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The Converts
by [?]


As he sat on his hard stool in the whitewashed workshop on the Bowery, clumsily pasting the flamboyant portrait on the boxes of the ‘Yvonne Rupert cigar,’ he wondered dully–after the first flush of joy at getting a job after weeks of hunger–at the strange fate that had again brought him into connection, however remote, with stageland. For even to Elkan Mandle, with his Ghetto purview, Yvonne Rupert’s fame, both as a ‘Parisian’ star and the queen of American advertisers, had penetrated. Ever since she had summoned a Jewish florist for not paying her for the hundred and eleven bouquets with which a single week’s engagement in vaudeville had enabled her to supply him, the journals had continued to paragraph her amusing, self-puffing adventures.

Not that there was much similarity between the New York star and his little actress of the humble Yiddish Theatre in London, save for that aureole of fluffy hair, which belonged rather to the genus than the individual. But as the great Yvonne’s highly-coloured charms went on repeating themselves from every box-cover he manipulated (at seventy-five cents a hundred), the face of his own Gittel grew more and more vivid, till at last the whole splendid, shameful past began to rise up from its desolate tomb.

He even lived through that prologue in the Ghetto garret, when, as benevolent master-tailor receiving the highest class work from S. Cohn’s in the Holloway Road, he was called upstairs to assist the penniless Polish immigrants.

There she sat, the witching she-devil, perched on the rickety table just contributed to the home, a piquant, dark-eyed, yet golden-haired, mite of eleven, calm and comparatively spruce amid the wailing litter of parents and children.

‘Settle this among yourselves,’ she seemed to be saying. ‘When the chairs are here I will sit on them; when the table is laid I will draw to; when the pious philanthropist provides the fire I will purr on the hearth.’

Ah, he had come forward as the pious philanthropist–pious enough then, Heaven knew. Why had Satan thrown such lures in the way of the reputable employer, the treasurer of ‘The Gates of Mercy’ Synagogue, with children of his own, and the best wife in the world? Did he not pray every day to be delivered from the Satan Mekatrig? Had he not meant it for the best when he took her into his workshop? It was only when, at the age of sixteen, Gittel Goldstein left the whirring machine-room for the more lucrative and laurelled position of heroine of Goldwater’s London Yiddish Theatre that he had discovered how this whimsical, coquettish creature had insinuated herself into his very being.

Ah, madness, madness! that flight with her to America with all his savings, that desertion of his wife and children! But what delicious delirium that one year in New York, prodigal, reckless, ere, with the disappearance of his funds, she, too, disappeared. And now, here he was–after nigh seven apathetic years, in which the need of getting a living was the only spur to living on–glad to take a woman’s place when female labour struck for five cents more a hundred. The old bitter tears came up to his eyes, blurring the cheerless scene, the shabby men and unlovely women with their red paste-pots, the medley of bare and coloured boxes, the long shelf of twine-balls. And as he wept, the vain salt drops moistened the pictures of Yvonne Rupert.


She became an obsession, this Franco-American singer and dancer, as he sat pasting and pasting, caressing her pictured face with sticky fingers. There were brief intervals of freedom from her image when he was ‘edging’ and ‘backing,’ or when he was lining the boxes with the plain paper; but Yvonne came twice on every box–once in large on the inside, once in small on the outside, with a gummed projection to be stuck down after the cigars were in. He fell to recalling what he had read of her–the convent education that had kept her chaste and distinguished beneath all her stage deviltry, the long Lenten fasts she endured (as brought to light by the fishmonger’s bill she disputed in open court), the crucifix concealed upon her otherwise not too reticent person, the adorable French accent with which she enraptured the dudes, the palatial private car in which she traversed the States, with its little chapel giving on the bathroom; the swashbuckling Marquis de St. Roquiere, who had crossed the Channel after her, and the maid he had once kidnapped in mistake for the mistress; the diamond necklace presented by the Rajah of Singapuri, stolen at a soiree in San Francisco, and found afterwards as single stones in a low ‘hock-shop’ in New Orleans.