Story type: Literature
Milovka was to be the next place reddened on the map of Holy Russia. The news of the projected Jewish massacre in this little Polish town travelled to the Samooborona (Self-Defence) Headquarters in Southern Russia through the indiscretion of a village pope who had had a drop of blood too much. It appeared that Milovka, though remote from the great centres of disturbance, had begun to seethe with political activity, and even to publish a newspaper, so that it was necessary to show by a first-class massacre that true Russian men were still loyal to God and the Czar. Milovka lay off the pogrom route, and had not of itself caught the contagion; careful injection of the virus was necessary. Moreover, the town was two-thirds Jewish, and consequently harder to fever with the lust of Jewish blood. But in revenge the pogrom would be easier; the Jewish quarter formed a practically separate town; no asking of dvorniks (janitors) to point out the Jewish apartments, no arming one’s self with photographs of the victims; one had but to run amuck among these low wooden houses, the humblest of which doubtless oozed with inexhaustible subterranean wealth.
David Ben Amram was hurriedly despatched to Milovka to organize a local self-defence corps. He carried as many pistols as could be stowed away in a violin-case, which, with a music-roll holding cartridges, was an obtrusive feature of his luggage. The winter was just beginning, but mildly. The sun shone over the broad plains, and as David’s train carried him towards Milovka, his heart swelled with thoughts of the Maccabean deeds to be wrought there by a regenerated Young Israel. But the journey was long. Towards the end he got into conversation with an old Russian peasant who, so far from sharing in the general political effervescence, made a long lament over the good old days of serfdom. ‘Then, one had not to think–one ate and drank. Now, it is all toil and trouble.’
‘But you were whipped at your lord’s pleasure,’ David reminded him.
‘He was a nobleman,’ retorted the peasant with dignity.
David fell silent. The Jew, too, had grown to kiss the rod. But it was not even a nobleman’s rod; any moujik, any hooligan, could wield it. But, thank Heaven, this breed of Jew was passing away–killed by the pogroms. It was their one virtue.
At the station he hired a ramshackle droshky, and told his Jewish driver to take him to the best inn. Seated astride the old-fashioned bench of the vehicle, and grasping his violin-case like a loving musician, as they jolted over the rough roads, he broached the subject of the Jewish massacres.
‘Be!‘ commented the driver, shrugging his shoulders. ‘We are in Goluth (exile)!’ He spoke with resignation, but not with apprehension, and David perceived at once that Milovka would not be easy to arouse. As every man thought every other man mortal, so Milovka regarded the massacres as a terrible reality–for other towns. It was no longer even shocked; Kishineff had been a horror almost beyond belief, but Jew-massacres had since become part of the natural order, which babes were born into.
The landlord shook his head.
‘All our rooms are full.’
David, still hugging his violin-case, looked at the dirty, mustard-smeared tablecloth on the long table, and at the host’s brats playing on the floor. If this was the best, what in Heaven’s name awaited him elsewhere?
‘For how long?’ he asked.
The landlord shrugged his shoulders like the driver. ‘Am I the All-knowing?’
He wore a black velvet cap, but not with the apex that would have professed piety. Its square cut indicated to the younger generation that he was a man of the world, in touch with the times; to the old its material and hue afforded sufficient guarantee of ritual orthodoxy. He was a true host, the friend of all who eat and drink.
‘But how many rooms have you?’ inquired David.
‘And how many shall I have but one?’ protested the landlord.
‘Only one room!’ David turned upon the driver. ‘And you said this was the best inn! I suppose it’s your brother-in-law’s.’
‘And what do I make out of it, if it is?’ answered the driver. ‘You see he can’t take you.’
‘Then why did you bring me?’
‘Because there is no room anywhere else either.’
‘What!’ David stared.
‘Law of Moses!’ corroborated the landlord good-humouredly, ‘you’ve just come at the recruiting. The young men have flocked here from all the neighbouring villages to draw their numbers. There are heathen peasants in all the Jewish inns–eating kosher,’ he added with a chuckle.
David frowned. But he reflected instantly that if this was so, the pogrom would probably be postponed till the Christian conscripts had been packed off to their regiments or the lucky ones back to their villages. He would have time, therefore, to organize his Jewish corps. Yes, he reflected in grim amusement, Russia and he would be recruiting simultaneously. Still, where was he to sleep?
‘You can have the lezhanka,’ said the host, following his thoughts.
David looked ruefully at the high stove. Well, there were worse beds in winter than the top of a stove. And perhaps to bestow himself and his violin in such very public quarters would be the safest way of diverting police attention. ‘Conspirators, please copy,’ he thought, with a smile. Anyhow, he was very tired. He could refresh himself here; the day was yet young; time enough to find a better lodging.
‘Bring in the luggage,’ he said resignedly.
‘Tea?’ said the host, hovering over the samovar.
‘Haven’t you a drop of vodka?’
The landlord held up hands of horror. ‘Monopolka?‘ (monopoly), he cried.
‘Haven’t they left any Jewish licenses?’ asked David.
‘Not unless one mixed holy water with the vodka, like the baptized Benjamin,’ said the landlord with grim humour. He added hastily: ‘But his inn is even fuller than mine, four beds in the room.’
It appeared that the dinner was already over, and David could obtain nothing but half-warmed remains. However, hunger and hope gave sauce to the miserable meal, and he profited by the absence of custom to pump the landlord anent the leading citizens.
‘But you will not get violin lessons from any of them,’ his host warned him. ‘Tinowitz the corn-factor has daughters who are said to read Christian story-books, but is it likely he will risk their falling in love with a young man whose hair and clothes are cut like a Christian’s? Not that I share his prejudices, of course. I have seen the great world, and understand that it is possible to carry a handkerchief on the Sabbath and still be a good man.’
‘I haven’t come to give lessons in music,’ said David bluntly, ‘but in shooting.’
‘Shooting?’ The landlord stared. ‘Aren’t you a Jew, then, sir? I beg your pardon.’ His voice had suddenly taken on the same ring as when he addressed the Poritz (Polish nobleman). His oleaginous familiarity was gone.
‘Salachti!‘ (I have forgiven), said David in Hebrew, and laughed at the man’s bemused visage. ‘Don’t you think, considering what has been happening, it is high time the Jews of Milovka learned to shoot?’
The landlord looked involuntarily round the room for a possible spy. ‘Guard your tongue!’ he murmured, terror-stricken.
David laughed on. ‘You, my friend, shall be my first pupil.’
‘God forbid! And I must beg you to find other lodgings.’
David smiled grimly at this first response to his mission. ‘I dare say I shall find another stove,’ he said cheerfully–at which the landlord, who had never in his life taken such a decisive step, began to think he had gone too far. ‘You will take the advice of a man who knows the world,’ he said in a tone of compromise, ‘and throw all those crazy notions into the river where you cast your sins at New Year. A young, fine-looking man like you! Why, I can find you a Shidduch (marriage) that will keep you in clover the rest of your life.’
‘Ha! ha! ha! How do you know I’m not married?’
‘Married men don’t go shooting so lightheartedly. Come, let me take you in hand; my commission is a very small percentage of the dowry.’
‘Ah, so you’re a regular Shadchan‘ (marriage-broker).
‘And how else should I live? Do you think I get fat on this inn? But people stay here from all towns around; I get to know a great circle of marriageable parties. I can show you a much larger stock than the ordinary Shadchan.’
‘But I am so link‘ (irreligious).
‘Nu! Let your ear-locks grow–the dowry grows with them.’ Mine host had quite recovered his greasy familiarity.
‘I can’t wait for my locks to grow,’ said David, with a sudden thought. ‘But if you care to introduce me to Tinowitz, you will not fail to profit by it, if the thing turns out well.’
The landlord rubbed his hands. ‘Now you speak like a sage.’
Tinowitz read the landlord’s Hebrew note, and surveyed the suitor disapprovingly. And disapproval did not improve his face–a face in whose grotesque features David read a possible explanation of his surplus stock of daughters.
‘I cannot say I am very taken with you,’ the corn-factor said. ‘Nor is it possible to give you my youngest daughter. I have other plans. Even the eldest—-‘
David waved his hand. ‘I told my landlord as much. Am I a Talmud-sage that I should thus aspire? Forgive and forget my Chutzpah (impudence)!’
‘But the eldest–perhaps–with a smaller dowry—-‘
‘To tell the truth, Panie Tinowitz, it was the landlord who turned my head with false hopes. I came here not to promote marriages, but to prevent funerals!’
