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Before summer had gone, Winnipeg was reminded of the existence of the foreign colony by the escape from the Provincial Penitentiary of the Russian prisoner Kalmar. The man who could not be held by Siberian bars and guards found escape from a Canadian prison easy. That he had accomplices was evident, but who they were could not be discovered. Suspicion naturally fell upon Simon Ketzel and Joseph Pinkas, but after the most searching investigation they were released and Winnipeg went back to its ways and forgot. The big business men rebuilding fortunes shattered by the boom, the little business men laying foundations for fortunes to be, the women within the charmed circle of Society bound to the whirling wheel of social functions, other women outside and striving to beg, or buy, or break their way into the circle, and still other women who cared not a pin's head whether they were within or without, being sufficient for themselves, the busy people of the churches with their philanthropies, their religious activities, striving to gather into their several folds the waifs and strays that came stumbling into their city from all lands--all alike, unaware of the growing danger area in their young city, forgot the foreign colony, its problems and its needs.
Meantime, summer followed winter, and winter summer, the months and years went on while the foreign colony grew in numbers and more slowly in wealth. More slowly in wealth, because as an individual member grew in wealth he departed from the colony and went out to make an independent home for himself in one of the farming colonies which the Government was establishing in some of the more barren and forbidding sections of the country; or it may be, loving the city and its ways of business, he rapidly sloughed off with his foreign clothes his foreign speech and manner of life, and his foreign ideals as well, and became a Canadian citizen, distinguished from his cosmopolitan fellow citizen only by the slight difficulty he displayed with some of the consonants of the language.
Such a man was Simon Ketzel. Simon was by trade a carpenter, but he had received in the old land a good educational foundation; he had, moreover, a shrewd head for affairs, and so he turned his energies to business, and with conspicuous success. For in addition to all his excellent qualities, Simon possessed as the most valuable part of his equipment a tidy, thrifty wife, who saved what her husband earned and kept guard over him on feast days, saved and kept guard so faithfully that before long Simon came to see the wisdom of her policy and became himself a shrewd and sober and well-doing Canadian, able to hold his own with the best of them.
His sobriety and steadiness Simon owed mostly to his thrifty wife, but his rapid transformation into Canadian citizenship he owed chiefly to his little daughter Margaret. It was Margaret that taught him his English, as she conned over her lessons with him in the evenings. It was Margaret who carried home from the little Methodist mission near by, the illustrated paper and the library book, and thus set him a-reading. It was Margaret that brought both Simon and Lena, his wife, to the social gathering of the Sunday School and of the church. It was thus to little Margaret that the Ketzels owed their introduction to Canadian life and manners, and to the finer sides of Canadian religion. And through little Margaret it was that those greatest of all Canadianising influences, the school and the mission, made their impact upon the hearts and the home of the Ketzel family. And as time went on it came to pass that from the Ketzel home, clean, orderly, and Canadian, there went out into the foul wastes about, streams of healing and cleansing that did their beneficent work where they went.
One of these streams reached the home of Paulina, to the great good of herself and her family. Here, again, it was chiefly little Margaret who became the channel of the new life, for with Paulina both Simon and Lena had utterly failed. She was too dull, too apathetic, too hopeless and too suspicious even of her own kind to allow the Ketzels an entrance to her heart. But even had she not been all this, she was too sorely oppressed with the burden of her daily toil to yield to such influence as they had to offer. For Rosenblatt was again in charge of her household. In a manner best known to himself, he had secured the mortgage on her home, and thus became her landlord, renting her the room in which she and her family dwelt, and for which they all paid in daily labour, and dearly enough. Rosenblatt, thus being her master, would not let her go. She was too valuable for that. Strong, patient, diligent, from early dawn till late at night she toiled and moiled with her baking and scrubbing, fighting out that ancient and primitive and endless fight against dirt and hunger, beaten by the one, but triumphing over the other. She carried in her heart a dull sense of injustice, a feeling that somehow wrong was being done her; but when Rosenblatt flourished before her a formidable legal document, and had the same interpreted to her by his smart young clerk, Samuel Sprink, she, with true Slavic and fatalistic passivity, accepted her lot and bent her strong back to her burden without complaint. What was the use of complaint? Who in all the city was there to care for a poor, stupid, Galician woman with none too savoury a reputation? Many and generous were the philanthropies of Winnipeg, but as yet there was none that had to do with the dirt, disease and degradation that were too often found in the environment of the foreign people. There were many churches in the city rich in good work, with many committees that met to confer and report, but there was not yet one whose special duty it was to confer and to report upon the unhappy and struggling and unsavoury foreigner within their city gate.
