Chapter Twenty Three - The Prisoner
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
"Where are you from? What brings you here?" the minister asked the man standing before him, as his eyes measured him from the soles of his feet to his scalp. The minister recognized him as bad and worthless fellow, one who wasn't accustomed to somebody penetrating into his heart. The man stared at the ground, but occasionally lifted his sparkling eyes, which glinted robbery and murder, to look all around him.
"Your servant has just returned from Wannadig, sir minister. I lived there in a hotel for five days with a young man, and on the sixth day a beautiful and refined young maiden came to him. It seemed that he was waiting for her, because he was happy when she arrived. The name of the man was Victor Shonfeld.
The minister stared at him with loathing and said, "What was the name of the maiden?"
"This I don't know. But the servants in the house told me that she came from Milano and also that they were traveling to Germany. When I arrived here, I heard everybody talking about the daughter of the baron Adelberg and who fled from her parent's house, and how you were protecting the baron from his pursuers and had gathered him into your house. She gave me a letter to you, and that's why I came here."
"Do you have the letter with you?" asked the minister.
'I have it," and as he spoke he took the letter from his pocket and gave it to the minister. But, before the minister opened the letter, he went for a moment into the next room, then quickly returned.
"What is your name, so that I know?" the minister asked him.
"My name! My name!" he said as he thought.
The minister laughed inside, then said in a commanding voice, "Didn't I ask you your name? Have you forgotten it?"
"You asked me my name sir? I didn't hear you. My name is Lotan ben Shoval [Gen 36:20 - two names picked from a single Biblical passage]."
The minister was about to continue, but four armed men appeared at the doorstep of the house, and they stood in their places. Lotan looked anxiously at these men.
"Come close here," said the minister, and they did as their lord commanded. The servants approached the man and before his wits returned to him, he was bound in fetters from head to foot. He roared like a lion over his prey and gnashed his teeth. "That won't help you," said the servants.
"But what is my crime and sin that you have put my feet in stocks [Job. 13:27]?"
"Take him to his place," yelled the minister in a rage. [Lam 4:11]
"Who made you minister and judge over me?" cried the prisoner.
"Silence, ungodly man," yelled the minister. "Take him away. What are you waiting for?" In a couple moments the clinking of his iron chains were heard throughout the courtyard as they took him to the place assigned to him. The minister remained alone in his room, held by a multitude of thoughts [Ps. 94:19]. "I am afraid," the minister said to himself, "that we accused the maiden without cause. Maybe these worthless and reckless [Jud. 9:4] men have risen up to practice wicked deeds [Ps. 141:4] against her. I won't quickly be setting this ungodly man free, because maybe I'll get some truth out of him. By the look of his face, he's the head of the villains. Woe, if she is innocent of all this and fell into these criminals hands. But don't I have a letter here? I'll see what's in it." He took the letter from his pocket and spread it out before him, but behold, there was a knock at the door.
"Who's there?" the minister quickly thundered, because he couldn't control his agitation.
"Adelberg seeking permission to enter, sir minister," was the answer. "If it's not a good time, I'll go and come back."
"Are you here, my friend the baron? Come in, pray, come in," said the minister, and he quickly hid the letter in his pocket.
"Pray forgive me, my friend," said the minister when he saw the baron in his room, and he extended his right hand in brothehood. "Certainly I didn't know that it was you. Pray sit," said the minister, trying to hide his confusion. But the baron saw his embarrassment and said, "I was in the courtyard just now, and I heard the prisoner that your servants were bringing to his prison cell. He spoke words in French that I don't know how to charm away, and they frighten my heart. 'What is this!' he roared, 'I just mentioned the maiden, and he got excited and enraged. Isn't he like one of us dealing treacherously.'"
"You heard this my friend?"
"I heard this."
"This man came like a messenger and told me that in Wannadig he saw Victor and Finalia, because he lived with them for a few days the same hotel. Then they went to Germany, and before they traveled off she gave him a letter to me. But I recognized him as a worthless fellow, and he only wants to seek and inquire of me about your hiding place. He is from the gang of thieves, therefore I ordered him arrested here until I get some truth out of him."
The baron's face whitened like plaster and he said, "Didn't you say, sir, that the man gave you a letter? Let's look inside."
