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“And therefore,” concluded Salvin, stroking his long, grey beard, “we are forced to accept the belief that the object of life is toil. We are the advance guard cutting out the road down which the next generation will travel, who, in turn, will carry the road further along. Our work done—our usefulness ends. We have accomplished our mission, and nothing remains but to make way for our successors.”

Young Levine smiled, and rose to go.

“You are wrong, my pessimistic brother,” he said, fondly laying his hand upon the old man’s shoulder. “You are wrong. Some day the sun of wisdom may shine upon you and you will learn the truth.”

Salvin had been the friend of Levine’s father, and, despite the inequality of their ages, a firm friendship existed between him and the son. He now blew a smoke ring toward the ceiling, and with a smile of amusement gazed at the young man.

218“And what, O Solomon,” he asked, “may the sun of wisdom have taught you?”

Levine’s face lit up.

“The object of life,” he said, speaking swiftly and earnestly, “is love. It begins with love; it ends with love. Without love life has no object. It is, then, mere aimless, wondering, puzzling existence during which the mind—like yours—struggles vainly to solve the riddle of why and wherefore. But those who have once had the truth pointed out to them are never in doubt. To them love explains all. Without love you cannot know life.”

Salvin smiled, and then, as the young man departed, his face grew serious. He sat for a long time plunged in deepest thought. Strange memories must have crowded upon him, for his eyes softened, and the lines of his face relaxed their tension.

But at the end of it he only sighed and shook his head gently and muttered, “It is toil! Not love! Toil!”

Levine, meanwhile, was walking back to his work. He was a compositor in the printing-shop of the 219Jewish Workingman, and it had been his custom, for years, to meet his friend Salvin at the noonday meal in Weiss’s café, where they discussed those problems of life that perplex the minds of thinking men. One problem, Levine felt, had been solved—had been finally and definitely made clear. And the magic had all been worked by Miriam’s eyes—coal-black eyes that now seemed the alpha and omega of all his existence. For Levine, the object of life was Miriam. The sun rose in order that he might look upon her. It set in order that night might bring her sweet repose.

The seasons—what were they but a varying background against which the panorama of love could unfold itself? He toiled—for Miriam. He lived—for Miriam. He thought—always of Miriam. Could there be a simpler explanation of the mysteries of existence? Poor old Salvin! Poor, blind pessimist! After so much pondering to achieve nothing better than that hopeless creed! Toil? Yes, but only as a step toward love—as a means toward the higher end. If man were created for toil, then man were doomed to everlasting animal existence. Whereas love raised him to 220higher planes, transformed him into a higher, nobler being. Could life desire a sublimer object?

Levine trod on air. In his workshop the walls, the lights, the papers—all that surrounded him—sang to him of love. The presses chanted the melody of Miriam’s eyes all the livelong day. The very stones in the street seemed to him to sing it: “She is fair! She is fair! She is fair!” and “Love is all! Love is all! Love is all!”

One day they were married. Salvin was there, with a hearty clasp of the hand for his friend, and a kiss and a blessing for the bride. And laughingly Levine whispered into his ear, “It is love!” But Salvin was stubborn. He smiled and shook his head playfully. But what he whispered in return was, “It is toil!”

They were married, and the universe joined with them in their p?an of love—love that, like the wind, “bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth.”

Do you know that kind of woman whose temperament 221is like the smiling sunshine? Miriam was one of these. A light, happy heart—a nature that gloried in the joy of existence—ever ready to sing, to smile, to frolic—sympathetic to all woe, yet realising sorrow only as an external affliction, whose sting she could see, but had never felt—the soul of merriment was Miriam. Her lot in life was an humble one; her task had been severe; but through it all that sunshiny nature had served as a shield to ward off the blows of life. Once—there was a man. For a few hours Miriam’s brow had puckered in deep thought. But the man had been foolish enough to ask for a capitulation—for unconditional surrender—ere the battle had been half fought, and Miriam had shaken her head and had passed him by. Then Levine had come. There was a delicate, poetic strain in his nature that had immediately appealed to her, and his soft words fell upon willing ears. He had wooed her gently, tenderly, caressingly—in marked contrast to the tempestuous courtship that had failed—and he had won. It “bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth!”

222Love’s eyes are keen, and Levine was quick to see the change that slowly came over his wife. He could not have explained it; there was no name for it; it baffled analysis. The first time he spoke to her about it she laughed and threw her arms around his neck, saying, “Can’t you see that I am growing older? You cannot expect your wife to remain a silly, giggling girl all her life.”

