Chapter 14 - The Ball
Translation Copyright 2001 by Morris Rosenthal
Translations from Hebrew
Copyright 2001 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
A Righteous Love
By Sarah Faiga Menkin - Published in Hebrew in Vilna 1880
The street called the Korsogrande is the largest and most splendid of all the streets in Milano. There is found the mansion of the District Minister, which was lit up from all around. Lanterns of different colors were hung from all of the houses, and out in front of the houses were two rows of lanterns. Purple curtains and colorful embroideries [Ju. 5:30] fluttered about the windows. The pure breeze sometimes blew on the candles and their individual flames were wound about and mixed all together. The light fell on the purple curtains and colorful embroideries until they appeared like a pocket of flames to the passerby. The faces of the houses seemed changeable like the flames, sometimes green like the grass, sometimes red like blood and sometimes white as death. Crowds of the poorest of people streamed to look and gawk at the splendor and majesty that had been prepared for this evening. Many policemen ran about to quiet the mob and cautioned them not to break out of their places, lest they mingle in the street where the carriages [Is. 66:20] and carts dashed and rattled [Nah. 2:5] to and fro. Even though they yelled at them loudly, lest the wheels of the wagons run them over, nobody heard them and they shouted themselves hoarse [Ps. 69:4]. Who can stop the course of a mob when they gather to see a happening, but they didn't reach the palace in the middle of the street where the new District Minister was to live and where the ball was being held this evening. A large number of policemen were posted around the palace and the gate and they didn't allow anyone to pass, except for the carriages with the guests.
The palace, into which we will be looking now, was not built extravagantly like most of the mansions built by rich grandees [Ez. 17:13], because it was an older building. Despite this it was large and very lovely, and it was wrapped in pride and arrogance [Pr. 8:13], not by its own appearance, but by the inhabitants who lived there now. But this evening it was entirely majestic. Thousands of candles of different colors were prepared on braided wicker holders [Is. 19:6] and arrayed in good order on the outer wall of the palace. They were lit and burned with a moderate flame, and spread a rare light over the palace.
Curtains of purple silk rustling the windows were held by linen cords, and gold handles fastened the curtains on both sides. In the center of each window was displayed a wreath of flowers, a splendor to the eye, but in the main window of the palace, a rare and special presentation was before us. There stood a portrait of the King of Italy in his majesty and splendor surrounded with a garland of laurels. On each side stood a laurel tree which was higher than the portrait, and the coverage of their branches above the portrait made a sheltering canopy [Ez. 31:3] on which were spread green silk curtains, held by golden cords on every side and corner. On each side of the portrait stood four silver candelabras with glowing white wax candles, and they added even further to the majesty and splendor of the royal picture. This had been arranged by the new minister to honor his king who appointed him to this high post. The lovely vision drew the eyes of all, and many of the mob surged to the front the window. The police drove them away, but they quickly returned and all of them gathered to that spot to gaze fixedly at the window. Every minute a great cry was heard from the rabble, because one would grab another's hat and throw it away so he would have to run after it, and the other would quickly take his place. But the police couldn't do a thing because the minister had ordered them not to hurt anybody.
Behold, two young men walked in the midst of this riot looking at the splendors of the street, but by their expressions, they hadn't come to look at wonders. Their eyes weren't attracted and hearts weren't cheered like the rest of the crowd, but when they drew near the palace and saw the window with the portrait of the king, they drew up.
"Look, my friend," said the first. "Here is what the new minister has prepared to honor our king. Look, pray, how he skillfully glorified this precious portrait."
"I am amazed at you," said the second, "Why weren't you invited to the ball?"
"I was invited," said the first, and as he spoke he took from his pocket a card inscribed with gold letters, an invitation to the ball.
"Why don't you attend?"
"Because the pleasure would turn to disaster for me."
"Because Emilia will be there."
"She won't be alone. Her stepmother will be there to watch her."
"If that's the case, then the two of us will stand here together in bitterness and bad spirits."
