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Holy Wedlock
by [?]

I

When Schneemann, the artist, returned from Rome to his native village in Galicia, he found it humming with gossip concerning his paternal grandmother, universally known as the Bube Yenta. It would seem that the giddy old thing hobbled home from synagogue conversing with Yossel Mandelstein, the hunchback, and sometimes even offered the unshapely septuagenarian her snuffbox as he passed the door of her cottage. More than one village censor managed to acquaint the artist with the flirtation ere he had found energy to walk the muddy mile to her dwelling. Even his own mother came out strongly in disapproval of the ancient dame; perhaps the remembrance of how fanatically her mother-in-law had disapproved of her married head for not being shrouded in a pious wig lent zest to her tongue. The artist controlled his facial muscles, having learnt tolerance and Bohemianism in the Eternal City.

‘Old blood will have its way,’ he said blandly.

‘Yes, old blood’s way is sometimes worse than young blood’s,’ said Frau Schneemann, unsmiling. ‘You must not forget that Yossel is still a bachelor.’

‘Yes, and therefore a sinner in Israel–I remember,’ quoth the artist with a twinkle. How all this would amuse his bachelor friends, Leopold Barstein and Rozenoffski the pianist!

‘Make not mock. ‘Tis high time you, too, should lead a maiden under the Canopy.’

‘I am so shy–there are few so forward as grandmother.’

‘Heaven be thanked!’ said his mother fervently. ‘When I refused to cover my tresses she spoke as if I were a brazen Epicurean, but I had rather have died than carry on so shamelessly with a man to whom I was not betrothed.’

‘Perhaps they are betrothed.’

We betrothed to Yossel! May his name be blotted out!’

‘Why, what is wrong with Yossel? Moses Mendelssohn himself had a hump.’

‘Who speaks of humps? Have you forgotten we are of Rabbinic family?’

Her son had quite forgotten it, as he had forgotten so much of this naive life to which he was paying a holiday visit.

‘Ah yes,’ he murmured. ‘But Yossel is pious–surely?’ A vision of the psalm-droners and prayer-shriekers in the little synagogue, among whom the hunchback had been conspicuous, surged up vividly.

‘He may shake himself from dawn-service to night-service, he will never shake off his father, the innkeeper,’ said Frau Schneemann hotly. ‘If I were in your grandmother’s place I would be weaving my shroud, not thinking of young men.’

‘But she’s thinking of old men, you said.’

‘Compared with her he is young–she is eighty-four, he is only seventy-five.’

‘Well, they won’t be married long,’ he laughed.

Frau Schneemann laid her hand on his mouth.

‘Heaven forbid the omen,’ she cried. ”Tis bringing a Bilbul (scandal) upon a respectable family.’

‘I will go and talk to her,’ he said gravely. ‘Indeed, I ought to have gone to see her days ago.’ And as he trudged to the other end of the village towards the cottage where the lively old lady lived in self-sufficient solitude, he was full of the contrast between his mother’s mental world and his own. People live in their own minds, and not in streets or fields, he philosophized.

II

Through her diamond-paned window he saw the wrinkled, white-capped old creature spinning peacefully at the rustic chimney-corner, a pure cloistral crone. It seemed profane to connect such a figure with flirtation–this was surely the very virgin of senility. What a fine picture she made too! Why had he never thought of painting her? Yes, such a picture of ‘The Spinster’ would be distinctly interesting. And he would put in the Kesubah, the marriage certificate that hung over the mantelpiece, in ironical reminder of her days of bloom. He unlatched the door–he had never been used to knock at grannie’s door, and the childish instinct came back to him.

Guten Abend,’ he said.

She adjusted a pair of horn spectacles, and peered at him.

Guten Abend,’ she murmured.

‘You don’t remember me–Vroomkely.’ He used the old childish diminutive of Abraham, though he had almost forgotten he owned the name in full.