The corn-factor gasped, ‘Funerals!’
‘A pogrom is threatened—-‘
‘Open not your mouth to Satan!’ reprimanded Tinowitz, growing livid.
‘If you prefer silence and slaughter—-‘ said David, with a shrug.
‘It is impossible–here!’
‘And why not here, as well as in the six hundred and thirty-eight other towns?’
‘In those towns there must have been bad blood; here Jew and Russian live together like brothers.’
‘Cain and Abel were brothers. There were many peaceful years while Cain tilled the ground and Abel pastured his sheep.’
The Biblical reference was more convincing to Tinowitz than a wilderness of arguments.
‘Then, what do you propose?’ came from his white lips.
‘To form a branch of the Samooborona. You must first summon a meeting of householders.’
‘For a general committee–and for the expenses.’
‘But how can we hold a meeting? The police—-‘
‘There’s the synagogue.’
‘Profane the synagogue!’
‘Did not the Jews always fly to the synagogue when there was danger?’
‘Yes, but to pray.’
‘We will pray by pistol.’
‘Guard your tongue!’
‘Guard your daughters.’
‘The Uppermost will guard them.’
‘The Uppermost guards them through me, as He feeds them through you. For the last time I ask you, will you or will you not summon me a meeting of householders?’
‘You rush like a wild horse. I thank Heaven you will not be my son-in-law.’
Tinowitz ended by demanding time to think it over. David was to call the next day.
When, after a sleepless night on the stove, he betook himself to the corn-factor’s house, he found it barred and shuttered. The neighbours reported that Tinowitz had gone off on sudden business, taking his wife and daughters with him for a little jaunt.
The flight of Tinowitz brought two compensations, however. David was promoted from the stove to the bedroom. For the lodger he replaced had likewise departed hurriedly, and when it transpired that the landlord had betrothed this young man to the second of the Tinowitz girls, David divined that the corn-factor had made sure of a son-in-law. His other compensation was to find in the remaining bed a strapping young Jew named Ezekiel Leven, who had come up from an outlying village for the military lottery, and who proved to be a carl after his own heart. Half the night the young heroes planned the deeds of derringdo they might do for their people. Ezekiel Leven was indeed an ideal lieutenant, for he belonged to one of the rare farming colonies, and was already handy with his gun. He had even some kinsfolk in Milovka, and by their aid the Rabbi and a few householders were hurriedly prevailed upon to assemble in the bedroom on a business declared important. Ezekiel himself must, unfortunately, be away at the drawing, but he promised to hasten back to the meeting.
Each member strolled in casually, ordered a glass of tea, and drifted upstairs. The landlord, uneasily sniffing peril and profit, and dismally apprehending pistol lessons, left the inn to his wife, and stole up likewise to the fateful bedroom. Here, after protesting fearfully that they would ruin him by this conspirative meeting, he added that he was not out of sympathy with the times, and volunteered to stand sentinel. Accordingly, he was posted at the ragged window-curtain, where, with excess of caution, he signalled whenever he saw a Christian, in uniform or no. At every signal David’s oratory ceased as suddenly as if it had been turned off at the main, and the gaberdined figures, distributed over the two beds and the one chair, gripped one another nervously. But David was used to oratory under difficulties. He lived on the same terms with the police as the most desperate criminals, and a foreigner who should have witnessed the secret meetings at which tactics were discussed, arms distributed, scouts despatched, and night-watches posted, would have imagined him engaged in a rebellion instead of in an attempt to strengthen the forces of law and order.
He had come to Milovka, he explained, to warn them that the Black Hundreds were soon to be loosed upon the Jewish quarter. But no longer must the Jew go like a lamb to the shambles. Too long, when smitten, had he turned the other cheek, only to get it smitten too. They must defend themselves. He was there to form a branch of the Samooborona. Browning revolvers must be purchased. The wood-choppers must be organized as a column of axe-bearers. There would be needed also an ambulance corps, with bandages, dressings, etc.
The shudder at the first mention of the pogrom was not so violent as that which followed the mention of bandages. Each man felt warm blood trickling down his limbs. To what end, then, had he escaped the conscription? The landlord at the window wiped the cold beads off his brow, and was surprised to find his hand not scarlet.
‘Brethren,’ Koski the timber-merchant burst out, ‘this is a Haman in disguise. To hold firearms is the surest way of provoking—-‘
‘I don’t say you shall hold firearms!’ David interrupted. ‘It is your young men who must defend the town. But the Kahal (congregation) must pay the expenses–say, ten thousand roubles to start with.’
‘Ten thousand roubles for a few pistols!’ cried Mendel the horse-dealer. ‘It is a swindle.’
David flushed. ‘We have to buy three pistols for every one we get safely into the town. But one revolver may save ten thousand roubles of property, not to mention your life.’
‘It will end our lives, not save them!’ persisted the timber-merchant. ‘This is a plot to destroy us!’
A growl of assent burst from the others.
‘My friends,’ said David quietly. ‘A plot to destroy you has already been hatched; the question is, are you going to be destroyed like rats or like men?’
‘Pooh!’ said the horse-dealer. ‘This is not the first time we have been threatened, if not with death, at least with extra taxes; but we have always sent Shtadlonim (ambassadors). We will make a collection, and the president of the Kahal shall go at once to the Governor, and present it to him’–here Mendel winked–‘to enable him to take measures against the pogrom.’
‘The Governor is in the plot,’ said David.
‘He can be bought out,’ said the timber-merchant.
‘Pogroms are more profitable than presents,’ rejoined David drily. ‘Let us rather prepare bombs.’ A fresh shudder traversed the beds and the chairs, and agitated the window-curtain.
‘Bombs! Presents!’ burst forth the old Rabbi. ‘These are godless instruments. We are in the hands of the Holy One–blessed be He! The Shomer (Guardian) of Israel neither slumbereth nor sleepeth.’
‘Neither does the Shochet (slaughterer) of Israel,’ said David savagely.
‘Hush! Epicurean!’ came from every quarter at this grim jest; for the Shomer and the Shochet are the official twain of ritual butchery.
The landlord, seeing how the tide was turning, added, ‘Brazen Marshallik (buffoon)!’
‘I will appoint a day of fasting and prayer,’ concluded the Rabbi solemnly.
A breath of reassurance wafted through the room. ‘And I, Rabbi,’ said Guetels the grocer, ‘will supply the synagogue with candles to equal in length the graves of all your predecessors.’
‘May thy strength increase, Guetels!’ came the universal gratitude, and the landlord at the window-curtain drew a great sigh of relief.
‘Still, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘if I may intrude my humble opinion–Reb Mendel’s advice is also good. God is, of course, our only protection. But there can be no harm in getting, lehavdil (not to compare them), the Governor’s protection too.’
‘True, true.’ And the faces grew still cheerier.
‘In God’s name, wake up!’ David burst forth. ‘In Samooborona lies your only salvation. Give the money to us, not to the Governor. We can meet and practise in your Talmud-Torah Hall!’
‘The holy hall of study!’ gasped the Rabbi. ‘Given over to unlawful meetings!’
‘The hooligans will meet there, if you don’t,’ said David grimly. ‘Don’t you see it is the safest place for us? The police associate it only with learned weaklings.’
‘Hush, Haman!’ said the timber-merchant, and rose to go. David’s voice changed to passion; memories of things he had seen came over him as in a red mist: an old man scalped with a sharp ladle; a white-hot poker driven through a woman’s eye; a baby’s skull ground under a True Russian’s heel. ‘Bourgeois!’ he thundered, ‘I will save you despite yourselves.’ The landlord signalled in a frenzy, but David continued recklessly, ‘Will you never learn manli—-‘
They flung themselves upon him in a panic, and held him hand-gagged and struggling upon the bed.
Suddenly a new figure burst into the room. There was a blood-freezing instant in which all gave themselves up for lost. Their grip on David relaxed. Then the mist cleared, and they saw it was only Ezekiel Leven.
‘Blessed art thou who comest!’ cried David, jumping to his feet. ‘You and I, Ezekiel, will save Milovka.’
‘Alas!’ Ezekiel groaned. ‘I drew a low number–I go to fight for Russia.’
