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- The Rise of David Levinsky - 80/102 -
She dwelt on the virtues of Ibsen, Strindberg, Knut Hamsen, Hauptmann, and a number of others, mostly names I did not recollect ever having heard before, and she often used the word "decadent," which she pronounced in the French way and which I did not then understand. Now and then she would quote some critic, or some remark heard from a friend or from her father, and once she dwelt on an argument of her oldest brother, who seemed to be well versed in Russian literature and to have clear-cut opinions on literature in general.
She spoke with an even-voiced fluency, with a charming gift of language.
Words came readily, pleasantly from her pretty lips. It was evident, too, that she was thoroughly familiar with the many authors whose praises she was sounding. Yet I could not help feeling that she had not much to say. The opinions she voiced were manifestly not her own, as though she was reciting a well-mastered lesson. And I was glad of it. "She's merely a girl, after all," I thought, fondly. "She's the sweetest thing I ever knew, and her father is the man who wrote those love-letters, and her mother is the celebrated beauty with whom he was in love."
Whether the views she set forth were her own or somebody else's, I could see that she relished uttering them. Also, that she relished the euphony and felicity of her phrasing, which was certainly her own. Whether she spoke from conviction or not, one thing seemed indisputable: the atmosphere surrounding the books and authors she named had a genuine fascination for her. There was a naive sincerity in her rhetoric, and her delivery and gestures had a rhythm that seemed to be akin to the rhythm of her movements in the tennis-court
Miss Lazar passed by us, giving me a smiling look, which seemed to say, "I knew you would sooner or later be in her company." I felt myself blushing.
"To-morrow I'll be in Tannersville and all this nonsense will be over," I said to myself
The long-faced, short girl with whom Miss Tevkin had played tennis emerged from the lobby door and was introduced to me as Miss Siegel. As I soon gathered from a bit of pleasantry by the lawyer, she was a school-teacher
At Miss Tevkin's suggestion we all went to see the crowd waiting for the last "husband train."
As we rose to go I made a point of asking Miss Tevkin for the name of the best Ibsen play, my object being to be by her side on our walk down to the village. The photographer hastened to answer my question, thus occupying the place on the other side of her
We were crossing the sloping lawn, Miss Tevkin on a narrow flagged walk, while we were trotting along through the grass on either side of her, with the other three of our group bringing up the rear. Presently, as we reached the main sidewalk, we were held up by Auntie Yetta, who was apparently returning from one of the cottages across the road
"Is this the one you are after?" she demanded of me, with a wink in the direction of Miss Tevkin. And, looking her over, "You do know a good thing when you see it." Then to her: "Hold on to him, young lady. Hold on tight.
Mr. Levinsky is said to be worth a million, you know."
"She's always joking," I said, awkwardly, as we resumed our walk
Miss Tevkin made no answer, but I felt that Auntie Yetta's joke had made a disagreeable impression on her. I sought to efface it by a humorous sketch of Auntie Yetta, and seemed to be successful
The village was astir. The great "husband train," the last and longest of the day, was due in about ten minutes. Groups of women and children in gala dress were emerging from the various boarding-houses, feeding the main human stream. Some boarders were out to meet the train, others were on their way to the post-office for letters. A sunset of pale gold hung broodingly over the mountains. Miss Tevkin's voice seemed to have something to do with it
Presently we reached the crowd at the station. The train was late. The children were getting restless. At last it arrived, the first of two sections, with a few minutes' headway between them. There was a jam and a babel of voices. Interminable strings of passengers, travel-worn, begrimed, their eyes searching the throng, came dribbling out of the cars with tantalizing slowness. Men in livery caps were chanting the names of their respective boarding-houses. Passengers were shouting the pet names of their wives or children; women and children were calling to their newly arrived husbands and fathers, some gaily, others shrieking, as though the train were on fire. There were a large number of handsome, well-groomed women in expensive dresses and diamonds, and some of these were being kissed by puny, but successful-looking, men. "They married them for their money," I said to myself. An absurd-looking shirt-waist-manufacturer of my acquaintance, a man with the face of a squirrel, swooped down upon a large young matron of dazzling animal beauty who had come in an automobile. He introduced me to her, with a beaming air of triumph. "I can afford a machine and a beautiful wife," his radiant squirrel-face seemed to say. He was parading the fact that this tempting female had married him in spite of his ugliness. He was mutely boasting as much of his own homeliness as of her coarse beauty
