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- The Rise of David Levinsky - 30/102 -
Formerly he had been employed in his brother's shop, while now he earned his living by soliciting and collecting for a life-insurance company
CHAPTER lV JAKE MINDELS was a devotee of Madame Klesmer, the leading Jewish actress of that period, which, by the way, was practically the opening chapter in the interesting history of the Yiddish stage in America. Madame Klesmer was a tragedienne and a prima donna at once-a usual combination in those days
One Friday evening we were in the gallery of her theater. The play was an "historical opera," and she was playing the part of a Biblical princess. It was the closing scene of an act. The whole company was on the stage, swaying sidewise and singing with the princess, her head in a halo of electric light in the center. Jake was feasting his large blue eyes on her. Presently he turned to me with the air of one confiding a secret. "Wouldn't you like to kiss her?" And, swinging around again, he resumed feasting his blue eyes on the princess.
"I have seen prettier women than she," I replied
"'S-sh! Let a fellow listen. She is a dear, all the same. You don't know a good thing when you see it, Levinsky."
"Are you in love with her?"
"'S-sh! Do let me listen."
When the curtain fell he made me applaud her. There were several curtain-calls, during all of which he kept applauding her furiously, shouting the prima donna's name at the top of his voice and winking to me imploringly to do the same. When quiet had been restored at last I returned to the subject: "Are you in love with her?"
"Sure," he answered, without blushing. "As if a fellow could help it. If she let me kiss her little finger I should be the happiest man in the world."
"And if she let you kiss her cheek?" "I should go crazy."
"And if she let you kiss her lips?" "What's the use asking idle questions?"
"Would you like to kiss her neck?" "You ask me foolish questions."
"You are in love with her," I declared, reflectively
"I should say I was."
It was a unique sort of love, for he wanted me also to be in love with her
"If you are not in love with her you must have a heart of iron, or else your soul is dry as a raisin." With which he took to analyzing the prima donna's charms, going into raptures over her eyes, smile, gestures, manner of opening her mouth, and her swing and step as she walked over the stage
"No, I don't care for her," I replied
"You are a peculiar fellow."
"If I did fall in love," I said, by way of meeting him halfway, "I should choose Mrs. Segalovitch. She is a thousand times prettier than Mrs.
Mrs. Segalovitch was certainly prettier than the prima donna, but she played unimportant parts, so the notion of one's falling in love with her seemed queer to Jake
That night I had an endless chain of dreams, in every one of which Madame Klesmer was the central figure. When I awoke in the morning I fell in love with her, and was overjoyed
When I saw Jake Mindels at dinner I said to him, with the air of one bringing glad news: "Do you know, I am in love with her?"
"With whom? With Mrs. Segalovitch?" "Oh, pshaw! I had forgotten all about her. I mean Madame Kiesmer," I said, self-consciously
Somehow, my love for the actress did not interfere with my longing thoughts of Matilda. I asked myself no questions
And so we went on loving jointly, Jake and I, the companionship of our passion apparently stimulating our romance as companionship at a meal stimulates the appetite of the diners. Each of us seemed to be infatuated with Madame Klesmer. Yet the community of this feeling, far from arousing mutual jealousy in us, seemed to strengthen the ties of our friendship
We would hum her songs in duet, recite her lines, compare notes on our dreams of happiness with her. One day we composed a love-letter to her, a long epistle full of Biblical and homespun poetry, which we copied jointly, his lines alternating with mine, and which we signed: "Your two lovelorn slaves whose hearts are panting for a look of your star-like eyes. Jacob and David." We mailed the letter without affixing any address
The next evening we were in the theater, and when she appeared on the stage and shot a glance to the gallery Jake nudged me violently
"But she does not know we are in the gallery," I argued. "She must think we are in the orchestra."
"Hearts are good guessers."
" 'S-sh! Let's listen."
Madame Klesmer was playing the part of a girl in a modern Russian town. She declaimed her lines, speaking like a prophetess in ancient Israel, and I liked it extremely. I was fully aware that it was unnatural for a girl in a modern Russian town to speak like a prophetess in ancient Israel, but that was just why I liked it. I thought it perfectly proper that people on the stage should not talk as they would off the stage. I thought that this unnatural speech of theirs was one of the principal things an audience paid for. The only actor who spoke like a human being was the comedian, and this, too, seemed to be perfectly proper, for a comedian was a fellow who did not take his art seriously, and so I thought that this natural talk of his was part of his fun-making. I thought it was something like a clown burlesquing the Old Testament by reading it, not in the ancient intonations of the synagogue, but in the plain, conversational accents of every-day life
During the intermission, in the course of our talk about Madame Klesmer, Jake said: "Do you know, Levinsky, I don't think you really love her."
"I love her as much as you, and more, too," I retorted
"How much do you love her? Would you walk from New York to Philadelphia if she wanted you to do so?"
"Why should she? What good would it do her?"
"But suppose she does want it?"
"How can I suppose such nonsense?" "Well, she might just want to see how much you love her."
"A nice test, that."
"Oh, well, she might just get that kind of notion. Women are liable to get any kind of notion, don't you know."
"Well, if Madame Klesmer got that kind of notion I should tell her to walk to Philadelphia herself."
"Then you don't love her."
"I love her as much as you do, but if she took it into her head to make a fool of me I should send her to the eighty devils."
He winced. "And you call that love, don't you?" he said, with a sneer in the corner of his pretty mouth. "As for me, I should walk to Boston, if she wanted me to."
"Even if she did not promise to let you kiss her?"
"Even if she did not."
"And if she did?"
"I should walk to Chicago."
"And if she promised to be your mistress?"
"Oh, what's the use talking that way?" he protested, blushing. "Aren't you shy! A regular bride-to-be, I declare." "Stop!" he said, coloring once again.
It dawned upon me that he was probably chaste, and, searching his face with a mocking look, I said: "I bet you you are still innocent." "Leave me alone, please," he retorted, softly
"I have hit it, then," I importuned him, with a great sense of my own superiority.
"Do let me alone, will you?"
"I just want you to tell me whether you are innocent or not."
"It's none of your business."
"Of course you are."
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