Yes, there was one. The little Methodist mission hard by the foreign colony had such a committee, a remarkable committee in a way, a committee with no fine-spun theories of wholesale reform, a committee with no delicate nostril to be buried in a perfumed handkerchief when pursuing an investigation (as a matter of fact, that committee had no sense of smell at all), a committee of one, namely, John James Parsons, the Methodist missionary, and he worked chiefly with committees of one, of which not the least important was little Margaret Ketzel.
It was through Margaret Ketzel that Parsons got his first hold of Paulina, by getting hold of her little girl Irma. For Margaret, though so much her junior in years and experience, was to Irma a continual source of wonder and admiration. Her facility with the English speech, her ability to read books, her fine manners, her clean and orderly home, her pretty Canadian dress, her beloved school, her cheery mission, all these were to Irma new, wonderful and fascinating. Gradually Irma was drawn to that new world of Margaret's, and away from the old, sordid, disorderly wretchedness of her own life and home.
After much secret conference with all the Ketzels, and much patient and skilful labour on the part of the motherly Lena, a great day at length arrived for Irma. It was the day on which she discarded the head shawl with the rest of the quaint Galician attire, and appeared dressed as a Canadian girl, discovering to her delighted friends and to all who knew her, though not yet to herself, a rare beauty hitherto unnoticed by any. Indeed, when Mr. Samuel Sprink, coming in from Rosenblatt's store to spend a few hurried minutes in gorging himself after his manner at the evening meal, allowed himself time to turn his eyes from his plate and to let them rest upon the little maid waiting upon his table, the transformation from the girl, slatternly, ragged and none too clean, that was wont to bring him his food, to this new being that flitted about from place to place, smote him as with a sudden blow. He laid down the instruments of his gluttony and for a full half minute forgot the steaming stew before him, whose garlic-laden odours had been assailing his nostrils some minutes previously with pungent delight. Others, too, of that hungry gorging company found themselves disturbed in their ordinary occupation by this vision of sweet and tender beauty that flitted about them, ministering to their voracity.
To none more than to Rosenblatt himself was the transformation of Irma a surprise and a mystery. It made him uneasy. He had an instinctive feeling that this was the beginning of an emancipation that would leave him one day without his slaves. Paulina, too, would learn the new ways; then she and the girl, who now spent long hours of hard labour in his service, would demand money for their toil. The thought grieved him sore. But there was another thought that stabbed him with a keener pain. Paulina and her family would learn that they need no longer fear him, that they could do without him, and then they would escape from his control. And this Rosenblatt dreaded above all things else. To lose the power to keep in degradation the wife and children of the man he hated with a quenchless hatred would be to lose much of the sweetness of life. Those few terrible moments when he had lain waiting for the uplifted knife of his foe to penetrate his shrinking eyeballs had taken years from him. He had come back to his life older, weaker, broken in nerve and more than ever consumed with a thirst for vengeance. Since Kalmar's escape he lived in daily, hourly fear that his enemy would strike again and this time without missing, and with feverish anxiety he planned to anticipate that hour with a vengeance which would rob death of much of its sting.
So far he had succeeded only partially. Paulina and Irma he held in domestic bondage. From the boy Kalman, too, he exacted day by day the full tale of his scanty profits made from selling newspapers on the street. But beyond this he could not go. By no sort of terror could he induce Paulina to return to the old conditions and rent floor space in her room to his boarders. At her door she stood on guard, refusing admittance. Once, indeed, when hard pressed by Rosenblatt demanding entrance, she had thrown herself before him with a butcher knife in her hand, and with a look of such transforming fierceness on her face as drove him from the house in fear of his life. She was no longer his patient drudge, but a woman defending, not so much her own, as her husband's honour, a tigress guarding her young.
Never again did Rosenblatt attempt to pass through that door, but schooled himself to wait a better time and a safer path to compass his vengeance. But from that moment, where there had been merely contempt for Paulina and her family, there sprang up bitter hatred. He hated them all--the woman who was his dupe and his slave, but who balked him of his revenge; the boy who brought him the cents for which he froze during the winter evenings at the corner of Portage and Main, but who with the cents gave him fierce and fearless looks; and this girl suddenly transformed from a timid, stupid, ill-dressed Galician child, into a being of grace and loveliness and conscious power. No wonder that as he followed her with his eye, noting all this new grace and beauty, he felt uneasy. Already she seemed to have soared far beyond his sordid world and far beyond his grasp. Deep in his heart he swore that he would find means to bring her down to the dirt again. The higher her flight, the farther her fall and the sweeter would be his revenge.
