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A DEFEATED VICTOR.
When Gitl, accompanied by her friend, reached home, they were followed into the former's apartments by a batch of neighbours, one of them with Joey in tow. The moment the young woman found herself in her kitchen she collapsed, sinking down on the lounge. The room seemed to have a.s.sumed a novel aspect, which brought home to her afresh that the bond between her and Jake was now at last broken forever and beyond repair.
The appalling fact was still further accentuated in her consciousness when she caught sight of the boy.
"Joeyele! Joeyinke! Birdie! Little kitten!"--with which she seized him in her arms, and, kissing him all over, burst into tears. Then shaking with the child backward and forward, and intoning her words as Jewish women do over a grave, she went on: "Ai, you have no papa any more, Joeyele! Yosele, little crown, you will never see him again! He is dead, _tate_ is!" Whereupon Yosele, following his mother's example, let loose his stentorian voice.
"_Shurr-r up!_" Mrs. Kavarsky whispered, stamping her foot. "You want Mr. Bernstein to leave you, too, do you? No more is wanted than that he should get wind of your crying."
"n.o.body will tell him," one of the neighbours put in, resentfully.
"But, _anyhull_, what is the _used_ crying?"
"Ask her, the piece of hunchback!" said Mrs. Kavarsky. "Another woman would dance for joy, and here she is whining, the cudgel. What is it you are snivelling about? That you have got rid of an unclean bone and a dunce, and that you are going to marry a young man of silk who is fit to be a rabbi, and is as _smart_ and _ejecate_ as a lawyer? You would have got a match like that in Povodye, would you? I dare say a man like Mr. Bernstein would not have spoken to you there. You ought to say Psalms for your coming to America. It is only here that it is possible for a blacksmith's wife to marry a learned man, who is a blessing both for G.o.d and people. And yet you are not _saresfied_! Cry away! If Bernstein refuses to go under the wedding canopy, Mrs. Kavarsky will no more _bodder_ her head about you, depend upon it. It is not enough for her that I neglect _business_ on her account," she appealed to the bystanders.
"Really, what are you crying about, Mrs. Podkovnik?" one of the neighbours interposed. "You ought to bless the hour when you became free."
All of which haranguing only served to stimulate Gitl's demonstration of grief. Having let down the boy, she went on clapping her hands, swaying in all directions, and wailing.
The truth must be told, however, that she was now continuing her lamentations by the mere force of inertia, and as if enjoying the very process of the thing. For, indeed, at the bottom of her heart she felt herself far from desolate, being conscious of the existence of a man who was to take care of her and her child, and even relis.h.i.+ng the prospect of the new life in store for her. Already on her way from the rabbi's house, while her soul was full of Jake and the Polish girl, there had fluttered through her imagination a picture of the grocery business which she and Bernstein were to start with the money paid to her by Jake.
While Gitl thus sat swaying and wringing her hands, Jake, Mamie, her emissary at the divorce proceeding, and another mutual friend, were pa.s.sengers on a Third Avenue cable car, all bound for the mayor's office. While Gitl was indulging herself in an exhibition of grief, her recent husband was flaunting a hilarious mood. He did feel a great burden to have rolled off his heart, and the proximity of Mamie, on the other hand, caressed his soul. He was tempted to catch her in his arms, and cover her glowing cheeks with kisses. But in his inmost heart he was the reverse of eager to reach the City Hall. He was painfully reluctant to part with his long-coveted freedom so soon after it had at last been attained, and before he had had time to relish it. Still worse than this thirst for a taste of liberty was a feeling which was now gaining upon him, that, instead of a conqueror, he had emerged from the rabbi's house the victim of an ignominious defeat. If he could now have seen Gitl in her paroxysm of anguish, his heart would perhaps have swelled with a sense of his triumph, and Mamie would have appeared to him the embodiment of his future happiness. Instead of this he beheld her, Bernstein, Yosele, and Mrs. Kavarsky celebrating their victory and bandying jokes at his expense. Their future seemed bright with joy, while his own loomed dark and impenetrable. What if he should now dash into Gitl's apartments and, declaring his authority as husband, father, and lord of the house, fiercely eject the strangers, take Yosele in his arms, and sternly command Gitl to mind her household duties?
But the distance between him and the mayor's office was dwindling fast.
Each time the car came to a halt he wished the pause could be prolonged indefinitely; and when it resumed its progress, the violent lurch it gave was accompanied by a corresponding sensation in his heart.