Fifteen thousand roubles were soon collected for the Governor, but even before they were presented to him the Rabbi, in mortal terror of that firebrand of a David, had rushed to inquire whether Self-Defence was legal, and might the Talmud-Torah Hall be legitimately used for drilling. Sharp came an order that Jews found with firearms or in conclave for non-religious purposes should be summarily shot. And so, when the Shtadlonim arrived with the fifteen thousand roubles, the Governor was able to point out severely that if a pogrom did occur they would have only themselves to blame. The Jews of Milovka had begun to carry pistols like revolutionaries; they planned illegal assemblies in halls; was it to be wondered at if the League of True Russians grew restive? However, he would do his best with these inadequate roubles to have extra precautions taken, but let them root out the evil weeds that had sprung up in their midst, else even his authority might be overborne by the righteous indignation of the loyal children of the Little Father. Tremblingly the Ambassadors crept back with their empty money-bags.
Poor David now found it impossible to get anybody to a meeting. His landlord had forbidden any more gatherings in the inn, and his original audience would have called as a deputation upon David to beg him to withdraw from the town, but that might have been considered a conspirative meeting. So one of the Ambassadors was sent to inform the landlord instead.
‘Don’t you think I’ve already ordered him off my premises?’
‘But he is still here!’
‘Alas! He threatens to shoot me–or anybody who massers (informs),’ said the poor landlord.
The Ambassador shivered.
‘As if I would betray a brother-in-Israel!’ added the landlord reproachfully.
‘No, no–of course not,’ said the Ambassador. ‘These fellows are best left alone; they wear fuses under their waistcoats instead of Tsitsith (ritual fringes). Let us hope, however, a sudden death may rid us of him.’
‘Amen,’ said the landlord fervently.
Not that David had any reason for clinging to so squalid a hostel. But his blood was up, and he took a malicious pleasure in inflicting his perilous presence upon his prudential host.
Reduced now to buttonholing individuals, he consoled himself with the thought that the population was best tackled by units. One fool or coward was enough to infect or betray a whole gathering.
Still intent on the sinews of war, he sallied out after breakfast, and approached Erbstein the Banker. Erbstein held up his hands. ‘But I’ve just given a thousand roubles to guard us from a pogrom!’
‘That was for the Governor. Give me only a hundred for Self-Defence.’
The Banker puffed tranquilly at his big cigar. ‘But our rights are bound to come in the end. We can only get them gradually. Full rights now are nonsense–impossible. It is bad tactics to ask for what you cannot get. Only in common with Russia can our emancipation—-‘
‘I am not talking of our rights, but of our lives.’ David grew impatient.
Being a Banker, Erbstein never listened, though he invariably replied. His success in finance had made him an authority upon religion and politics.
‘Trust the Octobrists,’ he said cheerily.
‘I’d rather trust our revolvers.’
The Banker’s cigar fell from his mouth.
‘An anarchist! like my nephew Simon!’
David began to realize the limitations of the financial intellect. He saw that to get ideas into Bankers’ brains is even more difficult than to get cheques from their pockets. Still, there was that promising scapegrace Simon! He hurried out on his scent, and ran him to earth in a cosy house near the town gate. Simon practised law, it appeared, and his surname was Rubensky.
The young barrister, informed of his uncle’s accusation of anarchism, laughed contemptuously. ‘Bourgeois! Every idea that makes no money he calls anarchy. As a matter of fact, I’m the exact opposite of an anarchist: I’m a socialist. I belong to the P.P.S. We’re not even revolutionary like the S.R.’s.’
‘I’m afraid I’m a great ignoramus,’ said David. ‘I don’t even know what all these letters stand for.’
Simon Rubensky looked pityingly as at a bourgeois.
‘S.R.’s are the silly Social Revolutionists; I belong to the Polish Party of Socialism.’
‘Ah!’ said David, with an air of comprehension. ‘And I belong to the Jewish Party of Self-Defence! I hope you’ll join it too.’
The young lawyer shook his head. ‘A separate Jewish party! No, no! That would be putting back the clock of history. The non-isolation of the Jew is an unconditional historic necessity. Our emancipation must be worked out in common with Russia’s.’
‘Oh, then you agree with your uncle!’
‘With that bourgeois! Never! But we are Poles of the Mosaic Faith–Jewish Poles, not Polish Jews.’
‘The hooligans are murdering both impartially.’
‘And the Intellectuals equally,’ rejoined Simon.
‘But the Intellectuals will triumph over the Reactionaries,’ said David passionately, ‘and then both will trample on the Jews. Didn’t the Hungarian Jews join Kossuth? And yet after Hungary’s freedom was won—-‘
Simon’s wife and sister here entered the room, and he introduced David smilingly as a Ghetto reactionary. The young women–sober-clad students from a Swiss University–opened wide shocked eyes.
‘So young, too!’ Simon’s wife murmured wonderingly.
‘Would you have me stand by and see our people murdered?’
‘Certainly,’ she said, ‘rather than see the Zeitgeist set back. The unconditional historic necessity will carry us on of itself towards a better social state.’
‘There you go with your Marx and your Hegel!’ cried Simon’s sister. ‘I object to your historic materialism. With Fichte, I assert—-‘
‘She is an S.R.,’ Simon interrupted her to explain.
‘Ah,’ said David. ‘Not a P.P.S. like you and your wife.’
‘Simon, did you tell him I was a P.P.S.?’ inquired his wife indignantly.
‘No, no, of course not. A Ghetto reactionary does not understand modern politics. My wife is an S.D., I regret to say.’
‘But I have heard of Social Democrats!’ said David triumphantly.
Simon’s sister sniffed. ‘Of course! Because they are a bourgeois party–risking nothing, waiting passively till the Revolution drops into their hands.’
‘The name of bourgeois would be better applied to those who include the landed peasants among their forces,’ said Simon’s wife angrily.
‘If I might venture to suggest,’ said David soothingly, ‘all these differences would be immaterial if you joined the Samooborona. I could make excellent use of you ladies in the ambulance department.’
‘Outrageous!’ cried Simon angrily. ‘Our place is shoulder to shoulder with our fellow-Poles.’
Simon’s sister intervened gently. Perhaps the mention of ambulances had awakened sympathy in her S.R. soul. ‘You ought to look among your own Party,’ she said.
‘The Ghetto reactionaries–Zionists, Territorialists, Itoists, or whatever they call themselves nowadays.’
‘Are there any here?’ cried David eagerly.
‘One heard of nothing else,’ cried Simon bitterly. ‘Fortunately, when the police found they weren’t really emigrating to Zion or Uganda, the meetings were stopped.’
David eagerly took down names. Simon particularly recommended two young men, Grodsky and Lerkoff, who had at least the grace of Socialism.
But Grodsky, David found, had his own panacea. ‘Only the S.S.’s,’ he said, ‘can save Israel.’
‘What are S.S.’s?’ David asked.
‘But can’t there be Socialism outside Zion?’
‘Of course. We have evolved from Zionism. The unconditional historic necessity is for a land, but not for a particular land. Our Minsk members already call themselves S.T.’s–Socialist Territorialists.’
‘But while awaiting your territory, there are the hooligans,’ David reminded him. ‘Simon Rubensky thought you would be a good man for the self-defence corps.’
‘Join Rubensky! A P.P.S.! Never will I associate with a bourgeois like that!’
‘He isn’t joining.’
The S.S. hesitated. ‘I must consult my fellow-members. I must write to headquarters.’
‘Letters do not travel very quickly or safely nowadays.’
‘But Party Discipline is everything,’ urged Grodsky.
David left him, and hunted up Lerkoff, who proved to be a doctor.
‘I want to get together a Samooborona branch,’ he explained. ‘Herr Grodsky has half promised—-‘
‘That bourgeois!’ cried Lerkoff in disgust. ‘We can have nothing to do with traitors like that!’
‘Why are they traitors?’ David asked.
‘All Territorialists are traitors. We Poali Zion must jealously guard the sacred flame of Socialism and Nationality, since only in Palestine can our social problem be solved.’
‘Why only in Palestine?’ inquired David mildly.
The P.Z. glared. ‘Palestine is an unconditional historic necessity. The attempt to form a Jewish State elsewhere can only result in failure and disappointment. Do you not see how the folk-instinct leads them to Palestine? No less than four thousand have gone there this year.’
‘And a hundred and fifty thousand to America. How about that folk-instinct?’
‘Oh, these are the mere bourgeois. I see you are an Americanist Assimilator.’
‘I am no more an A.A. than I am a Z.Z.,’ said David tartly, adding with a smile, ‘if there is such a thing as a Z.Z.’