"What's the matter wit you, boss? Gone back on your grub, eh?"
It was his clerk, Samuel Sprink, whose sharp little eyes had not failed to note the gloomy glances of his employer.
"Pretty gay girl, our Irma has come to be," continued the cheerful Samuel, who prided himself on his fine selection of colloquial English. "She's a beaut now, ain't she? A regular bird!"
Rosenblatt started. At his words, but more at the admiration in Samuel's eyes, a new idea came to him. He knew his clerk well, knew his restless ambition, his insatiable greed, his intense selfishness, his indomitable will. And he had good reason to know. Three times during the past year his clerk had forced from him an increase of salary. Indeed, Samuel Sprink, young though he was and unlearned in the ways of the world, was the only man in the city that Rosenblatt feared. If by any means Samuel could obtain a hold over this young lady, he would soon bring her to the dust. Once in Samuel's power, she would soon sink to the level of the ordinary Galician wife. True, she was but a girl of fifteen, but in a year or so she would be ready for the altar in the Galician estimation.
As these thoughts swiftly flashed through his mind, Rosenblatt turned to Samuel Sprink and said, "Yes, she is a fine girl. I never noticed before. It is her new dress."
"Not a bit," said Samuel. "The dress helps out, but it is the girl herself. I have seen it for a long time. Look at her. Isn't she a bird, a bird of Paradise, eh?"
"She will look well in a cage some day, eh, Samuel?"
"You bet your sweet life!" said Samuel.
"Better get the cage ready then, Samuel," suggested Rosenblatt. "There are plenty bird fanciers in this town."
The suggestion seemed to anger Samuel, who swore an English oath and lapsed into silence.
Irma heard, but heeded little. Rosenblatt she feared, Samuel Sprink she despised. There had been a time when both she and Paulina regarded him with admiration mingled with awe. Samuel Sprink had many attractions. He had always plenty of money to jingle, and had a reputation for growing wealth. He was generous in his gifts to the little girl--gifts, it must be confessed, that cost him little, owing to his position as clerk in Rosenblatt's store. Then, too, he was so clever with his smart English and his Canadian manners, so magnificent with his curled and oily locks, his resplendent jewelry, his brilliant neckties. But that was before Irma had been brought to the little mission, and before she had learned through Margaret Ketzel and through Margaret's father and mother something of Canadian life, of Canadian people, of Canadian manners and dress. As her knowledge in this direction extended, her admiration and reverence for Samuel Sprink faded.
The day that Irma discarded her Galician garb and blossomed forth as a Canadian young lady was the day on which she was fully cured of her admiration for Rosenblatt's clerk. For such subtle influence does dress exercise over the mind that something of the spirit of the garb seems to pass into the spirit of the wearer. Self-respect is often born in the tailor shop or in the costumer's parlour. Be this as it may, it is certain that Irma's Canadian dress gave the final blow to her admiration of Samuel Sprink, and child though she was, she became conscious of a new power over not only Sprink, but over all the boarders, and instinctively she assumed a new attitude toward them. The old coarse and familiar horseplay which she had permitted without thought at their hands, was now distasteful to her. Indeed, with most of the men it ceased to be any longer possible. There were a few, however, and Samuel Sprink among them, who were either too dull-witted to recognise the change that had come to the young girl, or were unwilling to acknowledge it. Samuel was unwilling also to surrender his patronising and protective attitude, and when patronage became impossible and protection unnecessary, he assumed an air of bravado to cover the feeling of embarrassment he hated to acknowledge, and tried to bully the girl into her former submissive admiration.
This completed the revulsion in Irma's mind, and while outwardly she went about her work in the house with her usual cheerful and willing industry, she came to regard her admirer and would be patron with fear, loathing, and contempt. Of this, however, Samuel was quite unaware. The girl had changed in her manner as in her dress, but that might be because she was older, she was almost a woman, after the Galician standard of computation. Whatever the cause, to Samuel the change only made her more fascinating than ever, and he set himself seriously to consider whether on the whole, dowerless though she would be, it would not be wise for him to devote some of his time and energy to the winning of this fascinating young lady for himself.
