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I know a story that runs almost like a song—like that old song, “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair!”

In the heart of the Jewish quarter stood an old Catholic church, relic of those bygone days ere the oppressed Jews of Russia and Austria had learned that this land was a haven of refuge, and had come to settle in this neighbourhood by the hundreds of thousands. Close by this church lived the Rabbi Sarna, one of the earliest of the immigrants—an honest, whole-souled man who knew the Talmud and the Kabbala by heart, and who had a daughter. Her name was Hannah—and there the story and the song began.

It began in the days when Hannah was a young girl, who would sit for hours on her father’s doorstep with a school-book in her lap, and when Richard Shea was altar boy in the Catholic church close by, and would spend most of his time on the 286doorstep beside Hannah. And they lived a life of dreams, those happy dreams that abound in the realm of childhood, where no thought is darkened by the grim monsters of reality, the sordid facts of life.

In those days Richard’s tasks in the service of the Holy Roman Church possessed but little significance for him. It was his duty to swing the censer, to light the candles, and to carry the Book at Mass, and when the task was done Richard’s only thought was of Hannah, who was sitting on her father’s doorstep waiting for him. Father Brady, the rector of the Catholic church, who was Richard’s guardian—for the lad was an orphan, and had been left entirely in the priest’s care—was very exacting in all affairs that pertained to his parish, and insisted that Richard should perform his duties carefully and conscientiously. But when the service was over his vigilance relaxed, and, so long as there was no complaint from the neighbours, the lad might do as he pleased. And it was Richard’s greatest pleasure to be with Hannah.

They would sit for hours in the long summer 287nights, hand in hand, building those wonderful fabrics of childish imagination, looking forward hopefully, enthusiastically, to a future whose basis, whose essence was an eternal companionship of their two souls. There came a night—perhaps it was because the stars were brighter than usual, perhaps because the night was balmy, or perhaps because the spirit of spring was in the air—at any rate, that fatal night came when, in some unaccountable manner, their lips came together, came closely, tightly together, in a long, lingering kiss, and the next moment they found themselves flooded in a stream of light. Hastily, guiltily they looked up. The door had been opened, and the Rabbi Sarna was looking down upon them.

Hannah’s father kissed her that night as usual, and she went to bed without hearing a word of reproach or of paternal advice. Whether he had gained his wisdom from the Kabbala or the Talmud I do not know, but the Rabbi Sarna was a wise man. He took a night to think the matter over. Perhaps he felt that the bringing-up of a motherless daughter was no trivial matter, and that there were times when, being a man, his instinct 288was sure to be wrong, and that only the most careful consideration and deliberate thought could guide him into the right path. For a whole day he said nothing.

The following evening, however, when the grace after meal had been said, and “Hear, O Israel!” had been recited, he laid his hand fondly upon his daughter’s head and spoke to her, kindly.

“Remember, Hannah,” he said, “the lad is not one of our people. He is a good lad, and I like him, but you are a daughter of Israel. You come of a race, Hannah, that has been persecuted for thousands of years by his people. If your mother were alive, she would forbid you ever to see him again. But I do not feel that I ought to be so harsh. I only ask you, my daughter, to remember that you are of a race that was chosen by Jehovah, and that he comes from a race that has made us suffer misery for many ages.”

Hannah went to bed and cried, and rebelled at the injustice of an arrangement that seemed to her all wrong and distorted. Why were not the Jewish lads that she knew as tall and straight as her Richard? And why had they not blue eyes like his? 289And curly, golden hair? And that strength? And she cried herself to sleep.

In some unaccountable manner—it may have been that the rabbi told the butcher and the butcher told the baker—the matter reached the ears of Richard’s guardian, who promptly took the lad to task for it.

“Remember, Richard,” he said, “she is a Jewess. You need not look so fierce. I know that she is a nice little girl, but, after all, her father is a Jew, and her mother was a Jewess. They have always been the enemy of our religion. You know enough of history to know what suffering they have caused. I have not the slightest objection to your seeing her and talking to her, but things seem to have gone a little too far. You must remember that you cannot marry her. So what is the use of wasting your time?”

And, of course, Richard went to bed very glum and disheartened. For a long time he did not see Hannah, and when, after several weeks, they came face to face again, each bowed, somewhat stiffly, and promptly felt that the bottom had dropped out of life.

290So the years passed, and the dreams of childhood passed, and many changes came. Hannah grew to be a young woman, and her beauty increased. Her eyes were dark and big, her cheeks were of the olive tint that predominates in her race, but enlivened by a rosy tinge; she grew tall and very dignified in her carriage—and Richard, each time he saw her, was reminded of the canticle, “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair!”

He, too, had grown older, had grown taller and manlier; the boldness and audacity that had captivated the fancy of the Jewish lass had developed into manly strength and forceful personality; but his heart had not freed itself from that early attachment. While the service lasted, and the odour of incense rose to his nostrils, and the pomp and ceremony of his religion thrilled his whole being, Hannah was only a memory, a dim recollection of a life-long past. But when, from time to time, he met her and saw the look of joy that lit up her eyes, Hannah became a vivid, stirring, all-absorbing reality. And Richard was troubled.

