and he said: "I will go to my brother, and he will give me milk from his cows, and I will satisfy my hunger."
"If you're hungry," said Zebulun, "go and eat the bricks of your house and the boards of your barn. Why should I give you anything?"
But Zebulun gave milk to Joseph because it was due in return for the help he had had in pasturing the flocks. So Joseph ate and was satisfied.
One night Zebulun and Joseph were lying on a hill among the flocks and herds, counting the stars in heaven and watching the moon, when suddenly the sky was overcast, a cold wind blew, clouds were blown across the sky, and rain poured down upon the earth. The brothers hurried to collect their flocks from the fields and to bring them in. They went to the house of Issachar, and knocked at the door, and said: "Give us shelter, brother, in your house, and make room for our flocks in your barn, for there's a terrible storm, and we have no covering for our flocks or for ourselves."
"If it's shelter from the wind and rain you're looking for," Issachar retorted, "go cover yourself with the wool and the curds you withheld from me." He would not let Zebulun come in the house, but he opened the door for Joseph.
Zebulun had to pass the night out in the rain with his sheep. He was chilled with the cold. The next day the brothers saw that it was not worth while being hungry all day, or suffering from the rain and cold at night, and they agreed to share their possessions. Zebulun gave Issachar food and drink, and Issachar gave Zebulun lodging in the house and shelter for the flocks in the barn.
The brothers continued to live in the city of Calah, and they increased their wealth. And as time went by, they said: "Let's send word to our father that already we have become rich, and let him come to us and, according to his promise, give his wealth to that one of us whom he shall choose."
Joseph agreed to this before he had thought three times, for he was eager again to see his father and to embrace his mother. The three wrote letters to their father, and told him how it was with them, and invited him to visit them. And before many months had gone by, Eliab and his wife came to Calah, and their children went to meet them, and made them welcome.
When Eliab had heard all that had happened to his sons–of the dispute that had come between Zebulun and Issachar, and of the help Joseph had given each–he did not administer a rebuke in words, nor did he praise Joseph, but he gave Zebulun two carriages without horses and to Issachar he gave two pairs of horses and no carriage. And Joseph took his portion from each of them for the help that he had given them. He got a fine carriage from Zebulun and a pair of horses from Issachar; and so he had a carriage and a pair of steeds.
And the mother gave Zebulun two gold rings without any stone, and she gave Issachar two emeralds with no setting. And, as before, Joseph took his portion from them both, an emerald from the one and the setting from the other, and so he had a fine ring.
There were many girls who, in exchange for the ring, were willing to cut their hair; but Joseph had no mind to trade his ring for all the charm in the world.
When the mayor heard that Joseph's parents were come, he gave a great feast, and invited all the elders of the city and Eliab and his three sons. To these he gave the seats of honor, and when the banquet was at its height, the mayor rose to his feet, and addressed the guests:
"Ye elders and wise men, listen to what I have to tell you. About ten years ago Jedidiah, one of our fellow townsmen, died. He was very rich. God had not given him sons, but one lovely daughter, whose mother had died when she was a baby. She grew up beautiful and wise, and her father loved her more than ten sons. Before his death he sent for me, and placed his fields in my keeping, and asked me to be a father to his daughter. She is none other than Keziah, who has grown up in my house, sweet as a fragrant cassia and beautiful as a lily, as your own eyes can testify. Jedidiah gave me also his will, and said to me: 'Open not until there shall come a man to plow my field, whose plow before he has sown the seed shall go deep enough to unearth a money-chest.' When this came to pass I was to open the will and fulfil all its bequests. And when Jedidiah had said these things to me, his spirit returned to God, and I have kept his word in my heart.
Now I am very glad, for there came to us our new citizen, Joseph, who plowed the portion of Jedidiah's field which had remained fallow from the day of his death. Before Joseph had sown seed, he found the money-chest, deep and hidden, and now it becomes my pleasant duty to open the will."
The elders agreed to have the will opened. It read:
"I have a field which is the least fertile among fields. With hard labor I brought from it more than any man else brought from his land. Now if there shall come one who loves labor as I do, and he plows sufficiently deep, he will find in a chest all my wealth. The box shall be his, and his also shall be Keziah my daughter to wife."
The hearers were surprised, and said: "Surely this is the finger of God. Come now, Joseph, blessed of the Lord, and take your portion."
And Joseph rejoiced very much that the lovely Keziah had fallen to his lot. But one of the elders said: "Behold from the days of Rebecca it has been our custom not to betroth a maid to a man without her consent. Let the girl be called, and let her be asked whether she will go to Joseph or not."
But the girl hung her head in silence, and would not reply. Now the elders did not know whether she was silent because she did not like him or whether she was too bashful to avow her love publicly, and one of them proposed: "Let the girl do this: let her be given that to spin which is the work of three hours. If she loves Joseph, she must finish the work in two hours; and this shall be a sign whether she consents or not."