The possibility of failure never entered Samuel's mind. He had an overpowering sense of his own attractions. The question was simply should he earnestly set himself to accomplish this end? Without definitely making up his mind on this point, much less committing himself to this object, Samuel allowed himself the pleasurable occupation of trifling with the situation. But alas for Samuel's peace of mind! and alas for his self-esteem! the daily presence of this fascinating maiden in her new Canadian dress and with her new Canadian manners, which appeared to go with the dress, quite swept him away from his ordinary moorings, and he found himself tossed upon a tempestuous sea, the helpless sport of gusts of passion that at once surprised and humiliated him. It was an intolerably painful experience for the self-centred and self-controlled Samuel; and after a few months of this acute and humiliating suffering he was prepared to accept help from almost any course.
At this point Rosenblatt, who had been keeping a watchful eye upon the course of events, intervened.
"Samuel, my boy," he said one winter night when the store was closed for the day, "you are acting the fool. You are letting a little Slovak girl make a game of you."
"I attend to my own business, all the same," growled Samuel.
"You do, Samuel, my boy, you do. But you make me sorry for you, and ashamed."
Samuel grunted, unwilling to acknowledge even partial defeat to the man whom he had beaten more than once in his own game.
"You desire to have that little girl, Samuel, and yet you are afraid of her."
But Samuel only snarled and swore.
"You forget she is a Galician girl."
"She is Russian," interposed Samuel, "and she is of good blood."
"Good blood!" said Rosenblatt, showing his teeth like a snarling dog, "good blood! The blood of a murdering Nihilist jail bird!"
"She is of good Russian blood," said Samuel with an ugly look in his face, "and he is a liar who says she is not."
"Well, well," said Rosenblatt, turning from the point, "she is a Galician in everything else. Her mother is a Galician, a low-bred Galician, and you treat the girl as if she were a lady. This is not the Galician manner of wooing. A bolder course is necessary. You are a young man of good ability, a rising young man. You will be rich some day. Who is this girl without family, without dower to make you fear or hesitate? What says the proverb? 'A bone for my dog, a stick for my wife.'"
"Yes, that is all right," muttered Samuel, "a stick for my wife, and if she were my wife I would soon bring her to time."
"Ho, ho," said Rosenblatt, "it is all the same, sweetheart and wife. They are both much the better for a stick now and then. You are not the kind of man to stand beggar before a portionless Slovak girl, a young man handsome, clever, well-to-do. You do not need thus to humble yourself. Go in, my son, with more courage and with bolder tactics. I will gladly help you."
As a first result of Rosenblatt's encouraging advice, Samuel recovered much of his self-assurance, which had been rudely shattered, and therefore much of his good humour. As a further result, he determined upon a more vigorous policy in his wooing. He would humble himself no more. He would find means to bring this girl to her place, namely, at his feet.
The arrival of a Saint's day brought Samuel an opportunity to inaugurate his new policy. The foreign colony was rigidly devoted to its religious duties. Nothing could induce a Galician to engage in his ordinary avocation upon any day set apart as sacred by his Church. In the morning such of the colony as adhered to the Greek Church, went en masse to the quaint little church which had come to be erected and which had been consecrated by a travelling Archbishop, and there with reverent devotion joined in worship, using the elaborate service of the Greek rite. The religious duties over, they proceeded still further to celebrate the day in a somewhat riotous manner.
With the growth of the colony new houses had been erected which far outshone Paulina's in magnificence, but Paulina's still continued to be a social centre chiefly through Rosenblatt's influence. For no man was more skilled than he in the art of promoting sociability as an investment. There was still the full complement of boarders filling the main room and the basement, and these formed a nucleus around which the social life of a large part of the colony loved to gather.
It was a cold evening in February. The mercury had run down till it had almost disappeared in the bulb and Winnipeg was having a taste of forty below. Through this exhilarating air Kalman was hurrying home as fast as his sturdy legs could take him. His fingers were numb handling the coins received from the sale of his papers, but the boy cared nothing for that. He had had a good afternoon and evening; for with the Winnipeg men the colder the night the warmer their hearts, and these fierce February days were harvest days for the hardy news boys crying their wares upon the streets. So the sharp cold only made Kalman run the faster. Above him twinkled the stars, under his feet sparkled the snow, the keen air filled his lungs with ozone that sent his blood leaping through his veins. A new zest was added to his life to-night, for as he ran he remembered that it was a feast day and that at his home there would be good eating and dance and song. As he ran he planned how he would avoid Rosenblatt and get past him into Paulina's room, where he would be safe, and where, he knew, good things saved from the feast for him by his sister would be waiting him. To her he would entrust all his cents above what was due to Rosenblatt, and with her they would be safe. For by neither threatening nor wheedling could Rosenblatt extract from her what was entrusted to her care, as he could from the slow-witted Paulina.