Father Brady sent Richard to the seminary to 291prepare for the priesthood. For two winters Richard pursued his theological studies, pursued them with zeal, and devoted himself heart and soul to the career his fond guardian had selected for him. And for two summers, during which he helped his guardian in the parish work, the young man struggled and fought and battled manfully with the problem of Hannah. They had spoken but little to each other. The dream of childhood had passed, and they had grown to realise the enormity of the barrier that rose between them—a barrier of races, of empires, of ages—a monstrous barrier before whose leviathan proportions they were but insignificant atoms. And yet——

It came like one of those levantine storms, when one moment the sky is blue and the air is still, and the next moment the floodgates of heaven are open, and the air is black with tempest. The Rabbi Sarna came rushing to the house of Father Brady. They had known each other for years, and a certain intimacy, based upon mutual respect for each other’s learning and integrity, had grown up between them. And the rabbi poured forth his tale of woe.

292“I begged, I implored her,” he ran on, “to tell me the cause of her stubbornness. The finest young men you ever saw, one after another, handsome, strong, well-to-do, have asked her, and have come to me to intercede for them. And at last I went to her and begged her, beseeched her to tell me why she persisted in refusing them all. I am an old man. I cannot live many years longer. The dearest wish of my heart is to see her happily married and settled in life. And she persists in driving every suitor from the house. And what do you think she told me?”

A horrible suspicion came into the priest’s head, but all he said was, “I cannot guess.” The rabbi was gasping with excitement.

“She loves that Richard of yours. If she cannot marry him she will not marry anyone else. I told her she was crazy. Her only fear was that I would tell you—or him. She does not even realise the enormity of it! The girl is out of her head!”

The priest held out his hand.

“I thank you,” he said, “for warning me in time. It was an act of kindness. I will see that an end is put to the matter at once. At least, so far 293as Richard is concerned. If he is to blame for that feeling on your daughter’s part I will see that he does whatever is necessary to remedy the harm he has done. His course in life has been laid out. He will be a priest. I am very thankful to you for coming to me.”

The rabbi was greatly troubled. “I do not know what to do,” he said. “I am all in a whirl. I felt that it was only right that you should know. But I cannot imagine what can be done.”

“Leave it to me,” said Father Brady. As soon as the rabbi had departed he sent for Richard.

“What is this I hear about that Jewish girl?” he demanded, sternly. Richard turned pale.

“What!” cried the priest. “Is it possible that you are to blame?”

“To blame?” asked Richard. “I? For what?”

“Only this minute,” the priest went on, “her father was here with a story that it made my blood boil to hear. The girl has rejected all her suitors, and tells her father that she will marry no one but you or——”

With a loud cry Richard sprang toward the 294door. There was a chair in the way, but it went spinning across the room.

“Richard!” roared his guardian. “What is all this?”

But Richard, bareheaded and coatless, was tearing down the stairs, three, four, five at a time, and the next moment there was a crash that made the house tremble to its foundation. Richard had gone out, and had shut the door behind him. The rabbi, homeward bound, was nearing his door when a young whirlwind, hatless and coatless, rushed by him. The rabbi stood still, amazed. His amazement grew when he beheld this tornado whirl up the steps of his house and throw itself violently against the door. As he ran forward to see what was happening the door opened and Hannah stood on the threshold, the light behind her streaming upon her shining hair. And, the next instant, all the wisdom that he had learned from the Talmud and the Kabbala deserted him. In after years he confessed that at that moment he felt like a fool. For the tempestuous Richard had seized Hannah in his arms and was kissing her cheeks and her lips and her eyes, and pouring out a perfect torrent 295of endearing phrases. And Hannah’s arms were tightly wound around his neck, and she was crying as though she feared that all the elements were about to try to drag the young man from her. A glint of reason returned to the rabbi.

“Hold!” he cried. “Foolish children! Stand apart! Listen to me!”

They turned and looked at him. The Rabbi Sarna looked into the eyes of Richard. But what he saw there troubled him. He could not bear the young man’s gaze. Almost in despair he turned to his daughter. “Hannah,” he began. Then he looked into her eyes, and his gaze fell. He sighed and walked past them into the house. In an instant he was forgotten.

“Oh, thou art fair, my love!” cried Richard. “Thou art fair!”

When “the traveller from New Zealand” stands upon the last remaining arch of London Bridge and gazes upon the ruins of St. Paul’s, the Catholic Church will still flourish. And when the nations of the earth have died and their names have become mere memories, as men to-day remember 296the Ph?nicians and the Romans, then will there still rise to heaven that daily prayer, “Hear, O Israel!” And in the chronicles of neither of these religions will there ever be found mention of either Richard Shea or his wife Hannah. But, if that story be true of the Great Book in which the lives of all men are written down, and the motives of all their deeds recorded in black and white, then surely there is a page upon which these names appear. And perhaps, occasionally, an angel peeps at it and brushes away a tear and smiles.


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