"And what have we in common? Verily I walk about in bad spirits every day of my existence, because her stepmother pressures her constantly and will increase her bitter provocations [Hos. 12:15] until she is forced to give her hand to her stepbrother. Woe, how terrible and bitter is her fate. I would not have believed it had you told me such robbery and murder goes on in this century!"
"If she truly loves you she won't give her consent to a bum like him," said the second.
"She loves me righteously, but oppression and compulsion are stronger than love."
"Here you aren't correct. I will answer you that love is stronger than oppression and pain, and it can destroy towers and break down fortresses, fell all enemies who raise up obstacles in its path. With a strong hand love can bring two people together and bring them to the haven of their desire [Ps. 107:30], as long as it is an righteous love."
"So according to you I can hope?"
"On what can I base my hope?"
"On the uprightness of her soul."
"But how can I bare to watch as evil people lay affliction on the loins [Ps. 66:11] of my beloved?"
"Relax, my friend, because a spark of hope is raised within me."
"Tell me what to do, my friend, and that which is within my strength to do, I will do also on your behalf."
"There's nothing that can be done on my behalf."
"Why is that?"
"Because he is stronger than me, and his hand holds more power and might than mine. He will tear her from my arms, and if he takes her from me by force, I can't demand justice."
"Your assessment is without value, my friend!" But suddenly he snapped to attention and said, "Quiet. There she is in the wagon passing before us."
"Who is she," asked the other, because he was also alarmed. Certainly the reader has figured out from the beginning of their conversation that these are Victor and Albert sharing the same lot. But Albert had spotted the wagon passing before them from a distance, and he recognized Emilia inside the carriage. The moment he cried out, 'She is in the carriage,' Victor thought that it was Finalia, but quickly he was proved mistaken. He saw Albert's face blanch when the wagon stopped by the gate and Emilia descended with her mother and brother from the coach, and in a moment were hidden within the hall. But Victor was also anxious, knowing that a similarly pleasant performance was also in store for him. However, they quickly recovered and continued their conversation.
"Tell me Victor. What is this spark of hope that I can hope for?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
"You are in the confidence of the minister, and if you tell him, maybe he will be your savior."
"You are correct, my friend, and from now on I can fly on the wings of hope," said Albert.
Victor laughed at his speech.
"Listen to me, Victor. Let me finish what I started to say about your estimation being worthless, because he is not a despot who would take the poor man's lamb [2S. 12:4 - This is from the classic parable that the prophet Nathan tells to King David, to point out to him his sin in taking Bath-Sheba, the wife of Uriah]. And she, what could she say if she broke her vow? And didn't you say that love can break towers and destroy fortresses if it is only a righteous love. Do you doubt the uprightness of her soul?"
"I will not be distracted [Ps. 88:16]. See the difference between Emilia's step-brother and the minister. Isn't her stepbrother a bum, while the minister is handsome, well set up, very wise, and his wealth and honor are renewed every day? Just look at all the honor and luxury he prepared for this evening, all of it only on her behalf."
"Do you imagine that these riches which may draw her eye will also attract her heart?" asked Albert.
"It could be, for what am I against him?"
"Aren't you ashamed, Victor. A couple of days ago you praised her to me saying she was a daughter of the heavens, and now you scorn her and say that she lied in her pact."
Victor laughed with a pained heart, but when he lifted his eyes he said, "Pray look. Whose fancy carriage gilded in silver is that, with four horses in harnessed in a team and drivers upon them?"
"That is the carriage of the minister," said Albert. "Just look at the dress of the two pages riding on either side of the box."
"Where is the minister going while guests are arriving and assembling?" asked Victor.
"The minister hasn't stirred from the house all day," answered Albert.
"If that's the case, let's follow and see who gets out," said Victor. The carriage began to pass before the crowd, and they all cried "Hurrah! Hurrah!" The carriage drove slowly, and Victor and Albert walked after it up to the entrance of the palace. Victor and Albert approached the chariot and stood before it. One of the pages jumped down and opened the door. The two of them stood in amazement when they saw the Baron Adleberg jump from the carriage and extend his hand to his wife, then afterwards to his daughter Finalia.