Keenly sensitive to the radiant beauty of the sparkling night, filled with the pleasurable anticipation of the feast before him, vibrating in every nerve with the mere joy of living his vigorous young life, Kalman ran along at full speed, singing now and then in breathless snatches a wild song of the Hungarian plains. Turning a sharp corner near his home, he almost overran a little girl.
"Kalman!" she cried with a joyous note in her voice.
"Hello! Elizabeth Ketzel, what do you want?" answered the boy, pulling up panting.
"Will you be singing to-night?" asked the little girl timidly.
"Sure, I will," replied the lad, who had already mastered in the school of the streets the intricacies of the Canadian vernacular.
"I wish I could come and listen."
"It is no place for little girls," said Kalman brusquely; then noting the shadow upon the face of the child, he added, "Perhaps you can come to the back window and Irma will let you in."
"I'll be sure to come," said Elizabeth to herself, for Kalman was off again like the wind.
Paulina's house was overflowing with riotous festivity. Avoiding the front door, Kalman ran to the back of the house, and making entrance through the window, there waited for his sister. Soon she came in.
"Oh, Kalman!" she cried, throwing her arms about him and kissing him, "such a feast as I have saved for you! And you are cold. Your poor fingers are frozen."
"Not a bit of it, Irma," said the boy--they always spoke in Russian, these two, ever since the departure of their father-- "but I am hungry, oh! so hungry!"
Already Irma was flying about the room, drawing from holes and corners the bits she had saved from the feast for her brother. She spread them on the bed before him.
"But first," she cried, "I shall bring to the window the hot stew. Paulina," the children always so spoke of her, "has kept it hot for you," and she darted through the door.
After what seemed to Kalman a very long time indeed, she appeared at the window with a covered dish of steaming stew.
"What kept you?" said her brother impatiently; "I am starved."
"That nasty, hateful, little Sprink," she said. "Here, help me through." She looked flushed and angry, her "burnin' brown eyes" shining like blazing coals.
"What is the matter?" said Kalman, when he had a moment's leisure to observe her.
"He is very rough and rude," said the girl, "and he is a little pig."
Kalman nodded and waited. He had no time for mere words.
"And he tried to kiss me just now," she continued indignantly.
"Well, that's nothing," said Kalman; "they all want to do that."
"Not for months, Kalman," protested Irma, "and never again, and especially that little Sprink. Never! Never!"
As Kalman looked at her erect little figure and her flushed face, it dawned on him that a change had come to his little sister. He paused in his eating.
"Irma," he said, "what have you done to yourself? Is it your hair that you have been putting up on your head? No, it is not your hair. You are not the same. You are--" he paused to consider, "yes, that's it. You are a lady."
The anger died out of Irma's brown eyes and flushed face. A soft and tender and mysterious light suffused her countenance.
"No, I am not a lady," she said, "but you remember what father said. Our mother was a lady, and I am going to be one."
Almost never had the children spoken of their mother. The subject was at once too sacred and too terrible for common speech. Kalman laid down his spoon.
"I remember," he said after a few moments' silence. A shadow lay upon his face. "She was a lady, and she died in the snow." His voice sank to a whisper. "Wasn't it awful, Irma?"
"Yes, Kalman dear," said his sister, sitting down beside him and putting her arms about his neck, "but she had no pain, and she was not afraid."
"No," said the boy with a ring in his voice, "she was not afraid; nor was father afraid either." He rose from his meal.
"Why, Kalman," exclaimed his sister, "you are not half done your feast. There are such lots of nice things yet."
"I can't eat, Irma, when I think of that--of that man. I choke here," pointing to his throat.
"Well, well, we won't think of him to-night. Some day very soon, we shall be free from him. Sit down and eat."
But the boy remained standing, his face overcast with a fierce frown.
"Some day," he muttered, more to himself than to his sister, "I shall kill him."
"Not to-day, at any rate, Kalman," said his sister, brightening up. "Let us forget it to-night. Look at this pie. It is from Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and this pudding."
The boy allowed his look to linger upon the dainties. He was a healthy boy and very hungry. As he looked his appetite returned. He shook himself as if throwing off a burden.