The thing seemed good in the eyes of the company. The girl was given the fleece, and she went to her room. Now the men began to eat and drink and to forget all about the girl–that is, all but Joseph. His heart was going thumpety-thump. He counted each minute. Before an hour passed the door opened, and a hand was stretched out. And lo, before the eyes of the company was displayed a garment. Keziah had spun the threads and even had time to weave a beautiful design; but she was bashful, and not wishing to show herself to the men, hid behind the door.
"She consents, she consents," cried the merry-makers with one voice, and they were very happy.
The next day there was a marriage feast.
GOD made Adam and Eve, and soon their children began to multiply and spread over the face of the earth. They were divided into two castes, gentlemen and churls.
The gentlemen were those who owned the land and who left to their heirs the earth and all its riches. The lofty palm and the trailing vine; the steer and the milking herd; the silkworm; the sandal-wood; the gold in the earth's womb; these and all else fair and sweet and fragrant was theirs, and they had rule over all the world.
The churls owned naught, and worked for the gentry, squeezing oil from the olive, making corn into bread; and the lords flavored their meat, and ate and were satisfied. The low-born toiled in the fields and worked in the waters' depths, and the fruits of their labor fed their rulers who had plenty and rest, while they had work and hunger.
God implanted in the breasts of the gentlemen hearts filled with mercy and souls big with lovingkindness.
For He said: "Lo, to them I have given wealth and power, and have bestowed upon them all the good of the earth. If they are generous-minded and humble-hearted, they will share my bounty with the poor, that none may perish from drudgery and want."
With knowledge and with understanding did God endow the princely, saying: "If they be devoid of knowledge, how can they make use of what I have entrusted to them? The earth's treasure would go to waste."
Therefore did God bestow upon the aristocracy of the world wisdom and knowledge and the power of thought, and they were able and prospered. Their endowment from God was complete.
In the breasts of the lowly God set an obdurate heart, and breathed into them a spirit callous and hard. Kindliness they knew not, and compassion was a stranger to them. God said: "Only to their hurt and to increase their troubles would such feelings tend. Had they been sensitive and tender-hearted, and had to listen to their children begging for bread, they would have become faint-spirited and weak. Seeing the rich enjoy life, feasting without having to labor, they would have grown envious and would have hated their brothers: and grumbled against their own lot."
So the All-wise deadened their hearts against all noble emotions, so that their souls were coarse.
From all intelligence did God bar their minds. Neither did He allow them wit or understanding, lest they realize their portion and become sad. Better that they who work hard think little.
To the vulgar, instead of brain, the Lord gave brawn,–broad shoulders, sturdy frames, and healthy appetites, for they had to labor for themselves and for others.
So it was that gentlemen and churls came to live in the world.
The servile toiled in the fields.
The gentry feasted in palaces.
The lowly trod grapes.
They of high estate quaffed wine.
The poor groaned.
The rich sang for joy.
There came a day when the landed men grew weary of indoor life, and went out to watch their servants in the fields. They beheld misery. They saw drawn faces and eyes whose gaze was never raised from the ground. They looked on toil-worn hands and on blistered feet plodding from morn to night after the plow. The workmen had but a moment to snatch a meager meal and to take a refreshing drink. Their eyes were heavy with sleep.
The hearts of the noblemen were filled with pity and they exclaimed: "Woe be to our eyes! What have they seen? Never before did we know the weight of your burden."
They embraced and kissed their servants, and said: "Why do you work in this way? Is your meager lunch the only wage of your toil? Come with us. Our granaries are overstocked, our wine-cellars are crowded. Eat and drink to your heart's content. Is not our plenty the fruit of your labor?"
The churls obeyed. They ate and were satisfied, and gave to their wives and to their children. But they still looked glum.
Then the generous noblemen opened wide their chests and coffers, urging: "Help yourselves. Take as much fine clothes and as many jewels as you desire."
Greedily were they obeyed. But no smile rewarded them.
Then the gentlemen gave the freedom of their palaces to their guests. When they saw that the poor men still looked downcast and dispirited, they offered: "Stay you here and rest, we will work in your stead."
While the gentlemen were at work, Satan passed by and asked: "Whatever made you yield your possessions to those ingrates? When you are cold and hungry, what will you do? You will have no food for your stomachs, nor coats for your backs."
Wrathfully replied the aristocrats: "As we did so will we be done by. Can a man look on suffering and be unmoved?"
Loud laughed Satan: "Let's see the generosity of slaves when they sit in the seat of the free-born."
Day after day and week after week did the freemen drudge in the fields, until the food and drink they had brought with them were gone. They hungered and thirsted. They waited for their servants to come to their relief. And they waited in vain.
Ashamed of their plight, they went at last to the city. None would have recognized in them the princes of the earth. Their clothes were tattered, their bodies black with sweat, their shoulders stooped, and their eyes heavy and dull.
Neither compassion nor gratitude was in the hearts of the base-born. Those who dwelt in the palaces had mean souls. The granaries were tight-locked. The wine-cellars were closed.
So it is that to-day, in many places, vapid and empty-headed women, coarse-grained and vulgar-souled men, lord it over their fellows. They scorn wisdom. Their minds are small, their souls narrow.
Princes and gentlemen do the world's work.