She was wearing a white dress with a trail that dragged for about a yard on the ground. Her hair was arranged in long curls that reached the snowy nape of her neck, that was almost indistinguishable from the white dress. The black curls fell at random, some on her neck and some on her garment, and added splendor and glory to the beauty of her appearance. Along side the part in her hair was fixed a small blossom of lily, and on her neck was a small golden chain. Suspended from the end of the chain was a small sapphire pendant, and she wore white gloves on her hands. This was all of the finery that the baron's daughter Finalia wore. Certainly you can imagine, honorable reader, that at a great ball like this where most of the daughters of the city appeared sparkling in emeralds, sapphires and diamonds [Ex. 28:18, 39:11- the second row of gems on the High Priest's breast plate]. We could rightfully say about her that she was the belle of the ball. She appeared at the ball without precious jewels, but are precious jewels needed for grace and beauty? Pure conduct, a dear soul, comely proportions [Job. 41:4] and beauty, these are the precious jewels of every maiden.
When she turned to walk beside her father, she saw Victor and Albert. She inclined her head to them gracefully and went on, and in another moment she was hidden from their eyes within the hall.
"But she is a maiden prefect in beauty [Ez. 28:12]," said Albert. "You know that I have seen her several times, but I never saw her as beautiful as today. But why are we standing here? Let us go over by the windows so we can see as they enter the house." Victor stood in his place as though fixed by nails, then he went without desire after the man pulling him, and they posted themselves in front of one of the windows through which they would be able to see into the house. They saw the minister standing in the middle of the room, and many other ministers stood about him talking.
But let us leave them standing in their place and we will go into the interior of the house to see and comprehend the beauty and the happenings within. As the guests entered through the hallway, young men waited, dressed in black suits with white silk turbans on their shoulders and white gloves on their hands, respectfully receiving every guest and leading him to the cloakroom. There stood servants to take everyone's coat and hat, then the young men led the guests into the ball hall. There were no doors at the entrance to the ballroom, but purple silk hangings, which were held to the side by golden cords, and lined with gold and purple flowers. Suspended over the center of the room was a silver candelabra, containing some five hundred lit candles. There were fifteen windows in the room, and on every window sill stood four large silver candlesticks, each holding one white candle. The room was empty, in order that there would be room for dancing, except for along the walls where there were chairs. The chairs were covered in purple silk and bound with gold cords on the edges, with flowers made from threads of gold and purple twisted together appearing on them. There was a space between every second chair in which stood a large polished mirror, and on either side of the mirror were expensive ornamental trees. These gave off a pleasing smell, and the crowns of these trees came together and joined over each pair of chairs, so that the occupants of the chairs felt as though they were sitting in a succah. At the ends of the hall were small tables, and on each table were two small pictures and two silver candelabras with white candles, and the walls were painted with vermilion [Jer. 22:14] of different colors. Such was the splendor of the ballroom.
The guests were sitting in the chairs, though a few of them were still empty because everybody hadn't yet arrived. The guests were dressed splendidly as befitted the occasion. The woman wore white dresses with carnations and precious jewels on their heads. There were an abundance of expensive valuables about their heads and throats. The ministers and the other officials wore their uniforms. The district minister, Emanual Maranya, was resplendent in the garb of the district minister that had been given to him the previous week by his king, to honor and glorify him. It added even more majesty to his high stature [Ez. 31:3] his beauty and to his shining face, which looked favorably upon every man. Everybody was there that evening to congratulate him, and he seemed not like a minister but like a king. The minister stood in the middle of the room talking with the other ministers, but every minute he went to the window and looked out into the street. When he saw his rich carriage traveling up the street, he went to his place and sat, and all the other guests followed suit.
"Look Victor," said Emanuel, lifting his head to peer into the room. "What is this? The minister has sat in his place and all the guests are doing the same."
