Chapter 63622247

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Chapter NumberPART I. I
Chapter TitleTHE KLOSSTOCKS.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63622247
Full Date1889-11-14
Page Number0
Corrections0
Word Count2908
IllustratedY
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleIllustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)
Trove TitleBy Order of the Czar. The Tragic Story of Anna Klosstock, The Queen of the Ghetto
article text

BY ORDER OF THE OZAR.

PART 1.

CHAPTER I.-THE KLOSSTOCKS.

fâ!f HE might have sat to Titian, as the lovely

daughter of a Doge of Venice in the ^1 romantic days of Christian chivalry; and

yet she was only the daughter of a Polish ^£ Jew and lived on sufferance in the Russian

village of Czarovna.

I ' The God of Jew and Gentile alike is kind in hiding from all his creatures the book of Fate, otherwise Anna Klosstock might have cursed the hour in which she was born. Nevertheless at the opening of this history we find her rejoicing in her life, and grateful to her Creator for the excep- tional blessings with which her girlhood was endowed. She had-above all things desired of woman-the gift of beauty; and as there is no beauty without health, Providence had blessed her with a physical capacity for enjoyment, and an intellectuality beyond that which as a rule accompanies the comely attraction of good looks.

Indeed, at the beginning of this story of perse- cution, love, and vengeance, it might have seemed to the optimistic philosopher that Fate had gone down into the lowest walks of life to prove the equality of the general distribution of happiness,

and that Anna Klosstock had been selected as an example of the divine impartiality. For, although Anna lived only in the shadow of liberty, she had never known what its sunshine is, and in her captivity was a queen-the elect of every man, woman, and child of the community in which she was born. It is true her subjects were a despised race, but the Ghetto or Pale of Settlement in the populous village of Czarovna was the most con- tented, the happiest, the most flourishing of the Jewish towns of Southern Russia ; so much so, indeed, that instead of encouraging the Imperial Government to persevere in a policy of liberality towards both Jew and Gentile, it had more than once excited the suspicion, fear, and duplicity of the reigning powers. At Czarovna both Jew and Christian lived on fairly amicable terms. The Governor, General Ivan Poltava, credited the peace of it to the exceptional liberality of the merchant, Nathan Klosstock, Anna's father : but General Poltava was as great a rarity of honesty in the administration of his office as Nathan Klosstock was of generosity in a Jew merchant. Were there more of such there would be fewer troubles in the land; though neither Russian Imperial policy nor the local Hebrew education tend to develop just and upright governors, or fair dealing and high-minded Jewish subjects.

Czarovna was an example of how possible it is, even under the grinding laws of Russia, for a community of mixed nationalities and alien races to live, if not in harmony at least without the miseries of a perpetual feud ; but there was an unusual principle of give and take on both sides between the Jews and Christians of this exceptional village in the province of Vilnavitch.

If the Jews in Russia are tainted with the worst characteristics of the race, their grasping and dogmatic idiosyncrasies are the result of a systematic and cruel persecution. The conditions under which they exist are miserable beyond all imagination. They suffer again the persecutions of Egypt, without the hope or prospect of deliver- ance. The Imperial Legislation of St. Petersburg seems to aim at nothing short of their annihila- tion. They are legislated for as if they were a criminal class-condemned to pass their lives in circumscribed districts. The ancient Ghetto of the Middle Ages exists for them in some districts of Russia with all its penal severities. They may

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/,//??''// not own an .inch of Russian land ; />;. ?/'y / they may only occupy themselves in 'fy//' certain limited licensed businesses ; ??A they are compelled at intervals to present

themselves at certain official stations for the purpose of reporting themselves and renewing their passports ; they are open to insult and de- rision at the hands of any Christian who chooses morally and physically to wipe his feet upon them. Nevertheless, as a class, they succeed in ekeing out an existence and maintaining a religious in- dependence with an obstinacy that is little less than miraculous. The intensity of their applica- tion to the art of money-making also develops, even under the severest conditions, a moneyed class. In every village there is at least one rich Jew-a local Shylock-who lends money at usury, buys up or mortgages the crops of his urban neighbour, rents some noble's distillery, controls the taverns, and commands from his co- religionists the respect which is denied him by his Christian fellow-subjects. The child of a thou- sand years of ill-treatment, it is not to be expected that he will deal any more charitably with the Christian than the Christian deals with him. If the Christian despises him, be sure he hates the Christian with a deadly hatred. Should his child, under the milder influence of Christian precepts, give way to a proselytising influence, she or he is considered dead to all intents and purposes, the bitter feeling going so far as to comprehend a funeral service, with an empty coffin and a ceme- tery record. There is no forgiveness for the deserter among the Russian Jews.