‘Would to Heaven there were not!’ said Lerkoff fervently. ‘It is these miserable Zioni-Zionists, with their incapacity for political concepts, who—-‘
Milovka, amid all its medievalism, possessed a few incongruous telephones, and one of these now started ringing violently in Dr. Lerkoff’s study.
‘Ah!’ he exclaimed, ‘talk of the devil. There is a man who combines all the worst qualities of the Z.Z.’s and the Mizrachi. He also imagines he has a throat disease due to swallowing flecks of the furs he deals in.’ After which harangue he collogued amiably with his patient, and said he would come instantly.
‘Hasn’t he the disease, then?’ asked David.
‘He has no disease except too much vanity and too much money.’
‘While you cure him of the first, I should like to try my hand at the second,’ said David laughingly.
‘Oh, I’ll introduce you, if you let me off.’
‘You I don’t ask for money, but your medical services would be invaluable. Milovka is in danger.’
‘Milovka to the deuce!’ cried Lerkoff. ‘Our future lies not in Russia.’
‘I talk of our present. Do let me appoint you army surgeon.’
‘Next year–in Jerusalem!’ replied the doctor airily.
Lerkoff asked David to wait in another room while he saw Herr Cantberg professionally. There was an Ark with scrolls of the Law in the room, betiding a piety and a purse beyond the normal. Presently Lerkoff reappeared chuckling.
‘He knows all about you, you infamous rascal,’ he said.
‘You have told him?’
‘He told me; he always knows everything. You are a baptized police spy, posing as a P.P.S. I suppose he’s heard of your visit to Herr Rubensky.’
‘But I shall undeceive him!’
‘Not if you want his money. Such a blow to his vanity would cost you dear. Go in; I did not tell him you were the young man he was telling me of. I must fly.’ The P. Z shook David’s hand. ‘Don’t forget he’s the bourgeois type of Zionist; his object is not to create the future, but to resurrect the dead past.’
‘And mine is to keep alive the living present. Won’t you—-?’ But the doctor was gone.
The Mizrachi Z.Z. proved unexpectedly small in stature and owl-like in expression; but his ‘Be seated, sir–be seated; what can I do for you?’ had the grand manner. It evoked a resentful chord in David.
‘It is something I propose to do for you,’ he said bluntly. ‘Milovka is in danger.’
‘It is, indeed,’ said the M.Z.Z. ‘When men like Dr. Lerkoff (in whose company I was sorry to see you) command a hearing, it is in deadly danger. An excellent physician, but you know the Talmudical saying: “Hell awaits even the best of physicians.” And he calls himself a Zionist! Bah! he’s more dangerous than that young renegade spy who dubs himself P.P.S.’
‘But he seems very zealous for Zion,’ said David uneasily.
Herr Cantberg shook his head dolefully. ‘He’d introduce vaccination and serum-insertions instead of the grand old laws. As if any human arrangement could equal the wisdom of Sinai! And he actually scoffs at the Restoration of the Sacrifices!’
‘But do you propose to restore them?’ David was astonished.
The owl’s eyes shone. ‘What have we sacrificed ourselves for, all these centuries, if not for the Sacrifices? What has sanctified and illumined the long night of our Exile except a vision of the High Priest in his jewelled breastplate officiating again at the altar of our Holy Temple? Now at last the vision begins to take shape, the hope of Israel begins to shine again. Like a rosy cloud, like a crescent moon, like a star in the desert, like a lighthouse over lonely seas—-‘
The telephone impolitely interrupted him. His fine frenzy disregarded the ringing, but it jangled his metaphors. ‘But, alas! our people do not see clearly!’ he broke off. ‘False prophets, colossally vain–may their names be blotted out!–confuse the foolish crowd. But the wheat is being sifted from the chaff, the fine flour from the bran, the edible herbs from the evil weeds, and soon my people will see again that only I—-‘
The telephone insisted on a hearing. Having refused to buy furs at the price it demanded, he resumed: ‘Territorialist traitors mislead the masses, but in so far as they may bring relief to our unhappy people, I wish them Godspeed.’
‘But what relief can they bring?’ put in David impatiently. ‘Without Self-Defence—-‘
‘Most true. They will but kill off a few hundred people with fever and famine on some savage shore. But let them; it will all be to the glory of Zionism—-‘
‘How so?’ David asked, amazed.
‘It will show that the godless ideals of materialists can never be realized, that only in its old home can Israel again be a nation. Then will come the moment for Me to arise—-‘
‘But the English came from Denmark. And they’re nation enough!’
The owl blinked angrily. ‘We are the Chosen People–no historic parallel applies to us. As the dove returned to the ark, as the swallow returns to the lands of the spring, as the tide returns to the sands, as the stars—-‘
‘Yes, yes, I know,’ said David; ‘but where is there room in Palestine for the Russian Jews?’
‘Where was there room in the Temple for the millions who came up at Passover?’ retorted Herr Cantberg crushingly.
The telephone here interposed, offering the furs cheaper.
‘A godless Bundist!’ the owl explained between the deals.
‘A Bundist!’ David pricked up his ears. From the bravest revolutionary party in Russia he could surely cull a recruit or two. ‘Who is he?’
The owl tried to look noble, producing only a twinkle of cunning. ‘Oh, I can’t betray him; after all, he’s a brother-in-Israel. Not that he behaves as such, opposing our candidate for the Duma! Three hundred and thirteen roubles,’ he told the telephone sternly. ‘Not a kopeck more. Eh? What? He’s rung off, the blood-sucker!’ He rang him up again. David made a note of the number.
‘But what have you Zionists to do with the Parliament in Russia?’ he inquired of the owl.
But the owl was haggling with the telephone. ‘Three hundred and fifteen! What! Do you want to skin me, like your martins and sables?’
‘You are busy,’ interposed David, fretting at the waste of his day. ‘I shall take the liberty of calling again.’
A telephone-book soon betrayed the Bundist’s shop, and David hurried off to enlist him. The shopkeeper proved, however, so corpulent and bovine that David’s heart sank. But he began bluntly: ‘I know you’re a Bundist.’
‘A what?’ said the fur-dealer.
David smiled. ‘Oh, you needn’t pretend with me; I’m a fighter myself.’ He let a revolver peep out of his hip-pocket.
‘Help! Gewalt!‘ cried the fur-dealer.
A beardless youth came running out of the back room. David laughed. ‘Herr Cantberg told me that you were a Bundist,’ he explained to the shopkeeper. ‘And I came to meet a kindred spirit. But I was warned Herr Cantberg is always wrong. Good-morning.’
‘Stop!’ cried the youth. ‘Go in, Reb Yitzchok; let me deal with this fire-eater.’ And as the corpulent man retired with an improbable alacrity, he continued gravely: ‘This time Herr Cantberg was not more than a hundred versts from the truth.’
David smiled. ‘You are the Bundist.’
‘Hush! Here I am the son-in-law. I study Talmud and eat Kest (free food). What news from Warsaw?’
‘I want both you and your father-in-law,’ said David evasively–‘his money and your muscles.’
‘He gives no money to the Cause, save unwillingly what I squeeze out of Cantberg.’ The youth permitted himself his first smile. ‘When he deals with that bourgeois at the telephone, I always egg him on to stand out for more and more, and my profit is half the extra roubles we extort. But as for myself, my life, of course, is at the disposal of headquarters.’
David was moved by this refreshing simplicity. He felt a little embarrassment in explaining that headquarters to him meant Samooborona, not Bund. The youth’s countenance changed completely.
‘Defend the Jews!’ he cried contemptuously. ‘What have we to do with the Jewish bourgeoisie?’
‘The Bund is exclusively Jewish, is it not?’
‘Merely because we found the rest of the Revolutionary body too clumsy for words. It was always getting caught, its printing-presses exhumed, its leaders buried. So we split off, the better to help our fellow-working-men. But we are a Labour party, not a Jewish party. We have the whole Russian Revolution on our shoulders; how can we throw away our lives for the capitalists of the Milovka Ghetto? Then there are the elections at hand–I have to work for the Left. Ah, here come some of our bourgeois; ask them, if you like. I will keep my father-in-law out of the shop.’
Two men in close confabulation strolled in, a third disconnected, but on their heels. With five Jews the concourse soon became a congress.
One of the couple turned out to be a Progressive Pole. He mistook David for a Zionist, and denounced him for a foreigner.