"No, not to-night," he said; "I am not going to stop my feast for him."
"No, indeed," cried Irma. "Come quick and finish your feast. Oh, what eating we have had, and then what dancing! And they all want to dance with me," she continued,--"Jacob and Henry and Nicholas, and they are all nice except that horrid little Sprink."
"Did you not dance with him?"
"Yes," replied his sister, making a little face, "I danced with him too, but he wants me to dance with no one else, and I don't like that. He makes me afraid, too, just like Rosenblatt."
"Afraid!" said her brother scornfully.
"No, not afraid," said Irma quickly. "But never mind, here is the pudding. I am sorry it is cold."
"All right," said the boy, mumbling with a full mouth, "it is fine. Don't you be afraid of that Sprink; I'll knock his head off if he harms you."
"Not yet, Kalman," said Irma, smiling at him. "Wait a year or two before you talk like that."
"A year or two! I shall be a man then."
"Oh, indeed!" mocked his sister, "a man of fifteen years."
"You are only fifteen yourself," said Kalman.
"And a half," she interrupted.
"And look at you with your dress and your hair up on your head, and--and I am a boy. But I am not afraid of Sprink. Only yesterday I--"
"Oh, I know you were fighting again. You are terrible, Kalman. I hear all the boys talking about you, and the girls too. Did you beat him? But of course you did."
"I don't know," said her brother doubtfully, "but I don't think he will bother me any more."
"Oh, Kalman," said his sister anxiously, "why do you fight so much?"
"They make me fight," said the boy. "They try to drive me off the corner, and he called me a greasy Dook. But I showed him I am no Doukhobor. Doukhobors won't fight."
"Tell me," cried his sister, her face aglow--"but no, I don't want to hear about it. Did you--how did you beat him? But you should not fight so, Kalman." In spite of herself she could not avoid showing her interest in the fight and her pride in her fighting brother.
"Why not?" said her brother; "it is right to fight for your rights, and if they bother me or try to crowd me off, I will fight till I die."
But Irma shook her head at him.
"Well, never mind just now," she cried. "Listen to the noise. That is Jacob singing; isn't it awful? Are you going in?"
"Yes, I am. Here is my money, Irma, and that is for--that brute. Give it to Paulina for him. I can hardly keep my knife out of him. Some day--" The boy closed his lips hard.
"No, no, Kalman," implored his sister, "that must not be, not now nor ever. This is not Russia, or Hungary, but Canada."
The boy made no reply.
"Hurry and wash yourself and come out. They will want you to sing. I shall wait for you."
"No, no, go on. I shall come after."
A shout greeted the girl as she entered the crowded room. There was no one like her in the dances of her people.
"It is my dance," cried one.
"Not so; she is promised to me."
"I tell you this mazurka is mine."
So they crowded about her in eager but good-natured contention.
"I cannot dance with you all," cried the girl, laughing, "and so I will dance by myself."
At this there was a shout of applause, and in a moment more she was whirling in the bewildering intricacies of a pas seul followed in every step by the admiring gaze and the enthusiastic plaudits of the whole company. As she finished, laughing and breathless, she caught sight of Kalman, who had just entered.
"There," she exclaimed, "I have lost my breath, and Kalman will sing now."
Immediately her suggestion was taken up on every hand.
"A song! A song!" they shouted. "Kalman Kalmar will sing! Come, Kalman, 'The Shepherd's Love.'" "No, 'The Soldier's Bride.'" "No, no, 'My Sword and my Cup.'"
"First my own cup," cried the boy, pressing toward the beer keg in the corner and catching up a mug.
"Give him another," shouted a voice.
"No, Kalman," said his sister in a low voice, "no more beer."
But the boy only laughed at her as he filled his mug again.
"I am too full to sing just now," he cried; "let us dance," and, seizing Irma, he carried her off under the nose of the disappointed Sprink, joining with the rest in one of the many fascinating dances of the Hungarian people.
But the song was only postponed. In every social function of the foreign colony, Kalman's singing was a feature. The boy loved to sing and was ever ready to respond to any request for a song. So when the cry for a song rose once more, Kalman was ready and eager. He sprang upon a beer keg and cried, "What shall it be?"
"My song," said Irma, who stood close to him.
The boy shook his head. "Not yet."
