The Silent Woman
by Leopold Kompert
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"I know no other place to which I belong more than here where I now am!" she answered, severely.
These words puzzled the rabbi still more. Is it really an insane woman before him? He must have thought so, for he now addressed her in a gentle tone of voice, as we do those suffering from this kind of sickness, in order not to excite her, and said:
"The place where you belong, my daughter, is in the house of your parents, and, since you have to-day been made a wife, your place is in your husband's house."
The young woman muttered something which failed to reach the rabbi's ear. Yet he only continued to think that he saw before him some poor unfortunate whose mind was deranged. After a pause, he added, in a still gentler tone: "What is your name, then, my child?"
"God, god," she moaned, in the greatest anguish, "he does not even yet know my name!"
"How should I know you," he continued, apologetically, "for I am a stranger in this place?"
This tender remark seemed to have produced the desired effect upon her excited mind.
"My name is Veile," she said, quietly, after a pause.
The rabbi quickly perceived that he had adopted the right tone towards his mysterious guest.
"Veile," he said, approaching nearer her, "what do you wish of me?"
"Rabbi, I have a great sin resting heavily upon my heart," she replied despondently. "I do not know what to do."
"What can you have done," inquired the rabbi, with a tender look, "that cannot be discussed at any other time than just now? Will you let me advise you, Veile?"
"No, no," she cried again, violently, "I will not be advised. I see, I know what oppresses me. Yes, I can grasp it by the hand, it lies so near before me. Is that what you call to be advised?"
"Very well," returned the rabbi, seeing that this was the very way to get the young woman to talk--"very well, I say, you are not imagining anything. I believe that you have greatly sinned. Have you come here then to confess this sin? Do your parents or your husband know anything about it?"
"Who is my husband?" she interrupted him, impetuously.
Thoughts welled up in the rabbi's heart like a tumultuous sea in which opposing conjectures cross and recross each other's course. Should he speak with her as with an ordinary sinner?
"Were you, perhaps, forced to be married?" he inquired, as quietly as possible, after a pause.
A suppressed sob, a strong inward struggle, manifesting itself in the whole trembling body, was the only answer to this question.
"Tell me, my child," said the rabbi, encouragingly.
In such tones as the rabbi had never before heard, so strange, so surpassing any human sounds, the young woman began:
"Yes, rabbi, I will speak, even though I know that I shall never go from this place alive, which would be the very best thing for me! No, rabbi, I was not forced to be married. My parents have never once said to me 'you must,' but my own will, my own desire, rather, has always been supreme. My husband is the son of a rich man in the community. To enter his family was to be made the first lady in the _gasse_, to sit buried in gold and silver. And that very thing, nothing else, was what infatuated me with him. It was for that that I forced myself, my heart and will, to be married to him, hard as it was for me. But in my innermost heart I detested him. The more he loved me, the more I hated him. But the gold and silver had an influence over me. More and more they cried to me, 'You will be the first lady in the _gasse_!'"
"Continue," said the rabbi, when she ceased, almost exhausted by these words.
"What more shall I tell you, rabbi?" she began again. "I was never a liar, when a child, or older, and yet during my whole engagement it has seemed to me as if a big, gigantic lie had followed me step by step. I have seen it on every side of me. But to-day, when I stood under the _chuppe_, rabbi, and he took the ring from his finger and put it on mine, and when I had to dance at my own wedding with him, whom I now recognized, now for the first time, as the lie, and--when they led me away----"
This sincere confession escaping from the lips of the young woman, she sobbed aloud and bowed her head still deeper over her breast. The rabbi gazed upon her in silence. No insane woman ever spoke like that! Only a soul conscious of its own sin, but captivated by a mysterious power, could suffer like this!