Chapter Nine - The Black of the Night
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 night cast silence [Am. 8:3]. The bustling avenues of Milano were emptied [Jer. 48:11] of people because they all lay in the arms of sleep. Even those who hadn't yet closed their eyes lay in their beds and didn't attempt to go out. Dark clouds covered the glory of the heavens, swallowing up those playful children who glorified in the light of the street lamps, which sometimes shone strongly, and soared upwards [Job 5:7] and sometimes descended downwards and disappeared as if it had never been. But the storm always came to help, lest the night be shrouded in secrecy [Job. 40:13]. The darkness was occasionally broken by terrible lightning, which lit up the whole city. Following the lightning came the loud rumbling of thunder, which rattled the windows of the houses. But when the lightning vanished, the darkness returned to the city and the gloom returned to the avenues. Pouring rain sliced earthwards and struck the roofs, disturbing the silence. But we will see what occurred in the middle of the night between the lightning flashes and thunder such that even the city guard feared to leave their shelters. Behold, two men are walking and conversing.
"And what do you say, Hagbiah?" one of the men asked the second. He was around forty years old, short and lean, and his face couldn't be seen because his cloak covered him to his mustache. Only his eyes were visible, protruding from their sockets and gleaming forth like the eyes of a viper, producing fraud and deceit. "And what do you say? Should we continue to wait for him? It's already two hours past midnight and he still hasn't come. Maybe he is laying a trap for us."
"Then they will seize only darkness [Job 3:6]," said Hagbiah. "But pray tell me Bela, how was it that you met the enemies of Adelberg."
"Didn't I tell you yesterday?"
"You told me yesterday in the wine house, but then all of my interest was on the wine and not on hearing your story."
"So what you didn't listen to yesterday you won't know today."
"Pray tell me, please, because I really want to know."
"And will you be listening today?"
"I will listen. Just tell me."
"Listen then," said Bela, "Yesterday when I was going to meet you, I saw two men walking and talking, but they didn't see me. I heard the young man say to the grey hair, 'What do you think Zevchiel? How will we find the two Frenchmen, Bela and Hagbiah, whom Napoleon sent secretly to hunt down the Baron Adelberg and bring back to France.' Dumbfounded and astounded I walked slowly after them, because I
wanted to hear what they had to do with the Baron."
"'What will happen if we find them?' asked the younger. 'Then we will lend them our hand, in order that they help us stalk the maiden,' answered the elder."
"'Your advice is good,' said the younger. 'I will support them with money, and we will help one another. But I am afraid Yechidiel,' said the other, whom the reader will have certainly recognized as that pleasant pair, Yechidiel and Zevchiel. 'I am afraid that we will not succeed now in hunting her.' 'Why?' 'Behold, I will tell you. A couple of days ago, I saw the Baron go in the evening to the house of the Minister of Justice. I hid there amongst the mulberry trees [2S. 5:25] that surround the house of the Minister, and waited for him to return. About two hours later, when he came out of the house, I saw that two servants escorted him to his home. I couldn't figure out the hidden secret between the baron and the minister. When the servants returned, I heard one of them say to the other, 'John. Will you come with me to the wine house to drink the money that the baron gave us?' 'I won't go,' the second answered him, 'Because I am saving my money for the holiday, and then I will buy a present for my beloved Maria that will shock her.' 'To damnation with you and your love,' said the other, 'I don't desire love. I love only Pillia be Amzi, because he always gives me good strong wine for my money.' When I heard he was going to Pillia's place, I preceded him there and ordered Pillia to pour the wine. As I began to drink, behold, the servant of the minister came in. I winked my eye at him that he should come over to me and I poured him cup of wine. When he emptied the first I poured him a second, and also a third. When I saw that he'd drank abundantly, I gave him a gold coin and said, 'You will receive much more from me if you answer my questions'"
"'Ask!' he said.'"
"When I asked him what the baron was doing just now in his master's house, he answered, 'Why do you want to know?' 'It's important to me,' I told him, and I gave him more money. Then the money spoke from his throat, 'Know,' he said, 'that Napoleon has sent secret agents to seize the baron, because he was found to be a conspirator [Jer. 11:9]. When my master met him, he closed the door after them. Then I though I would listen to what they said, and I heard the minister say, 'Know, my friend, that the two men, Bela and Hagbia, whom Napoleon sent to snatch you, arrived today. Now don't venture out of your house until these two men leave and go back to their place.'"
"'Therefore, I fear that we won't be able to do anything to them,' said the older to the younger. 'Because the minister protects them.' 'We shall! We shall!' I cried and made myself visible. Confused and stunned the two men turned their shoulders to see who was speaking to them. 'Don't be afraid,' I said to them. 'You and we are seeking the same man, and the more that seek him, the easier it will be to find him.' 'And who are you,' he asked me cunningly, 'Make yourself known to me.'"
"'Stay now, and I will enlighten you,' I answered him. 'You and your companion have found favor in my eyes, because you both know how to keep a secret. But did you imagine you could outdo me in cunning or keep anything hidden from me? In order that you believe me, I will give you a sign. I am Bela from Paris, sent here by his majesty Napoleon the third.' These few words threw them into confusion. They remained in their places and said to me, 'You are truly Bela? And where is your compatriot Hagbia' 'He is also here,' I answered them, 'But he is not walking with me at the moment.' After we talked and consulted in our secrets about how to proceed. In the end we concluded that they will snatch the Baron, because they are known to him and they will trick him. We will capture the pretty daughter, who we know because we once saw her walking with a young man who is certainly her lover. If we ambush her in the street it will be easy for us to take her, and then the Yechidiel will weigh out three thousand in silver on our palms for this rare find we will deliver to him, for he is very rich."