"We'll see what will happen," said Victor, and he also stared with wide open eyes. Behold, the baron with Dina and Finalia appeared on the threshold of the room.
"Look now," said Albert. The minister rose from his place and went to greet the baron. He shook hands with the baron and his wife, then he gave his arm to Finalia and escorted her to the place he was sitting, seating her by him on the second chair. After presenting them to the guests, he showed the baron and his wife a place to sit nearby, and the guests looked on and were astounded.
"Who is that maiden that the minister has brought in on his arm and seated with him on the dais, even though her jewelry shows she isn't rich," one maiden asked another.
"In this you aren't correct," answered the second. "Didn't you hear from the mouth of the minister that she is the daughter of a Baron? Certainly you would find precious jewels in her house, but it's the nature of beautiful women to go without precious jewels so that everyone will look on their beauty."
"But this is an entirely beautiful maiden," said a young man to the two maidens who were speaking about Finalia as she passed before them. "I've never seen her like." The maidens grew red with anger because in their thinking he had injured their honor by praising another maiden in front of them.
"If that's the case, go to her, Adolf, if you can approach her."
"I couldn't approach her, because she is the minister's property."
"In that case, go to the devil," said the maidens, "Because we won't be dancing with you all evening."
"Why?" asked Adolf. "What did I do to you? Because I said the maiden is beautiful you can't be beautiful also? Has the young baronet taken a portion of your beauty?"
"The fox pleases himself with raisins when he sees he can't obtain grapes," said one of them with a laugh.
"Go away, Adolf," said the second. "Lest others hear us talking, because it's not proper."
"The others won't hear us talking," said Adolf, "They are also talking about the new guests, because the beautiful maiden has also found favor in their eyes," and he left them.
"Who is the gentle maiden that our friend the minister has brought in on his arm and seated next to him on the throne?" the wife of the minister of justice asked her husband.
"I don't know myself, but this I did hear. That she is a baronet, and her father and mother are sitting over there."
"She is very beautiful," said the wife of the minister, "And also very wise by the look of her face. Look how the minister speaks to her and gazes at her with love, and how all the other maidens are jealous of her."
"I believe you," laughed the minister. "And if you were now a maiden, would you be jealous of her?"
"Listen," she said, "They're speaking French."
"I don't understand that language so well," replied the minister of justice.
"Emila!" called one woman, around forty years of age, very handsome, and many fine jewels like stars sparkled on her. She turned her head and neck to every passerby in order that they all see her precious ornaments, because she gloried in them. "Emilia, perhaps you know this lovely maiden the minister has led in on his arm?"
"I'll tell you who she is," said Emilia in a low voice. "She is Finalia, the daughter of the baron Meir Adleberg of France. We studied together in the same school for three years." Certainly the reader recognizes the speaker as Emilia, Albert's beloved, along with her step-mother.
"How is it that he isn't wealthy," said Raphia's wife to Emilia, "Yet he and his wife and daughter are at the head of the guests."
"Pray don't mother!" said Emilia. "Pray don't speak further about them because it isn't proper."
"Death and damnation the man who does this," cried Victor, with a face white as a sheet from rage. "Ha! What do my eyes show me. My beloved in the arms of another."
"Calm down," Albert said to him, seeing that his anger was crossing the border. "Calm down. What sin is done against you, that you become so enraged? If you were also at the ball, and she was your wife, and the mayor took her to dance, would you withhold her from him? Even now, if you can't look, let's go home."
"I won't go. Leave me here and I will see the conclusion of the matter."
"Behold, let me tell you from beginning to end," said Albert. "They arrived at the ball, and he has led them to their chairs to recover a little. Afterwards, they will refresh themselves. Then they will dance, and laugh, and celebrate and cheer their hearts. After that they will go home."
"Leave me alone, my friend, because I can't listen to your clowning now. Not while the earth on which I stand burns under my feet like coals. Here I will stand. Look, the minister is seating her in the chair next to him to speak to her."
"So?" said Albert. "Shouldn't you be rejoicing that your beloved is showered with honor more than any of the other maidens of her age?