"You're right," he said, took the letter from his pocket, and he read:
Honored and Exalted Sir,
My spirit is stormy and I feel many emotions in my heart as I grasp my pen in hand to write these lines. I will leave it to your refined sensibilities to judge and decide, because only your broad intelligence can purify and refine the words coming out from the depth of the heart of a depressed and afflicted soul. Verily I rejected riches and fled to poverty. I distanced myself from joy and embraced tragedy. I fled from the lap of upright parents, and lightly esteemed my pursuers every step of the way. But there is no going back, and before I die, don't hide this consolation from me. I have a request of you, exalted sir, and I depend on your refined sensibilities that you won't turn me away empty. I ask that you don't withdraw your generous protection from my dear, upright parents until the anger of their enemies passes. Then I will be able to calm a little the storms in my spirit and my heart, which witnesses all of the injuries of time. I will continue on a sea of worry forever, never reaching port, because I am endlessly pursued by noise of the waves. In time they will crush me to death, and with eyes wide open I hope for the happy moment that I am dragged down to the deep. Then my tired and cast away [Micah. 4:7] soul will find tranquility. These words are written in the stillness of my heart.
F in a l iaA d el b e r g
"Alas and woe!" cried the baron from the groans of his heart, and the letter fell from his hand.
"Pray be calm," said the minister. "Isn't it urgent now that we be firm stand upright [Ps. 20:9]? Now consult with me what to do, and tell me what you think about this."
"Pray know, sir," said the baron, "That I don't understand how to interpret the words of the letter. I think that Victor deceived her, and she is ashamed to return home now. Therefor she complains about her hard days, and says that she goes on a sea of worries, and the waves of time will pursue her until she is plunged into the deep. Woe! Woe! What has happened to my only daughter."
The minister nodded his head and said, "Do you know that I think otherwise, that robbers have stolen your daughter and taken her some place far away. The two letters we have are counterfeits, the work of the kidnappers. They were never in Wannadig, and I'd already sent there to seek them."
"I'm doubtful [Ps. 88:16 - meaning disputed] about this," said the baron.
"We will know tomorrow," said the minister, "because I hope get some truth out of the prisoner." When he finished speaking he gave his hand to the baron, and the baron returned to his quarters. The minister remained in his room and didn't appear to the baron until the next day, when he went to the courthouse.
The judges in the courthouse sat around a large table covered with a red tablecloth. The court recorders sat to one side, and policemen came in and out every minute to get orders from the judges. One empty chair was placed higher than the judges, but the man who sat there hadn't yet arrived. Above the chair, on the wall, was a portrait of the king in all his majesty. His eyes seemed alive and they stared forth full of anger and vengeance to frighten and warn them not to pervert justice. The minister strode into the room, and walked with measured steps to his place and sat. The judges were grew silent to await his words, and quiet reigned throughout the court.
The minister looked around the room to all sides, after which he broke the silence and said, "Bring in the prisoner from the third cell whose name is Lotan ben Shoval." Two policemen who stood before him went out and in a few moments returned with the prisoner and stood him before the minister. The judges examined this new guest and wondered but were silent.
"Pray listen sirs," said the minister to the judges. 'This man came to me yesterday and said that he saw the daughter of the baron in Wannadig. According to his words he saw her three days after she disappeared."
"He speaks lies," cried one of the judges. "Didn't we dispatch [people] for two weeks on all of the railroads to all of the cities of Italy to seek her without finding her."
"Did you know, sirs," the minister continued to speak, "That the daughter of the baron who disappeared didn't flee to Victor, but robbers carried her away from father's house and put an end to my servant John. This man is one of the robbers, but I hope to extract what he has swallowed from his mouth, because he knows many mysteries."
The judges looked first at the judge and then at each other. Afterwards they examined the prisoner, and they saw that his face was as white as plaster from fear and confusion. But he gathered the remnants of his strength, and he answered bravely, "No sir. You are mistaken in your judgement. I never cast my lot with the lot of criminals. I am innocent of all sin, and I don't know have the slightest idea as to what you are talking about. I swear by the Lord that I saw the daughter of the baron in Wannadig with her lover Victor."
"Silence, godless man," shouted the minister in hot rage. "It's not for you to mention the name of the Lord." Even thought they examined and investigated him for two hours, they couldn't get a word of truth out of him. They decided to contact the city of Rome and have the judges there seek after Victor, to find whether he was in that city or whether he had journeyed from there, and thus find out if the prisoner's words agreed with theirs. The prisoner was taken back to his cell. After the minister completed his duties at the court, he rose and went home, where he found the baron waiting for him. He told him what happened in court, "But I hope," he said, "that time will make him talk. If not today, then tomorrow." The two men parted from one another with faint hope.