Nathan Klosstock would probably have re- sented as fiercely as Shylock himself the defec- tion of his only daughter Anna, although in his financial, reign at Czarovna he had Avon the, title among the better class of Christians of a liberal Jew. Under the unusually mild governorship of

General Poltava the strict limits of the Ghetto had been practically wiped out. The mayor of the little town, being particularly anxious to stand well with the General, Avho lived in an old palace on the uplands overlooking the straggling village, acted with an outward show of sympathy for the Governor's mild and beneficent edicts.

Czarovna chiefly consisted of one long broad street, with houses and shops in a strange pic- turesque jumble, a fine church, and in this case a more or less dilapidated palace on the outskirts, in which the Governor (who in this instance also exercised authority over much of the sitrrounding district, with the approval of the Governor General of the vast province of Vilnavitch) resided, and the barracks where were generally quartered a troop of Hussars. At the northern end of the town, creeping up from the rocky bed of the river, that wound its way into the distant forest, was the Jewish quarter, which even in this exceptional district considered it necessary to put on an outward appearance of poverty in keeping with tradition, but which had many contrary examples to show to those who excited in them no dread of plunder.

The house of Moses Grunstein, for instance, externally looked what it professed to be, the abode and warehouse of a struggling trader and mercha.nt, who found it difficult to make both ends meet; but in reality it was in its way a palace, with a subterranean annexe, that was one of the mysteries of Czarovna, and its owner's particular and special secret. Nathan Klosstock, however, made but little disguise of his pros- perity, for he believed no one grudged him his wealth, because he made good use of it, and was as generous as any Christian could possibly be, and far more so than many really were. But

the native who lives in the track of the tornado grows accustomed to danger. People live without fear beneath the shadow of Vesuvius. Every man is mortal but oneself. There might be troubles in other villages of Southern Russia, but

to Nathan Klosstock Czarovna was safe. Life is

a matter of habit ; one may become used to any- thing. Happiness is a question of comparison. A prisoner having been subject to severe dis- cipline is awakened one morning with the com- panionship of his dog ; in future he is to have books, there is a jar of flowers in his cell ; he may take exercise, and he is to suffer no more hard labour : he thinks himself the happiest man in the world. Nathan Klosstock, though recognised in a friendly way by the Governor, had to cringe and grovel before the great landlords, and he

dared not resent the bold looks and insolent com-

pliments which were now and then paid to Anna by some of his noble patrons. But oh, my brethren, to what a gulf of misery and death he was walking all this time, he and his !-the way strewn with flowers, as if to enhance the horrors of the impending gulf-walking hand in hand to the music of their own grateful hearts, at which every fiend in hell might have laughed, so grim, so awful was the pit that Pate had cast in their

way.

During some years past a few of the later generations of Jews had ventured, with proper authorisation, to live in the town proper and its outskirts, where they could see the sky and have the privilege here and there of something like rural occupation. There were troubles now and and then with such of these as the Governor per- mitted to hold taverns or public-houses, and it was no doubt a legitimate complaint on the part of the poorer class of farmers that these miser- able Jews, having lent money to the even more miserable mujiks, encouraged them to drink and spend the money they had borrowed. But when- ever anything like a serious situation was de- veloped in this direction Nathan Klosstock came forward and settled it. He had also propitiated the few nobles and better class of land cultivators in the province, by fair and honourable advances of money, at fair and honourable rates. He was the general merchant of the district, dealing in everything; was a shipping agent, importing goods from almost every part of the world ; was a pleasant, hearty, genial, fairly educated man, and had induced the young rabbi, Marcus Losinski, of St. Petersburg, to take up his resi- dence as Chief Rabbi at Czarovna. Klosstock's house was the Mecca of many travelling pedlars, students, and beggars. He was known throughout

all the lands where Jews are known. His wife

during her short lifetime had been worthy of his fame, and his daughter Anna was a lovely type of Semitic beauty, with a grace of manner that was eminently in keeping with the name she

bore.

The Klosstocks lived at the very entrance to the Ghetto, where in olden days the gates that had shut* in the narrow streets of the despised community had swung night and morning upon their grating hinges, to the order of the hostile guardian whom the Jews themselves had to pay for exercising his barbaric authority over them. It was an unpretentious house, though somewhat glaringly painted ; and it served as a shop, count- ing-house, office, museum, and living apartments,

where Klosstock's forefathers had founded the

little fortune which had prospered in the hands of their now aged son.