"I'll take no joy from that. From now on I'll think of her as a traitor."
"Be silent," said Albert, laughing, "If not, I'll tell her everything. Let's go home," and as he spoke he grasped Victor's arm to pull him after him.
"I'm not going," said Victor.
"In that case, relax. If you awaken from your jealous trance you'll be comforted."
Victor didn't say a word. He just stood looking after them until the two of them sat in the chairs and began to speak.
"Tell me, honorable maiden. How do you like this evening for the beauty and order in the streets and the house."
"It appears goodly and very nice, sir minister. My heart rejoices in it more than the rest of the guests."
"Why more," said the minister, looking at her with an inquisitive eye.
"Because they don't know your lofty principles."
"And from where do you know them, gentle one."
"From the goodness and kindness you have done for us."
"If a man does something, it is not for his neighbor that he does it, but for himself alone, whether it is good or bad," said the minister, and continued looking at her carefully.
Finalia's face reddened, and she said, "If a man does good or bad, for his actions he will be recompensed. But what should the one who receives the good or bad do, and how can the goat reckon with the lion. If he acts for good or for bad, he will not raise him up for his good nor lower him down for his bad."
"Despite this, there exist men who can lower the lion from his heights to the lowest earth or to raise him higher than the stars above."
"And who are they?" asked Finalia, as she tried with all her strength to hide in secrecy her threatening thoughts, realizing that Victor was standing even then before the window and seeing at her sitting and conversing with the minister.
"What are they!" the minister changed her question. "Do men not make nets to capture lions? And what can a lion do if its limbs are caught in a trap?"
"His wits will instruct him to beware lest he falls into it," the maiden replied.
"And if he falls?"
"Then he will labor to save himself."
"And if there are many trappers [Ps. 124:7] ?"
"Are there not many who will help him? And if many labor on his behalf, then he will be quickly saved."
"You are right, gentle maiden, but I will ask you this. Here is a lion caught in a trap and there are many trappers. Of all of those who would be able to rescue him, only the song bird who is before him can save him. For if she lifts her voice to sing this evening, then all would be entranced by her pleasant singing, and quickly he will be saved from the trap. Even the lion would bow before her in his majesty and pride if because she rescued him. Would the bird be able to reply that she doesn't wish to save him, and cast behind her back all the valuable honors [Is. 38:17 - in original quote, "valuable honors" is "sin," quite a play on language] she will receive from him."
Finalia's face changed, alternating from brilliant red to plaster, because she understood the target that the arrow of his words was aiming for. She recovered and said, "Who could be so cruel as to do this? Hasn't he cast his life before her just in order for her to fulfill his desire and to rescue him?"
"On this the bird can be certain, that it will no longer hop on the trees in the woods, causing them to rejoice, and only an echo will be heard in the forest. In a golden cage she will sit and in a pleasure palace she will live, to cheer the heart of all who love song." The minister continued looking into her face when he finished speaking, but she lowered her gaze to the ground. Then the servants came and brought confections, sweets and wine, offering it to everybody. Two servants came before the minister and Finalia, and the minister took some of the confections and offered them to her. All of the maidens watched from afar and were jealous of her, but was she feeling happy? Did she think it an honor? Didn't she think it a disaster, knowing that Victor stood in front of the window. Didn't his heart storm inside him when she told him the minister was in the house, much less now?
The minister rose from his place and went to the second room where the orchestra was, commanded them to play a waltz, and took Finalia to dance with him. Finalia rose from her place, and proceeded to the center of the room on the arm of the minister. They began to dance, and the majority of the guests after them, so that in a few moments, the whole room was like a boiling pot [Job. 41:23]. Different images flashed before those who didn't go out to dance and remained seated. Sometimes the minister and their daughter flew by the baron and Dina. She was perfectly beautiful and the minister was boundlessly happy, and when they passed before the parents they showed off a little. The baron and his wife glowed with hope and joy at the show that was before them.