‘We of the P.P.P.,’ he said, ‘will peacefully acquire equal rights with our fellow-Poles–nay, we shall be allowed to become Poles ourselves. But you Zionists are less citizens than strangers, and if you were logical, you would all—-‘
‘Where’s your own logic?’ interrupted the disconnected man. ‘Why don’t you join the P.P.N. at once?’
The Progressive Pole frowned. ‘The Nationalists! They are anti-Semites. I’d as soon join the League of True Russian Men.’
‘And do you trust the P.P.P.?’ his companion asked him. ‘I tell you, Nathan, that only in the Progressive Democratic Party, with its belief in the equality of all nationalities—-‘
‘If you want a Party free from anti-Semites,’ David intervened desperately, ‘you must join the Samoo—-‘
‘I fear you will get no recruits here,’ interrupted the Bundist, not unkindly. He added with a sneer: ‘These gentlemen of the P.P.P. and the P.P.N. and the P.P.D. are all good Poles.’
‘Good Poles!’ echoed David no less bitterly. ‘And the Poles voted en bloc to keep every Jewish candidate out of the Duma.’
‘Even so we must be better Poles than they,’ sublimely replied the member of the P.P.P. ‘We are joining even the Clerical Parties of the Right for the good of our country. And now that the Party of National Concentration—-‘
‘Go to the Labour Parties,’ advised the P.D. ‘There you may perchance find sturdy young men with the necessary Ghetto taint.’ Of the four great Labour Parties, he proceeded to recommend the P.S.D. as the most promising for David’s purposes. ‘Not the Bolshewiki faction,’ he added, ‘but the Menshewiki. Recruits might also be found in the Proletariat or the P.P.S.—-‘
‘No, I’ve tried the P.P.S.,’ said David. ‘But at any rate, gentlemen, since you must all see that the defence of our own lives is no undesirable object, a little contribution to our funds—-‘
A violent chorus of protest broke out. It was scarcely credible that only four men were speaking. All explained elaborately that they had their own Party Funds, and what a tax it was to run their candidates for the Duma, not to mention their Party Organ.
‘You see,’ said the Bundist, ‘your only chance lies with the men of no Party, who have only their own bourgeois pleasures.’
‘Are there such?’ asked David eagerly.
A universal laugh greeted this inquiry.
‘Alas, too many!’ everybody told him. ‘Our people are such individualists.’
‘But where are these individualists?’ cried David desperately.
As if in answer, the bovine proprietor, encouraged by the laughter, crept in again.
‘You still here!’ he murmured to David, taken aback.
‘Yes, but if you’ll give me a subscription for Jewish Self-Defence—-‘
‘Jewish Emancipation!’ cried the fur-dealer. ‘Why didn’t you say so at first?’ He put his hand in his pocket. ‘That’s my Party–or rather the National Group in it, the Anti-Zionist faction.’
The stern Bundist laughed. ‘No, he doesn’t mean he’s a J.E. even of the other faction.’
His father-in-law took his hand out of his pocket.
David cast a rebuking glance at the Bundist. ‘Why did you interfere? Perhaps my way may prove the shortest to Jewish Emancipation.’
His hearers smiled a superior smile, and the fur-dealer shook his head. ‘I belong also to the Promotion of Education Party–I am for peaceful methods,’ he announced.
‘So I perceived,’ said David drily.
To be rid of him, the Bundist gave him the address of a man who kept aloof from Polish politics–a bourgeois cousin of his, Belchevski by name, who might just as well be killed off in the Samooborona.
But even Belchevski turned out to be a Territorialist. David imprudently told him he had seen his fellow-Territorialist Grodsky, who had half promised—-
‘Associate with a brainless, bumptious platform-screamer!’ he screamed. ‘He’s worse than the hysterical Zionists. It is a territory we need, not Socialism.’
‘I agree. But even more do we need Self-Defence.’
‘The only Self-Defence is to leave Russia for a land of our own.’
‘Five and a quarter million of us? Why, if two ships–one from Libau for the north, and one from Odessa for the south–sailed away every week, each bearing two thousand passengers, it would take over a quarter of a century. And by that time a new generation of us would have grown up.’
The Territorialist looked uneasy.
‘Besides,’ David continued, ‘what new country could receive us at the rate of two hundred thousand a year? It would be a cemetery, not a country.’
The Territorialist smiled disdainfully. ‘Why didn’t you say at first you were a bourgeois? The unconditional historic necessity which has created the I.T.O. may drive at what pace it will; enough that as soon as our autonomous land is ready to receive us, I intend to be in the first shipload.’
‘Have you this land, then?’
‘Not yet. We’ve only had time to draw up the Constitution. No Socialism as that idiot Grodsky imagines. But Democracy. Hereditary privileges will be abol—-‘
‘But what land is there?’
‘Surely there are virgin lands.’
‘Even the virgin lands are betrothed!’ said David. ‘And if there was one still without a lord and master, it would probably be a very ugly and sickly virgin. And, anyhow, it will be a long wooing. So in the meantime let me teach you to fire a pistol.’
‘With all my heart–but merely to shoot wild beasts.’
‘That is all I am asking for,’ said David grimly.
Encouraged by this semi-success, David boldly called upon a tea-merchant quite unknown to him, and asked for a subscription to buy revolvers.
The tea-merchant, who was a small stout man, with a black cap of dubious cut, protested vehemently against such materialistic measures. Let them put their trust in Cultur! To talk Hebrew–therein lay Israel’s real salvation. Let little children once again lisp in the language of Isaiah and Hosea–that was true Zionism.
‘Then don’t you want the Holy Land?’ asked the astonished David.
‘Merely as a centre of Cultur. Merely as a University where Herbert Spencer may be studied in the tongue of the Psalmist. All the rest is bourgeois Zionism. Political Zionism? Economic Zionism? Pah! Mere tawdry imitations of heathen politics!’
‘Then you agree with the Chovevi Zionists!’
‘Not at all. Zion is less a place than a state of mind. We want Culture–not Agriculture; we want the evolutionary efflorescence of Israel’s inner personality—-‘
David fled, only to stumble upon a Nationalist who declared that Zionism was a caricature of true Nationalism, and Territorialism a cheap philanthropic substitute for it.
‘Then why not join in the Self-Defence of our nation?’ David asked.
‘I will–when we are on our own soil. Your corps is a mere mockery of the military concept.’
David found no more comfort in his interview with the member of the L.A.E.R., who was convinced that only in the League for the Advancement of Equal Rights lay the Jew’s true security. It was the one party whose success was sure, the only one based upon an unconditional historic necessity.
David’s morning was not, however, to pass without the discovery of a man of no Party. And, strangely enough, he owed his find to the headache these innumerable Parties caused him. For, going into a chemist’s shop for a powder, he was served by a red-bearded Jew whose genial face emboldened him to solicit a stock of bandages and antiseptics–in view of a possible pogrom.
‘But the pogroms are over,’ cried the chemist. ‘They were but the expiring agonies of the old order. The reign of love is at hand, the brotherhood of man is beginning, and all races and creeds will henceforth live at peace under the new religion of science.’
David’s headache rose again triumphant over the powder. Even a partisan would be easier to convince than this sort of seer.
‘Why, a pogrom is planned for Milovka!’
‘Impossible! Europe would not permit it. America would prohibit it. Did you not see the protest even in the Australian Parliament? Look on your calendar; we have reached the twentieth century, even according to the Christian calculation.’
David returned hopelessly to his inn.
Here he saw a burly Jew warming himself at the great stove. Before even ordering dinner, he made a last desperate attempt to save his morning.
‘Me join a Jewish Self-Defence!’ The burly Jew laughed loud and heartily. ‘Why, I’m a True Believer!’
‘A Meshummad!’ David gasped. Modern as he was, the hereditary horror at the baptized apostate overcame him.
‘Yes–I‘m safe enough,’ the Convert laughed. ‘I’ve taken the cold-water cure. Besides, I’m the censor of Milovka!’
‘Eh?’ David looked like a trapped animal. The censor smiled on. ‘Don’t scowl at me like the other pious zanies. After all, you’re an enlightened young man–a violinist, they tell me; you can’t take your Judaism any more seriously than I take my baptism. Come–have a glass of vodka.’
‘Then, you won’t inform?’ David breathed.
‘Not unless you publish seditious Yiddish. Keep your pistols out of print. If my own skin is safe, that doesn’t mean I’m made of stone like these Tartar devils. Landlord, the vodka. We’ll drink confusion to them.’