"'The Soldier's Bride,'" cried a voice, and Kalman began to sing. He had a beautiful face with regular clean-cut features, and the fair hair and blue grey eyes often seen in South Eastern Russia. As he sang, his face reflected the passing shades of feeling in his heart as a windless lake the cloud and sunlight of a summer sky. The song was a kind of Hungarian "Young Lochinvar." The soldier lover, young and handsome, is away in the wars; the beautiful maiden, forced into a hateful union with a wealthy land owner, old and ugly, stands before the priest at the altar. But hark! ere the fateful vows are spoken there is a clatter of galloping hoofs, a manly form rushes in, hurls the groom insensible to the ground, snatches away the bride and before any can interfere, is off on a coal-black steed, his bride before him. Let him follow who dares!
The boy had a voice of remarkable range and clearness, and he rendered the song with a verve and dramatic force remarkable in one of his age. The song was received with wild cheers and loud demands for more. The boy was about to refuse, when through the crowding faces, all aglow with enthusiastic delight, he saw the scowling face of Rosenblatt. A fierce rage seized him. He hesitated no longer.
"Yes, another song," he cried, and springing to the side of the musicians he hummed the air, and then took his place again upon the beer keg.
Before the musicians had finished the introductory bars, Irma came to his side and entreated, "Oh, Kalman, not that one! Not that one!"
But it was as though he did not hear her. His face was set and white, his blue eyes glowed black. He stood with lips parted, waiting for the cue to begin. His audience, to most of whom the song was known, caught by a mysterious telepathy the tense emotion of the boy, and stood silent and eager, all smiles gone from their faces. The song was in the Ruthenian tongue, but was the heart cry of a Russian exile, a cry for freedom for his native land, for death to the tyrant, for vengeance on the traitor. Nowhere in all the Czar's dominions dared any man sing that song.
As the boy's strong, clear voice rang out in the last cry for vengeance, there thrilled in his tones an intensity of passion that gripped hard the hearts of those who had known all their lives long the bitterness of tyranny unspeakable. In the last word the lad's voice broke in a sob. Most of that company knew the boy's story, and knew that he was singing out his heart's deepest passion.
When the song was finished, there was silence for a few brief moments; then a man, a Russian, caught the boy in his arms, lifted him on his shoulder and carried him round the room, the rest of the men madly cheering. All but one. Trembling with inarticulate rage, Rosenblatt strode to the musicians.
"Listen!" he hissed with an oath. "Do I pay you for this? No more of this folly! Play up a czardas, and at once!"
The musicians hastened to obey, and before the cheers had died, the strains of the czardas filled the room. With the quick reaction from the tragic to the gay, the company swung into this joyous and exciting dance. Samuel Sprink, seizing Irma, whirled her off into the crowd struggling and protesting, but all in vain. After the dance there was a general rush for the beer keg, with much noise and good-natured horse play. At the other end of the room, however, there was a fierce struggle going on. Samuel Sprink, excited by the dance and, it must be confessed, by an unusual devotion to the beer keg that evening, was still retaining his hold of Irma, and was making determined efforts to kiss her.
"Let me go!" cried the girl, struggling to free herself. "You must not touch me! Let me go!"
"Oh, come now, little one," said Samuel pleasantly, "don't be so mighty stiff about it. One kiss and I let you go."
"That's right, Samuel, my boy," shouted Rosenblatt; "she only wants coaxing just a little mucher."
Rosenblatt's words were followed by a chorus of encouraging cheers, for Samuel was not unpopular among the men, and none could see any good reason why a girl should object to be kissed, especially by such a man as Samuel, who was already so prosperous and who had such bright prospects for the future.
But Irma continued to struggle, till Kalman, running to her side, cried, "Let my sister go!"
"Go away, Kalman. I am not hurting your sister. It's only fun. Go away," said Sprink.
"She does not think it fun," said the boy quietly. "Let her go."
"Oh, go away, you leetle kid. Go away and sit down. You think yourself too much."
It was Rosenblatt's harsh voice. As he spoke, he seized the boy by the collar and with a quick jerk flung him back among the crowd. It was as if he had fired some secret magazine of passion in the boy's heart. Uttering the wild cry of a mad thing, Kalman sprang at him with such lightning swiftness that Rosenblatt was borne back and would have fallen, but for those behind. Recovering himself, he dealt the boy a heavy blow in the face that staggered him for a moment, but only for a moment. It seemed as if the boy had gone mad. With the same wild cry, and this time with a knife open in his hand, he sprang at his hated enemy, stabbing quick, fierce stabs. But this time Rosenblatt was ready. Taking the boy's stabs on his arm, he struck the boy a terrific blow on the neck. As Kalman fell, he clutched and hung to his foe, who, seizing him by the throat, dragged him swiftly toward the door.