"All of our hopes and labors were for naught," said one of the observers to another, as they stood before a window watching the minister speaking with Finalia and taking her to dance with him. "All of our labor was worthless. None of us will get her! Not me, not Milkovski, not Victor. A cruel lion has taken the prey from all of us, and he is the hero of the hunt. I hadn't counted on of this disaster."
"Relax Yechidiel. Pray be easy. Do we not have four of the mighty of the land [Ez. 17:3, 2K. 24:15], Yalum, Achbor, Hagbia and Bela [names meaning: "He Will Disappear", "The Rat", "Locust", and "He Swallowed"]. Be calm and don't fear, because the will extract what he has swallowed from his mouth, despite the teeth," said Zevchiel, and they stood in their places. Victor was out there also, and he stared at Finalia as she flew by the window every few minutes. Albert also stood as if on coals on seeing Emila dancing with a strange man, and he groaned. Then the storm quieted, and the tired dancers sat down to recover. Waiters came around again with sweets to refresh them. Some people went to another room to play cards, others to play darts. The waiters brought wine, and the minister toasted to the king's health, the guests, and everyone in the city. The guests toasted the king's health and the minister. Finalia sat in her place and didn't mix with the other guests, and she didn't go out to dance with anybody else. So the evening passed until midnight, when the minister called all of the guests to the meal. Then they all went to the table, the young men with the young women, the grandfathers with the grandmothers. The minister led Finalia to the table and they all sat to eat. The musicians sang some songs from the great Meir Baer (??) and Wagner, and for about three hours they sat at the table eating, drinking, and making merry. Afterwards they returned again to the dance. The bell in the tower sounded four o'clock in the morning, informing the guests it was time to go home. The streets were emptied, and when only a number remained whose eyes weren't yet satiated from the view, the candles began to go dark. The minister stood in the middle of the room to receive a farewell blessing from the guests, and the wagons and the carriages returned the guests home.
Victor and Albert still stood in their places.
"When can we leave here?" asked Albert. "Are your feet held by nails?"
"I won't go," he said, but suddenly he jumped to a attention. "Oh Finalia, where are you?"
"See, the carriage of the minister is coming into the courtyard," said Albert. The baron, his wife, the minister and Finalia came out of the hallway went up to carriage. Dina and Fianlia climbed into the coach. Victor looked at the love of his soul and she also saw him but she wouldn't look back at him while the minister was before her. The carriage began to move and the minister and the baron returned to the palace. When the carriage drove before Victor and Albert, she nodded her head to them through the window of the carriage, and the two of them acknowledged her. Fianlia saw the dark clouds covering the majesty of his face and she sighed.
"Why do you sigh?" her mother asked.
"It's nothing mother. I'm tired and I needed to breath the breeze," the daughter replied.
Victor and Albert left after the carriage passed.
"What is this, that they are returning alone while the baron remains in the house of the minister?" asked Albert.
"I don't know myself, but I'll go with you to recover a little at your house because the place I live is too crowded [Is. 49:20]."
"With all my heart," answered Albert, and so the conversed until they reached his house.
"And what do you have to say, Finalia?" said the mother once they were home. "Such a rare soul as the minister defies description. You saw all of the honors he did for you and you alone."
"I know this," said the daughter, and she turned to go to her room because she didn't wish to speak further about it.
"Might not some evil happen [Pr. 12:21] to the women when they are by themselves?" the baron asked the minister when they returned to the palace.
"Don't fear," said the minister, "John is with them and he will protect them. If only they had listened to my advice, then I wouldn't have let them leave my house either. But it is certain that no evil will befall [Ps. 91:10] them. Know, my friend the baron, that Finalia has found favor in my eyes and I love her very much. If only you will not turn me away empty."
"We?" said the baron, "We will send you away empty? By the evidence of my eyes, Finalia will love you faithfully, because who wouldn't love a rare soul and lofty man such as yourself, my friend minister."
"May God grant it be so," said the minister, and he bid him a tranquil rest. He commanded a servant to lead the baron to the room he had given him, then he went himself to recover a little.