At the sound of three thousand in silver, Hagbia jumped up from his place and said, "Will he truthfully give us three thousand silver for the maiden?"
"So he promised us, and now they are supposed to come here and give us an advance. I don't know why they are late. Perhaps they also have a job, because they aren't men to sit with folded arms. But see, who are those walking there?" said Bela, "Because they are straying from the path."
"Here! Here! Come and we will meet you!" called Bela and Hagbia. They approached to face one another, and with the love fitting to men such as these they shook hands with each other and huddled together.
"What is new," Bela asked. "Do you have to something to report,"
"There is and there is that," said Zevchiel, and he looked at the second man as if he was afraid to speak before him.
"Don't be afraid. He is Hagbia my friend, and he is a man like us."
"According to my estimation we won't prevail with the baron," said Zevchiel, "Because the minister is protecting him, and he has sent his servant to their house to guard him."
"But who told the minister that we are here?" asked Hagbia.
"How should we know?" said Zevchiel.
"I imagine that his son Ludwig Adeleberg in Paris, who is now in the ruler's courtyard secretly contacted the minister to request him to be a shield for him," said Bela.
"You're right," said Hagbia. "But wait until we return to Paris and then he'll receive his full wages."
"Does he also have a son in Paris?" asked Zevchiel.
"If he didn't have a son, he would already be lost from the land of the living," said Bela. "Because the son always stood before the emperor and requested mercy for his father. But this time he didn't say a thing when Naploeon called him in and told him that he wanted to bring the father back and judge him, and if he had not sinned, to restore him to his place [Gen. 40:13]. The son answered him with a smooth tongue [Pr. 6:24], saying, 'Your majesty rules thirty five million subjects, and their lives and fates are in your hand. You judge them in righteousness and fairness, and you will do likewise with my father, God forbid you should pervert justice.' To this response Napoleon answered, 'Behold, I knew you were a faithful servant to your king, because you stood the test, and your love for your king is greater than your love for your father. Therefore you will be in my palace from now on, and you will live in my courtyard.' The whole city was astonished the next day that young Adelberg was taken into the emperor's palace, because no such honor had yet befallen a Jew. But he is smarter than all men because he knew how to lead Napoleon astray. He sent secretly to the minister to be a shelter and a shield for his father. He'll retain his honor until we return to Paris, but for the time being we can't keep our hands in our pockets, because we will be here several more days and we won't be able to achieve anything."
"Do as I ask of you," Yechidiel said, 'And then you will have your wages."
"If we don't labor in vain [Is. 65:23]," said Hagbia, "Then we will serve you faithfully and wholly."
"Ask me however much money [Gen 34:12] and I will pay your price," said Yechidiel, "But why do we stand in the street in the downpour? Come, let us go to the place of Pillia be Amzi. We'll have a cup of wine there and warm our flesh, because all of our clothing is soaked from rain. Come, let us go, and I'll give you a cash advance."
"Come, let us go," said Bela and Hagbia on hearing the words, "wine" and "money."
"Did you know," said Bela, "That the daughter of the baron is in love with Victor Shonfeld, who currently works in the trading house of Raphia of Granavitch?"
"She loves Victor?" said Yechidiel in anxiety.
"That is so," said Bela. "Why don't you believe me?"
"How do you know this? I've been living in this city for ten years and I don't know a thing. You came here a few days ago and everything is known to you," said Yechidiel in astonishment.
"A wise man, if he in a place just a moment, will very soon know everything that goes on," Bela laughed.
"For all that, I ask that you tell me how you found this out."
"In Pillia ben Amzi's place I will tell you. I'm very cold, and I'm also afraid of the city guard, of standing here in the middle of the night with three other men when the patrol comes this way.
"We will go then," they all agreed and set off, because they had been standing the whole time leaning against a wall of a house to be under the roof so the rain wouldn't reach them.
"But what is this," said Bela. "It seems to me that a man rose from the foundation of the house on the other side and ran. Certainly he was lurking about us to hear our conversation. See how he has vanished from our sight in the dark street." The lightning had revealed his hiding place, and when they wanted to see him they couldn't, because the lightning passed quickly and the street returned to its former darkness.
"Behold, I will run after him and get him," said Bela.
"Do not run, lest it be ruinous [2S. 17:16] for us." Said Hagbia, "But I would like to know who set out to observe us."
"But who said to you that this is the case? Verily the shadow of a man seemed like a man to you. When we rose from our places, in the midst of which the lightning flashed, your own shadow or the shadow of one of us fell on the wall here, and you imagined it to be a man."
"Haven't I told you many times, Hagbia," said Bela, "Not to debate with me about the veracity of my eyes. Don't you remember last year, when we met the honorable Von Leon with ben Gila (when they murdered a man and his wife from Leon and took all they had). Didn't you say then that I was mistaken? But afterwards it was proved that I was right."
"You haven't drunk any wine yet, Bela, yet your whole heart pours out your lips. Are we not in a foreign land?"
"What valuable wisdom! Am I speaking in a court? Are they not men who share the same values as us? Why should I be on guard against them?"
"Here, I have a question for you," said Zevchiel to Bela. "Verily men like you hate the government. How can you work in a French court and yet nobody pays attention to your deeds?"
"Behold, you have grown old and grey [1S. 12:2]," said Bela, "And certainly you didn't sit in idleness, but despite this, you still don't know anything. We work in the highest court (secret police), and there they don't ask if we are murderers or thieves, because 'the robber knows well what robbery is' [Aramaic expression]." And as they spoke they reached the wine house.