"Hold this shut," he said to a friend of his who was following him close.
After they had passed through, the man shut the door and held it fast, keeping the crowd from getting out.
"Now," said Rosenblatt, dragging the half-insensible boy around to the back of the house, "the time is come. The chance is too good. You try to kill me, but there will be one less Kalmar in the world to-night. There will be a little pay back of my debt to your cursed father. Take that--and that." As he spoke the words, he struck the boy hard upon the head and face, and then flinging him down in the snow, proceeded deliberately to kick him to death.
But even as he threw the boy down, a shrill screaming pierced through the quiet of the night, and from the back of the house a little girl ran shrieking. "He is killing him! He is killing him!"
It was little Elizabeth Ketzel, who had been let in through the back window to hear Kalman sing, and who, at the first appearance of trouble, had fled by the way she had entered, meeting Rosenblatt as he appeared dragging the insensible boy through the snow. Her shrieks arrested the man in his murderous purpose. He turned and fled, leaving the boy bleeding and insensible in the snow.
As Rosenblatt disappeared, a cutter drove rapidly up.
"What's the row, kiddie?" said a man, springing out. It was Dr. Wright, returning from a midnight trip to one of his patients in the foreign colony. "Who's killing who?"
"It is Kalman!" cried Elizabeth, "and he is dead! Oh, he is dead!"
The doctor knelt beside the boy. "Great Caesar! It surely is my friend Kalman, and in a bad way. Some more vendetta business, I have no doubt. Now what in thunder is that, do you suppose?" From the house came a continuous shrieking. "Some more killing, I guess. Here, throw this robe about the boy while I see about this."
He ran to the door and kicked it open. It seemed as if the whole company of twenty or thirty men were every man fighting. As the doctor paused to get his bearings, he saw across the room in the farthest corner, Irma screaming as she struggled in the grasp of Samuel Sprink, and in the midst of the room Paulina fighting like a demon and uttering strange weird cries. She was trying to force her way to the door.
As she caught sight of the doctor, she threw out her hands toward him with a loud cry. "Kalman--killing! Kalman--killing!" was all she could say.
The doctor thrust himself forward through the struggling men, crying in a loud voice, "Here, you, let that woman go! And you there, let that girl alone!"
Most of the men knew him, and at his words they immediately ceased fighting.
"What the deuce are you at, anyway, you men?" he continued, as Paulina and the girl sprang past him and out of the door. "Do you fight with women?"
"No," said one of the men. "Dis man," pointing to Sprink, "he mak fun wit de girl."
"Mighty poor fun," said the doctor, turning toward Sprink. "And who has been killing that boy outside?"
"It is that young devil Kalman, who has been trying to kill Mr. Rosenblatt," replied Sprink.
"Oh, indeed," said the doctor, "and what was the gentle Mr. Rosenblatt doing meantime?"
"Rosenblatt?" cried Jacob Wassyl, coming forward excitedly. "He mak for hurt dat boy. Dis man," pointing to Sprink, "he try for kiss dat girl. Boy he say stop. Rosenblatt he trow boy back. Boy he fight."
"Look here, Jacob," said Dr. Wright, "you get these men's names-- this man," pointing to Sprink, "and a dozen more--and we'll make this interesting for Rosenblatt in the police court to-morrow morning."
Outside the house the doctor found Paulina sitting in the snow with Kalman's head in her lap, swaying to and fro muttering and groaning. Beside her stood Irma and Elizabeth Ketzel weeping wildly. The doctor raised the boy gently.
"Get into the cutter," he said to Paulina. Irma translated. The woman ran without a word, seated herself in the cutter and held out her arms for the boy.
"That will do," said the doctor, laying Kalman in her arms. "Now get some shawls, quilts or something for your mother and yourself, or you'll freeze to death, and come along."
The girl rushed away and returned in a few moments with a bundle of shawls.
"Get in," said the doctor, "and be quick."
The men were crowding about.
"Now, Jacob," said the doctor, turning to Wassyl, who stood near, "you get me those names and we'll get after that man, you bet! or I'm a Turk. This boy is going to die, sure."
As he spoke, he sprang into his cutter and sent his horse off at a gallop, for by the boy's breathing he felt that the chances of life were slipping swiftly away.
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