The second time he spoke to her about it she gave the same answer. She did not embrace him, however. And when she had answered him her face became thoughtful. He spoke to her about it a third time. She looked at him a long time before speaking. Then she said, slowly:

“Yes. I feel like a different woman. But I don’t understand it.” He did not offer to kiss her that night, as was his custom, but waited for her to make the first advance. She did not seem to notice the omission.

He never spoke to her about the matter again. He never kissed her again.

The marvels of a woman’s mind, the leaps and bounds of the emotions, the gamut of passion upon which her fancy plays and lingers—all these are 223the despair of psychology. Yet their manifestation is sufficiently clear. How it came or whence it came, or why it came, even Miriam herself could not tell. But as a flash of lightning on an inky night reveals with vivid clearness what the darkness conceals, so the sudden revelation that she adored the man whom she had rejected lit up, for a brief moment, the gloom that had fallen upon her heart and laid bare the terrible dreary prospect of her life. It came like a thunderbolt. She loved him. She had always loved him. He was the lord and master whom her heart craved. The fire had been smouldering in her heart. Now it leaped into devouring flame. He loved her! He had fallen upon his knees and had tried to drag her toward him. He had sworn that his life would be wretched without her. And now that she was married he had thrown all the energies of his heart and soul into incessant toil in order that he might forget her. Married? She, the wife of Levine? A cry of despair broke from her lips.

Ah, yes. The lightning flash had passed. But she remembered what its brightness had revealed. She knew now!

224For a long time—for many weeks—she often felt an almost irresistible impulse to scream aloud, so that her husband—so that all the world might hear: “I love him! Him only! No one but him.” But the heart learns to bear even agony in silence. Miriam settled down into the monotonous groove that fate had marked out for her. The revelation that had come to her so suddenly developed into a wall that rose between her and her husband. An invisible wall, yet each felt its presence, and after many ineffectual attempts to surmount this barrier, to woo and win her heart anew, Levine abandoned the effort and yielded to despair. She never told him, and he never knew—never even suspected. But after that they lived in different worlds—each equally wretched. For there is only one other lingering misery on earth that can compare with the lot of a woman who is married to one man with her heart and soul bound up in another. It is the lot of her husband.

For Miriam there was no consolation. Her secret was buried in her inmost soul; she was doomed to live out her life brooding over it. During the day she often cried. When her husband 225came home she met him with a calm face—often with a smile—and then they would sit and talk over trivial matters the while that her agony was eating into her heart.

And Levine—the torments that he endured were beyond all description! Of a sensitive temperament, yet endowed with a clear, critical, philosophic intellect, he sought for an explanation and a remedy in a scrutiny of every incident of their married life, in self-analysis, in the keenest introspection, and found nothing but that insurmountable wall. Nothing seemed credible or tangible save that dull gnawing pain in his heart. Once or twice the thought of self-destruction entered his head. Why he thrust it aside he could not say. He was not a coward. The prospect of fighting his way through life with that burden of misery upon his soul possessed infinitely more terrors for him than the thought of suicide. Nor did he pursue the suggestion sufficiently to come to the conclusion that it was unworthy. It was an alien thought, foreign to his nature, and could find no lodgment. That was all. He lived on and suffered.

226Have you ever heard of Levine, the poet? He is a compositor in the printing-shop of the Jewish Workingman by day—he writes poetry, and, occasionally, short prose articles at night. He is not a genius. He is not a born singer. But his work is strong in its sincerity, and through it all runs a strain—that world-old strain of pleading—of weakness pleading for strength, of the oppressed pleading for justice. He is not a great poet, but among the readers of the Jewish Workingman, and among the loiterers in the East Side cafés, he is looked upon as a “friend of the masses.” And what they all marvel at is his prodigious industry. A day’s work in the composing-room of the Jewish Workingman is a task calculated to sap a man’s vitality to its last drop. Yet, this task completed, Levine throws himself with feverish activity into the composition of verse, and writes, and writes, and writes, until the lamp burns low. Sometimes, when he tires, he pauses to listen to the gentle breathing of his wife, who sleeps in the next room. It acts like a spur upon him; with renewed energy he plunges into his work.

The poem which the readers of the Jewish 227Workingman like best of all Levine’s writings is “Phantoms.” It ends—roughly translated from the Yiddish—like this:
And when the deepening gloom of night descends
Upon the perilous path and towering heights,
And wild storm phantoms crowd each rocky pass—
Love sinks exhausted, but grim Toil climbs on!


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