The Silent Woman III

“Whom? whom?” cried Selde, with renewed alarm, when she found herself alone with the fool.

“I mean,” said Leb, in a most sympathetic manner, approaching still nearer to Selde, “that maybe you had to make your daughter marry him.”

“Make? And have we, then, made her?” moaned Selde, staring at the fool with a look of uncertainty.

“Then nobody needs to search for her,” replied the fool, with a sympathetic laugh, at the same time retreating. “It’s better to leave her where she is.”

Without saying thanks or good-night, he was gone.

Meanwhile the cause of all this disturbance had arrived at the end of her flight.

Close by the synagogue was situated the house of the rabbi. It was built in an angle of a very narrow street, set in a framework of tall shade-trees. Even by daylight it was dismal enough. At night it was almost impossible for a timid person to approach it, for people declared that the low supplications of the dead could be heard in the dingy house of God when at night they took the rolls of the law from the ark to summon their members by name.

Through this retired street passed, or rather ran, at this hour a shy form. Arriving at the dwelling of the rabbi, she glanced backward to see whether any one was following her. But all was silent and gloomy enough about her. A pale light issued from one of the windows of the synagogue; it came from the “eternal lamp” hanging in front of the ark of the covenant. But at this moment it seemed to her as if a supernatural eye was gazing upon her. Thoroughly affrighted, she seized the little iron knocker of the door and struck it gently. But the throb of her beating heart was even louder, more violent, than this blow. After a pause, footsteps were heard passing slowly along the hallway.

The rabbi had not occupied this lonely house a long time. His predecessor, almost a centenarian in years, had been laid to rest a few months before. The new rabbi had been called, from a distant part of the country. He was unmarried, and in the prime of life. No one had known him before his coming. But his personal nobility and the profundity of his scholarship made up for his deficiency in years. An aged mother had accompanied him from their distant home, and she took the place of wife and child.

“Who is there?” asked the rabbi, who had been busy at his desk even at this late hour and thus had not missed hearing the knocker.

“It is I,” the figure without responded, almost inaudibly.

“Speak louder, if you wish me to hear you,” replied the rabbi.

“It is I, Ruben Klattaner’s daughter,” she repeated.

The name seemed to sound strange to the rabbi. He as yet knew too few of his congregation to understand that this very day he performed the marriage ceremony of the person who had just repeated her name. Therefore he called out, after a moment’s pause, “What do you wish so late at night?”

“Open the door, rabbi,” she answered, pleadingly, “or I shall die at once!”

The bolt was pushed back. Something gleaming, rustling, glided past the rabbi into the dusky hall. The light of the candle in his hand was not sufficient to allow him to descry it. Before he had time to address her, she had vanished past him and had disappeared through the open door into the room. Shaking his head, the rabbi again bolted the door.

On reëntering the room he saw a woman’s form sitting in the chair which he usually occupied. She had her back turned to him. Her head was bent low over her breast. Her golden wedding-hood, with its shading lace, was pulled down over her forehead. Courageous and pious as the rabbi was, he could not rid himself of a feeling of terror.

“Who are you?” he demanded, in a loud tone, as if its sound alone would banish the presence of this being that seemed to him at this moment to be the production of all the enchantments of evil spirits.

She raised herself, and cried in a voice that seemed to come from the agony of a human being:

“Do you not know me–me, whom you married a few hours since under the _chuppe_ (marriage-canopy) to a husband?”

On hearing this familiar voice the rabbi stood speechless. He gazed at the young woman. Now, indeed, he must regard her as one bereft of reason, rather than as a specter.

“Well, if you are she,” he stammered out, after a pause, for it was with difficulty that he found words to answer, “why are you here and not in the place where you belong?”

by Leopold Kompert

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