It was not sympathy which he felt with her; it was much more a living over the sufferings of the woman. In spite of the confused story, it was all clear to the rabbi. The cause of the flight from the father’s house at this hour also required no explanation. “I know what you mean,” he longed to say, but he could only find words to say: “Speak further, Veile!”
The young woman turned towards him. He had not yet seen her face. The golden hood with the shading lace hung deeply over it.
“Have I not told you everything?” she said, with a flush of scorn.
“Everything?” repeated the rabbi, inquiringly. He only said this, moreover, through embarrassment.
“Do you tell me now,” she cried, at once passionately and mildly, “what am I to do?”
“Veile!” exclaimed the rabbi, entertaining now, for the first time, a feeling of repugnance for this confidential interview.
“Tell me now!” she pleaded; and before the rabbi could prevent it the young woman threw herself down at his feet and clasped his knees in her arms. This hasty act had loosened the golden wedding-hood from her head, and thus exposed her face to view, a face of remarkable beauty.
So overcome was the young rabbi by the sight of it that he had to shade his eyes with his hands, as if before a sudden flash of lightning.
“Tell me now, what shall I do?” she cried again. “Do you think that I have come from my parents’ home merely to return again without help? You alone in the world must tell me. Look at me! I have kept all my hair just as God gave it me. It has never been touched by the shears. Should I, then, do anything to please my husband? I am no wife. I will not be a wife! Tell me, tell me, what am I to do?”
“Arise, arise,” bade the rabbi; but his voice quivered, sounded almost painful.
“Tell me first,” she gasped; “I will not rise till then!”
“How can I tell you?” he moaned, almost inaudibly.
“Naphtali!” shrieked the kneeling woman.
But the rabbi staggered backward. The room seemed ablaze before him, like a bright fire. A sharp cry rang from his breast, as if one suffering from some painful wound had been seized by a rough hand. In his hurried attempt to free himself from the embrace of the young woman, who still clung to his knees, it chanced that her head struck heavily against the floor.
“Naphtali!” she cried once again.
“Silence, silence,” groaned the rabbi, pressing both hands against his head.
And still again she called out this name, but not with that agonizing cry. It sounded rather like a commingling of exultation and lamentation.
And again he demanded, “Silence! silence!” but this time so imperiously, so forcibly, that the young woman lay on the floor as if conjured, not daring to utter a single word.
The rabbi paced almost wildly up and down the room. There must have been a hard, terrible struggle in his breast. It seemed to the one lying on the floor that she heard him sigh from the depths of his soul. Then his pacing became calmer; but it did not last long. The fierce conflict again assailed him. His step grew hurried; it echoed loudly through the awful stillness of the room. Suddenly he neared the young woman, who seemed to lie there scarcely breathing. He stopped in front of her. Had any one seen the face of the rabbi at this moment the expression on it would have filled him with terror. There was a marvelous tranquillity overlying it, the tranquillity of a struggle for life or death.
“Listen to me now, Veile,” he began, slowly. “I will talk with you.”
“I listen, rabbi,” she whispered.
“But do you hear me well?”
“Only speak,” she returned.
“But will you do what I advise you? Will you not oppose it? For I am going to say something that will terrify you.”
“I will do anything that you say. Only tell me,” she moaned.
“Will you swear?”
“I will,” she groaned.
“No, do not swear yet, until you have heard me,” he cried. “I will not force you.”
This time came no answer.
“Hear me, then, daughter of Ruben Klattaner,” he began, after a pause. “You have a twofold sin upon your soul, and each is so great, so criminal, that it can only be forgiven by severe punishment. First you permitted yourself to be infatuated by the gold and silver, and then you forced your heart to lie. With the lie you sought to deceive the man, even though he had intrusted you with his all when he made you his wife. A lie is truly a great sin! Streams of water cannot drown them. They make men false and hateful to themselves. The worst that has been committed in the world was led in by a lie. That is the one sin.”…
by Leopold Kompert