‘I–I have none,’ stammered the landlord. ‘I haven’t the right.’
‘There are no rights in Russia,’ said the censor good-humouredly.
The landlord furtively produced a big bottle.
‘But the idea of asking me to join the Self-Defence!’ chuckled the burly Jew. ‘You might as well ask me to play the violin!’ he added with a wink.
David felt this was the first really sympathetic hearer he had met that morning.
The vodka and a good three-course dinner (Plotki for fish, Lockschen for soup, and Zrazy for joint) brought David new courage, and again he sallied out to recruit.
This time he sought the market-place–a badly-paved square, bordered with small houses and congested with stalls and a grey, kaftaned crowd, amid which gleamed the blue blouses of the ungodly younger generation. He had hitherto addressed himself to the classes–he would hear the voice of the people.
On every side the voice babbled of the Duma–babbled happily, as though the word was a new religious charm or a witch’s incantation. Crude political conversations broke out amid all the business of the mart. He had only to listen to know how he would be answered:
A blacksmith buying a new hammer stayed to argue with the vendor.
‘We must put our trust in the Constitutional Democrats.’
‘And why in the Cadets? Give me the Democrats.’
‘Nay, we must put our trust only in the Czar.’ (This came from the Rabbi’s wife, who was cheapening fish at the next stall.)
‘For shame, Rebbitzin! Put not your trust in Princes.’
The bystanders hushed down the text-quoter–a fuzzy-headed butcher-boy.
‘Miserable Monarchists!’ he sneered. ‘We Jews will have no peace till the Republicans—-‘
‘A Republic without Socialism!’ interrupted a girl with a laundry basket. ‘What good’s that? Wait till the N.S.’s—-‘
‘The D.R.’s are the only—-‘ interrupted a phylactery-pedlar.
‘And who but the Labour group promises equal rights to all nationalities?’ interrupted a girl in spectacles. ‘Trust the Trudowaja—-‘
‘To the devil with the Labour Parties!’ said an old-clo’ man. ‘Look how the Bundists have betrayed us. First they were bone of our bone; now it is they who by their recklessness provoke the pogroms.’
The blacksmith brought his hammer down upon the stall. ‘There is only one party to trust, and that’s the C.D.’s,’ he repeated.
‘Bourgeois!’ simultaneously hissed the Republican youth and the Socialist lass.
‘My children!’ It was the bland voice of Moses the Shamash (beadle). ‘Violence leads to naught. Even the Viborg Manifesto was a mistake. As a member of the Party of Peaceful Regeneration—-‘
‘Peaceful Regeneration?’ shouted the blacksmith. ‘A Jew ally himself with the Reactionary Right, with the—-!’
A Cossack galloped recklessly among the serried stalls. The Jews scattered before him like dogs. The member of the P.P.R. crawled under a barrow. Even the blacksmith froze up. David drew the moral when the Cossack had disappeared.
‘Peaceful Regeneration!’ he cried. ‘There will be no Regeneration for you till you have the courage to leave Russian politics alone and to fight for yourselves.’
‘Ah, you’re a Maximalist,’ said the beadle.
‘No, I am only a Minimalist. I merely want the minimum–that we save our own lives.’
It was asking too little. The poor Russian Jews, like the rich Russian Jews, were largely occupied in saving the world, or, at least, Holy Russia. Crushed by such an excess of Christianity, David wandered round the market-place, looking into the bordering houses. In one of the darkest and dingiest sat a cobbler tapping at shoes, surrounded by sprawling children.
‘Peace be to you,’ called David.
‘Peace have I always,’ rejoined the cobbler cheerily.
David looked at the happy dirty children; he had seen their like torn limb from limb. ‘But have you thought of the danger of a pogrom?‘ he said.
‘I have heard whispers of it,’ said the cobbler. ‘But we Chassidim have no fear. Our wonder-rabbi, who has power over all the spheres, will utter a word, and—-‘
‘A Tsaddik (wonder-rabbi) was killed in the last pogrom,’ said David brutally. ‘You must join a Self-Defence band.’
The cobbler ceased to tap. ‘What! Go for a soldier! When the Rebbe caused me to draw a high number!’
‘Our soldiering is not for Russia, but to save us from Russia. We must all join together!’
‘Me join the Misnagdim!‘ cried the cobbler in horror. ‘Never will I join with those who deny the Master-of-the-Name.’
David sighed. Suddenly he perceived a stalwart Jew lounging at a neighbouring door. He moved towards him, and broached the subject afresh. The lounger shook his head. ‘You may persuade that foolish Chassid,’ said he, ‘but you cannot expect the rest of us to join with these heretics, these godless, dancing dervishes, who are capable even of saying the afternoon prayer in the evening!’
In the next house lived a Maskil (Intellectual), who looked up from his Hebrew newspaper to ask how he could be associated with a squad of young ignoramuses. His neighbour was a Karaite, drifted here from another community. The Karaite pointed out that Self-Defence was unnecessary in his case, as his sect was scarcely regarded by the authorities as Jewish. There were other motley Jews living round the market-place–a Lithuanian, who refused to co-operate with the Polish ‘sweet-tooths,’ and who was in turn stigmatized by a Pole as ‘peel-barley,’ in scarification of his reputedly stingy diet. A man from Odessa dismissed them both as ‘cross-heads.’ It was impossible to unite such mutually superior elements. Again weary and heart-sick, he returned towards the inn.
But his way was blocked by a turbulent stream of Jewish boys pouring out of the primary school. They seemed to range in years between eight and twelve, but even the youngest face wore a stamp of age, and though the air vibrated with the multiplex chatter which accompanies the exodus of cramped and muted pupils, the normal elements of joyousness, of horse-play, of individual freakishness, were absent. It was a common agitation that loosed all these little tongues and set all these little ears listening to the passionate harangues of ringleaders. Instead of hurrying home, the schoolboys lingered in knots round their favourite orators. A premature gravity furrowed all the childish foreheads.
With one of these orators David dimly felt familiar, and after listening for a few minutes to the lad’s tirade against the ‘autocracy of the school director’ and the ‘bureaucratic methods of the inspector,’ it dawned upon him that the little demagogue was his own landlord’s son.
‘Hullo, Kalman!’ he cried in surprise.
‘Hullo, comrade!’ replied the boy graciously.
‘So you’re a revolutionary, eh?’ said David, smiling.
‘All my class belongs to the Junior Bund,’ replied the boy gravely.
‘Then you’re not so peaceful as papa!’
The lad’s aplomb and dignity deserted him. He blushed furiously, and hung his head in shame of his Moderate parent.
‘Never mind, Comrade Kalman,’ said another boy, slapping his shoulder consolingly. ‘We’ve all got some shady relative or another.’
A shrill burst of applause relieved the painful situation. Turning his head, David found all the childish eyes converged upon a single figure, a bulging-headed lad who had sprung into a sudden position of eminence–upon an egg-box. He was clothed in the blue blouse of Radicalism and irreligion, and the faint down upon his upper lip suggested that he must be nearing fifteen.
‘Comrades!’ he was crying. ‘In my youth I myself was head boy at this school of yours, but even in those old days there was the same brutal autocracy. Your only remedy is a general strike. You must join the Syndical Anarchists.’
More shrill cheers greeted this fiery counsel. The members of the Junior Bund waved their satchels frenziedly. Only the landlord’s son stood mute and frowning.
‘You don’t agree with him,’ said David.
‘No,’ answered the little Bundist gravely. ‘I follow Comrade Berl. But this fellow is popular because he was expelled from the Warsaw gymnasium as a suspect.’
‘You must strike!’ repeated the juvenile agitator. ‘A strike is the only way of impressing the proletarian psychology. You must all swear to attend school no more till your demands are granted.’
‘We swear!’ came from all sides in a childish treble. But the frown on the brow of the landlord’s son grew darker.
‘It is well, comrades,’ said the orator. ‘Your success will be a lesson to your elders, too. Only by applying the Marxian philosophy of history can we upset the bourgeois Weltanschauung.’
The landlord’s son reached the roof of the egg-box with one angry bound and stood beside the agitator. ‘Marx is an old fogey!’ he shouted. ‘What’s the good of a passive strike? Let us make a demonstration against the director; let us—-‘
‘Who told you that?’ sneered the orator. ‘Comrade Berl or Comrade Schmerl?’
The boy missed the sarcasm of the rhyme. ‘You know Schmerl’s a mere milk-blooded “Attainer,”‘ he said angrily.