It was after a visit to the province of Vilna vitch, and a pleasant call, en route, at the house of Klosstock, that Nathan had induced the young and distinguished rabbi to accept the vacancy at Czarovna. Not that the rich Jew had given his daughter to Losinski, as he might have done, but he had promised him that if he should find favour in Anna eyes the betrothal should take place as soon as possible. Anna had already received much more than the customary tuition which the Jews of her father's class permit to their daughters. She could speak German, had a fair knowledge of French, was almost learned in Biblical lore, and had the natural taste of her race for music. Her voice and her lute were heard at the Jewish festivals, and her charities might have

won the commendation of the strictest wor- shippers of that Messiah for whom her race suffer still under the ban of having crucified.

Marcus Losinski, coming to take charge of the morals and religion of the Jews of Czarovna, was to Anna a pilgrim of light from the outer world. He was wiser than his years ; had travelled through the East, even to Jerusalem. He could tell her of the wonders of the great capitals. He had fulfilled missions to Paris and London, although he was only some ten or fifteen years

her senior.

No queen could have held Losinski in a firmer allegiance of love and worship than Anna the Queen of the Ghetto.

' It is accounted a sin among the Christians,' he had one day said to her, ' to love even maid or wife beyond the man they have made their God ; and I am glad to have been born a Jew, Anna, if it were only to be untrammelled by law, human or divine, in my love for you.'

' Do you not think,' Anna replied, ' that God's laws are as easy as man's are difficult ?'

' Yes, Anna, truly I do. Religion lies not in laws nor in knowledge, but in a pure and holy

life.'

' And yet, dear love,' said Anna,' ' I sometimes think you chafe here in Czarovna, and long for a wider sphere of usefulness.'

' It is not so, Anna. My ambition is satisfied to be with you, whatever my sphere of work ; but sometimes I wonder if it were not wise to leave this land of doubt and fear, and travel further afield, where our people are not everlastingly within the clutch of tyranny and abuse, where indeed they are safe from public persecution and private contumely.'

' Ah, you envy Andrea Ferrari/ Anna replied. ' You would like to go up and down the world, as he does, seeking fresh peoples, noting the wonders of strange lands.'

' Nay ; I have seen much of the great world, Anna. My only desire is to be sure that your

future shall be as happy as your past; that ' neither you nor your father may ever be the si victims of some sudden change of policy on the 1 part of the Government. For myself, my life is | nothing to me if it brings no special good to

you. Martyrdom in such a cause woiild be hap- ;

piness.'

'You are sad!' Anna said quickly. 'Do not 1 talk of martyrdom; you make my heart stand J still. What martyrdom, dear love, could there -] possibly be for you in my behalf ?'

' None that would be martyrdom/ said Losinski. ' But how do we come to be talking in such a doleful strain? Forgive me, Anna. Ferrari comes to your father's house presently. I met him an hour ago at the barber's. He is particular about his toilette when he comes to see the Queen

of the Ghetto.' ^

' He is very welcome/ said Anna. ' Is he not ^ something like the dove returning to the ark with ,1 news of the outer world? There are no books of travel so interesting as the travellers them-

selves.'

'For which sentiment/ said a voice in the doorway, ' I return you my best thanks ; and I believe, if I am not considered too egotistical, that I am of your opinion/

' Ah, Signor Ferrari/ exclaimed Anna, rising, ' welcome ; it is true we were talking of you.'

' Again good-day to you/ said Losinski. ' Anna finding me in a doleful mood began to talk of you ; I hope you will make us merry.'

' That must be our duty to Andrea/ remarked Nathan, the master of the house, who had entered the room with the traveller; 'our guest has -journeyed far and wants rest and refreshment.

He reserves for after dinner his news and gossip ; -and he has news that is not altogether good, he says ; so let us eat, drink and be merry, for the present is ours, and who knows aught of the morrow ? Come, Anna, be of good cheer.'

' Nay, I am, dear father ; and our good friend

Signor Ferrari shall tell us of his city in the sea. i That will make him happy, and we will share his ¡ joy. You have only good news from Venice ?'

' None other, dear mistress/ the Italian replied j ' Venice is paradise/

' Venice is your home, Signor ; and home is paradise wherever it is. Come let us go to

dinner.'

Nathan smiled at Ferrari and laid his hand lovingly on Anna's shoulder as they left the small entrance hall or porchway into the general room of the old house, where dinner was ready.

' It is a sentiment that does you honour as well as your daughter/ said the Italian in reply ; but turning to Losinski he added, ' is it good after all, a Providence that gives the children of the desert a proverb instead of a home ?'

'God be thanked/ said the rabbi, 'for the comfort of Anna's loving sentiment/

' Amen/ said Ferrari ; ' long live the grateful heart ;' and then to himself-' Shall we, the so called chosen, always have to fawn on the hand

that smites us ?'