Prosperity was picking the cream of the "bride market" for her favorite sons. I thought of Lenox Avenue, a great, broad thoroughfare up-town that had almost suddenly begun to swarm with good-looking and flashily gowned brides of Ghetto upstarts, like a meadow bursting into bloom in spring
"And how about your own case?" a voice retorted within me. "Could you get a girl like Fanny if it were not for your money? Ah, but I'm a good-looking chap myself and not as ignorant as most of the other fellows who have succeeded," I answered, inwardly. "Yes, and I am entitled to a better girl than Fanny, too." And I became conscious of Miss Tevkin's presence by my side
Conversation with the poet's daughter was practically monopolized by the misanthropic photographer. I was seized with a desire to dislodge him. I was determined to break into the conversation and to try to eclipse him. With a fast-beating heart I began: "What an array of beautiful women! Present company" --with a bow to Miss Tevkin and her long-faced chum-- "not excepted, of course. Far from it."
The two girls smiled
"Why! Why! Whence this sudden fit of gallantry?" asked the photographer, his sneer and the rasping Yiddish enunciation with which he spoke English filling me with hate
"Come, Mr. Mendelson," I answered, "it's about time you cast off your grouch. Look! The sky is so beautiful, the mountains so majestic. Cheer up, old man."
The real-estate man burst into a laugh. The two girls smiled, looking me over curiously. I hastened to follow up my advantage
"One does get into a peculiar mood on an evening like this," I pursued. "The air is so divine and the people are so happy." "That's what we all come to the mountains for," the photographer retorted
Ignoring his remark, I resumed: "It may seem a contradiction of terms, but these family reunions, these shouts of welcome, are so thrilling it makes one feel as if there was something pathetic in them."
"Pathetic?" the bald-headed real-estate man asked in surprise
"Mr. Levinsky is in a pathetic mood, don't you know," the photographer cut in.
"Yes, pathetic," I defied him. "But pathos has nothing to do with grouch, has it?" I asked, addressing myself to the girls
"Why, no," Miss Siegel replied, with a perfunctory smile. "Still, I should rather see people meet than part. It's heartbreaking to watch a train move out of a station, with those white handkerchiefs waving, and getting smaller, smaller. Oh, those handkerchiefs!"
It was practically the first remark I had heard from her. It produced a stronger impression on my mind than all Miss Tevkin had said. Nevertheless, I felt that I should much rather listen to Miss Tevkin
"Of course, of course," I said. "Leave-taking is a very touching scene to witness. But still, when people meet again after a considerable separation, it's also touching. Don't you think it is?"
"Yes, I know what you mean," Miss Siegel assented, somewhat aloofly
"People cry for joy," Miss Tevkin put in, non-committally
"Yes, but they cry, all the same. There are tears," I urged
"I had no idea you were such a cry-baby, Mr. Levinsky," the photographer said. "Perhaps you'll feel better when you've had dinner. But I thought you said this weather made you happy."
"It simply means that at the bottom of our hearts we Jews are a sad people," Miss Tevkin interceded. "There is a broad streak of tragedy in our psychology. It's the result of many centuries of persecution and homelessness. Gentiles take life more easily than we do. My father has a beautiful poem on the theme. But then the Russians are even more melancholy than we are. Russian literature is full of it. My oldest brother, who is a great stickler for everything Russian, is always speaking about it."
"Always referring to her papa and her brother," I thought. "What a sweet child."
Presently she and her long-faced chum were hailed by a group of young men and women, and, excusing themselves to us, they ran
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