‘Believe me,’ was the soothing reply, ‘even beyond the Five Freedoms the boycott is a better “Attainer” than the bomb.’
‘Traitor! Bourgeois!’ And a third boy jumped upon the egg-box. He had red hair and flaming eyes. ‘If Russia is to be saved,’ he shrieked, ‘it will be neither by the Fivefold Formula of Freedom nor by the Fourfold Suffrage, but by the Integralists, who alone maintain the purity of the Social Revolutionary programme, as it was before the party degenerated into Maximalists and Mini—-‘
Here the egg-box collapsed under the weight of the three orators, and they sprawled in equal ignominy. But the storm was now launched. A score of the schoolboys burst into passionate abstract discussion. The unity necessary to the school strike was shattered into fragments.
David ploughed his way sadly through the mimetic mob of youngsters, who were yet not all apes and parrots, he reflected. Just as Jewry had always had its boy Rabbis, its infant phenomenons of the pulpit, prodigies of eloquence and holy learning, so it now had its precocious politicians and its premature sociologists. He was tempted for a moment to try his recruiting spells upon the juvenile Integralist, whose red hair reminded him of his girl cousin’s, but it seemed cruel to add to the lad’s risks. Besides, had not the boy already proclaimed–like his seniors–that Russia, not Jewry, was to be saved?
It was an hour of no custom when he got back to the inn, so that he was scarcely surprised to find host and hostess alike invisible. He sat down, and began to write a melancholy Report to Headquarters, but a mysterious and persistent knocking prevented any concentration upon his task. Presently he threw down his pen, and went to find out what was the matter. The noises drew him downwards.
The landlord, alarmed at the footsteps, blew out his light.
‘It’s only I,’ said David.
The landlord relit the candle. David saw a cellar strewn with iron bars, instruments, boxes, and a confused heap of stones.
‘Ah, hiding the vodka,’ said David, with a smile.
‘No, we are widening and fortifying the cellar–also provisioning the loft.’
‘Samooborona?‘ said David.
‘Precisely–and a far more effective form than yours, my young hot-head.’
‘Perhaps you are right,’ said David wearily. He went back to his Report. He was glad to think that the little Bundist had an extra chance. After all, he had achieved something, he would save some lives. Perhaps he would end by preaching the landlord’s way–passive Samooborona was better than none.
But the Report refused to write itself. It was too dismal to confess he had not collected a kopeck or one recruit. He picked up a greasy fragment of a Russian newspaper, and read with a grim smile that the Octobrists had excluded Jews from their meetings. That reminded him of Erbstein the Banker, who had bidden him put his trust in them. Would the Banker be more susceptible now, under this disillusionment? Alas! the question was, could a Banker be disillusioned? To be disillusioned is to admit having been mistaken, and Bankers, like Popes, were infallible.
David bethought himself instead of the owlish Mizrachi, his visit to whom had been left unfinished.
He threw down his pen, and repaired again to the house with the Ark and the telephone.
But as he reached Cantberg’s door it opened suddenly, and a young man shot out.
‘Never, father!’ he was shrieking–‘Never do I enter this house again.’ And he banged the door upon the owl, and rushed into David’s arms.
‘I beg your pardon,’ he said.
‘It is my fault,’ murmured David politely. ‘I was just going to see your father.’
‘You’ll find him in a fiendish temper. He cannot argue without losing it.’
‘I hope you’ve not had a serious difference.’
‘He’s such a bigoted Zionist–he cannot understand that Zionism is ein ueberwundener Standpunkt.’
‘Ah!’ said the young man eagerly. ‘Then you can understand how I have suffered since I evolved from Zionism.’
‘What are you now, if I may ask?’
‘The only thing that a self-respecting Jew can be–a Sejmist, of course!’
‘A Jewish Party?’ asked David eagerly. After all the enthusiasm for Russian politics and world politics he was now pleased with even this loquacious form of Self-Defence.
‘Come and have a glass of tea; I will tell you all about it,’ said the young man, soothed by the prospect of airing his theories. ‘We will go to Friedman’s inn–the University Club, we call it, because the intellectuals generally drink there.’
‘With pleasure,’ said David, sniffing the chance of recruits. ‘But before we talk of your Party I want to ask whether you can join me in a branch of the Samooborona.’
The young man’s face grew overclouded.
‘Our Party cannot join any other,’ he said.
‘But mine isn’t a Party–a corps.’
‘Not a Party?’
‘But you have a Committee?’
‘Naturally, but simply—-‘
‘And a Party-Chest?’
‘The money is only—-‘
‘Of course, but merely—-‘
‘And you read Referats—-‘
‘Surely you are a Party!’
‘I tell you no. I want all Parties.’
‘I am sorry. But I’m too busy just now to consider anything else. Our Party-Day falls next week, and there’s infinite work to be done.’
‘Work!’ cried David desperately. ‘What work?’
‘There will be many great speeches. I myself shall not speak beyond an hour, but that is merely impromptu in the debate. Our Referat-speakers need at least two hours apiece. We did not get through our last session till five in the morning. And there were scenes, I tell you!’
‘But what is there to discuss?’
‘What is there to discuss?’ The Sejmist looked pityingly at David. ‘The great question of the Duma elections, for one thing. To boycott or not to boycott. And if not, which candidates shall we support? Then there is the question of Jewish autonomy in the Russian Parliament–that is our great principle. Moreover, as a comparatively new Party, we have yet to thresh out our relations to all the existing Parties. With which shall we form blocs in the elections? While most are dangerous to the best interests of the Jewish people and opposed to the evolution of historic necessity, with some we may be able to co-operate here and there, where our work intersects.’
‘What work?’ David insisted again.
‘Doesn’t our name tell you? We are the Vozrozhdenie–the Resurrectionists–our work is an unconditional historic necessity springing from the evolution of—-!’
The door of the inn arrested the Sejmist’s harangue. As he pushed it open, a babel of other voices made continuance impossible. The noise came entirely from a party of four, huddled in a cloud of cigarette-smoke near the stove. In one of the four David recognised the tea-merchant of the morning, but the tea-merchant seemed to have no recollection of David. He was still expatiating upon the Individuality of Israel, which, it appeared, was an essence independent of place and time. He nodded, however, to the young Sejmist, observing ironically:
‘Behold, the dreamer cometh!’
‘I a dreamer, forsooth!’ The young man was vexed to be derided before his new acquaintance. ‘It is you Achad-Haamists who must wake up.’
The tea-merchant smiled with a superior air. ‘The Vozrozhdenie would do well to study Achad-Haam’s philosophy. Then they would understand that their strivings are bound to lead to self-constriction, not self-expression. You were saying that, too, weren’t you, Witsky?’
Witsky, who was a young lawyer, demurred. ‘What I said was,’ he explained to the Sejmist, ‘that in your search for territorial-proletariat practice you Sejmists have altogether lost the theory. Conversely the S.S.’s have sacrificed territorial practice to their territorial theory. In our party alone do you find the synthesis of the practical and the ideal. It alone—-‘
‘May I ask whom you speak for?’ intervened David.
‘The newest Jewish Social Democratic Artisan Party of Russia!’ replied Witsky proudly.
‘Are you the newest?’ inquired David drily.
‘And the best. If we desire Palestine as the scene of our social regeneration, it is because the unconditional historic necessity—-‘
The Sejmist interrupted sadly: ‘I see that our Conference will have to decide against relations with you.’
‘Pooh! The S.D.A.’s will only be the stronger for isolation. Have we not of ourselves severed our relations with the D.K.’s? In the evolution of the forces of the people—-‘
‘It is not right, Witsky, that you should mislead a stranger,’ put in his sallow, spectacled neighbour. ‘Or perhaps you misconceive the genetic moments of your own programme. What evolution is clearly leading to is a Jewish autonomous party in Parliament.’
‘But we also say—-‘ began the other two.
The sallow, spectacled man waved them down wearily. ‘Who but the P.N.D.’s are the synthesis of the historic necessities? We subsume the Conservative elements of the Spojnia Narodowa National League and of the Party of Real Politics with the Reform elements of the Democratic League and the Progressive Democrats. Consequently—-‘
‘But the true Polish Party—-‘ began Witsky.
‘The Kolo Polskie (Polish Ring) is half anti-Semitic,’ began the Sejmist. The three were talking at once. Through the chaos a thin piping voice penetrated clearly. It came from the fourth member of the group–a clean-shaven ugly man, who had hitherto remained silently smoking.
‘As a philosophic critic who sympathizes with all Parties,’ he said, ‘allow me to tell you, friend Witsky, that your programme needs unification: it starts as economic, and then becomes dualistic–first inductive, then deductive.’
‘Moj Panie drogi (my dear sir),’ intervened David, ‘if you sympathize with all Parties, you will join a corps for the defence of them all.’
‘You forget the philosophic critic equally disagrees with all Parties.’
David lost his temper at last. ‘Gentlemen,’ he shouted ironically, ‘one may sit and make smoke-rings till the Messiah comes, but I assure you there is only one unconditional historic necessity, and that is Samooborona.’
And without drinking his tea–which, indeed, the Resurrectionist had forgotten to order–he dashed into the street.
He was but a youth, driven into action by hellish injustice. He had hitherto taken scant notice of all these Parties that had sprung up for the confusion of his people–these hybrid, kaleidoscopic combinations of Russian and Jewish politics–but as he fled from the philosophers through the now darkening streets, his every nerve quivering, it seemed to him as if the alphabet had only to be thrown about like dice to give always the name of some Party or other. He had a nightmare vision of bristling sects and pullulating factions, each with its Councils, Federations, Funds, Conferences, Party-Days, Agenda, Referats, Press-Organs, each differentiating itself with meticulous subtlety from all the other Parties, each defining with casuistic minuteness its relation to every contemporary problem, each equipped with inexhaustible polyglot orators speechifying through tumultuous nights.
Well, it could not be helped. In the terrible nebulous welter in which his people found themselves, it was not unnatural that each man should grope towards his separate ray of light. The Russian, too, was equally bewildered, and perhaps all this profusion of theories came in both from the same lack of tangibilities. Both peoples possessed nothing.
Perhaps, indeed, the ultimate salvation of the Jews lay in identifying themselves with Russia. But then, who could tell that the patriots who welcomed them to-day as co-workers would not reject them when the cause was won? Perhaps there was no hope outside preserving their own fullest identity. Poor bewildered Russian Jew, caught in the bewilderments both of the Russian and the Jew, and tangled up inextricably in the double confusion of interlacing coils!
The Parties, then, were perhaps inevitable; he must make his account with them. How if he formed a secret Samooborona Committee, composed equally of representatives of all Parties? But, then, how could he be sure of knowing them all? He might offend one by omitting or miscalling it; they formed and re-formed like clouds on the blue. A new Party, too, might spring up overnight. He might give deadly affront by ignoring this Jonah’s gourd. Even as he thus mused, there came to him the voices of two young men, the one advocating a P.P.L.–a new Party of Popular Liberty–the other insisting that the new Volksgruppe of all anti-Zionist Parties was an unconditional historic necessity. He groaned.
It seemed to him as he stumbled blindly through the ill-paved alleys that a plague of doctors of philosophy had broken out over the Pale, doctrinaires spinning pure logic from their vitals, and fighting bitterly against the slightest deviation from the pattern of their webs. But the call upon Israel was for Action. Was it, he wondered with a flash of sympathy, that Israel was too great for Action; too sophisticated a people for so primitive and savage a function; too set in the moulds of an ancient scholastic civilization, so that, even when Action was attempted, it was turned and frozen into Philosophy? Or was it rather that eighteen centuries of poring over the Talmud had unfitted them for Action, not merely because the habit of applying the whole brain-force to religious minutiae led to a similar intellectualization of contemporary problems–of the vast new material suddenly opened up to their sharpened brains–but also because many of these religious problems related only to the time when Israel and his Temple flourished in Palestine? The academic leisure and scrupulous discrimination that might be harmlessly devoted to the dead past had been imported into the burning present–into things that mattered for life or death.
Yes, the new generation chopped the logic of Zionism or Socialism, as the old argued over the ritual of burnt-offerings whose smoke had not risen since the year 70 of the Christian era, or over the decisions of Babylonian Geonim, no stone of whose city remained standing. The men of to-day had merely substituted for the world of the past the world of the future, and so there had arisen logically-perfect structures of Zionism without Zion, Jewish Socialism without a Jewish social order, Labour Parties without votes or Parliaments. The habit of actualities had been lost; what need of them when concepts provided as much intellectual stimulus? Would Israel never return to reality, never find solid ground under foot, never look eye to eye upon life?
But as the last patch of sunset faded out of the strip of wintry sky, David suddenly felt infinitely weary of reality; a great yearning came over him for that very unreality, that very ‘dead past’ in which pious Jewry still lived its happiest hours. Oh, to forget the Parties, the jangle of politics and philosophies, the tohu-bohu of his unhappy day! He must bathe his soul in an hour’s peace; he would go back like a child to the familiar study-house of his youth, to the Beth Hamedrash where the greybeards pored over the great worm-eaten folios, and the youths rocked in their expository incantations. There lay the magic world of fantasy and legend that had been his people’s true home, that had kept them sane and cheerful through eighteen centuries of tragedy–a watertight world into which no drop of outer reality could ever trickle. There lay Zion and the Jordan, the Temple and the Angels; there the Patriarchs yet hovered protectively over their people. Perhaps the Milovka study-house boasted even Cabbalists starving themselves into celestial visions and graduating for the Divine kiss. How infinitely restful after the Milovka market-place! No more, for that day at least, would he prate of Self-Defence and the horrible Modern.
He asked the way to the Beth Hamedrash. How fraternally the sages and the youths would greet him! They would inquire in the immemorial formula, ‘What town comest thou from?’ And when he told them, they would ask concerning its Rabbi and what news there was. And ‘news,’ David remembered with a tearful smile, meant ‘new interpretations of texts.’ Yes, this was all the ‘news’ that ever ruffled that peaceful world. Man lived only for the Holy Law; the world had been created merely that the Law might be studied; new lights upon its words and letters were the only things that could matter to a sensible soul. Time and again he had raged against the artificiality of this quietist cosmos, accusing it of his people’s paralysis, but to-night every fibre of him yearned for this respite from the harsh reality. He rummaged his memory for ‘news’–for theological ingeniosities, textual wire-drawings that might have escaped the lore of Milovka; and as one who draws nigh to a great haven, he opened the door of the Beth Hamedrash, and, murmuring ‘Peace be to you,’ dropped upon a bench before an open folio whose commentaries and super-commentaries twined themselves lovingly in infinite convolutions round its holy text. Immediately he was surrounded by a buzzing crowd of youths and ancients.
‘Which Party are you of?’ they clamoured eagerly.
The pogrom arrived. But it arrived in a new form for which even David was unprepared. Perhaps in consequence of the Rabbi’s warning to the Governor, Self-Defence was made ridiculous. No Machiavellian paraphernalia of agents provocateurs, no hooligans with false grey beards, masquerading as Jewish rioters or blasphemers. Artillery was calmly brought up against the Jewish quarter, as though Milovka were an enemy’s town.
As the shells began to burst over the close-packed houses, David felt grimly that an economic Providence had saved him from wasting his time in training pistoliers.
The white-faced landlord, wringing his hands and saying his Vidui (death-bed confession), offered him and his violin-case a place in the cellar, but he preferred to climb to the roof, from which with the aid of a small glass, he had a clear view of the cordon drawn round the doomed quarter. A ricocheting cannon-ball crashed through the chimney-pots at his side, but he did not budge. His eyes were glued upon a figure he had espied amid the cannon.
It was Ezekiel Leven, his whilom lieutenant, with whom he had dreamed of Maccabean deeds. The new conscript, in the uniform of an artilleryman, was carefully taking sight with a Gatling gun.
‘Poor Ezekiel!’ David cried. ‘Yours is the most humorous fate of all! But have you forgotten there is still one form of Samooborona left?’ And with an ironic laugh he turned his pistol upon himself.
The great guns boomed on hour after hour. When the bombardment was over, the peace of the devil lay over the Ghetto of Milovka. Silent were all the fiery orators of all the letters of the alphabet; silent the Polish patriots and the lovers of Zion and the lovers of mankind; silent the bourgeois and the philosophers, the timber-merchants and the horse-dealers, the bankers and the Bundists; silent the Socialists and the Democrats; silent even the burly censor, and the careless Karaite and the cheerful Chassid; silent the landlord and his revolutionary infant in their fortified cellar; silent the Rabbi in his study, and the crowds in the market-place.
The same unconditional historic necessity had overtaken them all.