A Gloomy Wedding
: MORDECAI SPEKTOR
They handed Gittel a letter that had come by post, she put on her
spectacles, sat down by the window, and began to read.
She read, and her face began to shine, and the wrinkled skin took on a
little color. It was plain that what she read delighted her beyond
measure, she devoured the words, caught her breath, and wept aloud in
the fulness of her joy.
"At last, at last! Blessed be His dear Na
e, whom I am not worthy to
mention! I do not know, Gottinyu, how to thank Thee for the mercy Thou
hast shown me. Beile! Where is Beile? Where is Yossel? Children! Come,
make haste and wish me joy, a great joy has befallen us! Send for
Avremele, tell him to come with Zlatke and all the children."
Thus Gittel, while she read the letter, never ceased calling every one
into the room, never ceased reading and calling, calling and reading,
and devouring the words as she read.
Every soul who happened to be at home came running.
"Good luck to you! Good luck to us all! Moishehle has become engaged in
Warsaw, and invites us all to the wedding," Gittel explained. "There,
read the letter, Lord of the World, may it be in a propitious hour, may
we all have comfort in one another, may we hear nothing but good news of
one another and of All-Israel! Read it, read it, children! He writes
that he has a very beautiful bride, well-favored, with a large dowry.
Lord of the World, I am not worthy of the mercy Thou hast shown me!"
repeated Gittel over and over, as she paced the room with uplifted
hands, while her daughter Beile took up the letter in her turn. The
children and everyone in the house, including the maid from the kitchen,
with rolled-up sleeves and wet hands, encircled Beile as she read aloud.
"Read louder, Beiletshke, so that I can hear, so that we can all hear,"
begged Gittel, and there were tears of happiness in her eyes.
The children jumped for joy to see Grandmother so happy. The word
"wedding," which Beile read out of the letter, contained a promise of
all delightful things: musicians, pancakes, new frocks and suits, and
they could not keep themselves from dancing. The maid, too, was heartily
pleased, she kept on singing out, "Oi, what a bride, beautiful as gold!"
and did not know what to be doing next--should she go and finish cooking
the dinner, or should she pull down her sleeves and make holiday?
The hiss of a pot boiling over in the kitchen interrupted the
letter-reading, and she was requested to go and attend to it forthwith.
"The bride sends us a separate greeting, long life to her, may she live
when my bones are dust. Let us go to the provisor, he shall read it; it
is written in French."
The provisor, the apothecary's foreman, who lived in the same house,
said the bride's letter was not written in French, but in Polish, that
she called Gittel her second mother, that she loved her son Moses as her
life, that he was her world, that she held herself to be the most
fortunate of girls, since God had given her Moses, that Gittel (once
more!) was her second mother, and she felt like a dutiful daughter
towards her, and hoped that Gittel would love her as her own child.
The bride declared further that she kissed her new sister, Beile, a
thousand times, together with Zlatke and their husbands and children,
and she signed herself "Your forever devoted and loving daughter
An hour later all Gittel's children were assembled round her, her eldest
son Avremel with his wife, Zlatke and her little ones, Beile's husband,
and her son-in-law Yossel. All read the letter with eager curiosity,
brandy and spice-cakes were placed on the table, wine was sent for, they
drank healths, wished each other joy, and began to talk of going to the
Gittel, very tired with all she had gone through this day, went to lie
down for a while to rest her head, which was all in a whirl, but the
others remained sitting at the table, and never stopped talking of
"I can imagine the sort of engagement Moisheh has made, begging his
pardon," remarked the daughter-in-law, and wiped her pale lips.
"I should think so, a man who's been a bachelor up to thirty! It's easy
to fancy the sort of bride, and the sort of family she has, if they
accepted Moisheh as a suitor," agreed the daughter.
"God helping, this ought to make a man of him," sighed Moisheh's elder
brother, "he's cost us trouble and worry enough."
"It's your fault," Yossel told him. "If I'd been his elder brother, he
would have turned out differently! I should have directed him like a
father, and taken him well in hand."
"You think so, but when God wishes to punish a man through his own child
going astray, nothing is of any use; these are not the old times, when
young people feared a Rebbe, and respected their elders. Nowadays the
world is topsyturvy, and no sooner has a boy outgrown his childhood than
he does what he pleases, and parents are nowhere. What have I left
undone to make something out of him, so that he should be a credit to
his family? Then, he was left an orphan very early; perhaps he would
have obeyed his father (may he enter a lightsome paradise!), but for a
brother and his mother, he paid them as much attention as last year's
snow, and, if you said anything to him, he answered rudely, and neither
coaxing nor scolding was any good. Now, please God, he'll make a fresh
start, and give up his antics before it's too late. His poor mother!
She's had trouble enough on his account, as we all know."
Beile let fall a tear and said:
"If our father (may he be our kind advocate!) were alive, Moishehle
would never have made an engagement like this. Who knows what sort of
connections they will be! I can see them, begging his pardon, from here!
Is he likely to have asked anyone's advice? He always had a will of his
own--did what he wanted to do, never asked his mother, or his sister, or
his brother, beforehand. Now he's a bridegroom at thirty if he's a day,
and we are all asked to the wedding, are we really? And we shall soon
all be running to see the fine sight, such as never was seen before. We
are no such fools! He thinks himself the clever one now! So he wants
us to be at the wedding? Only says it out of politeness."
"We must go, all the same," said Avremel.
"Go and welcome, if you want to--you won't catch me there," answered
There was a deal more discussion and disputing about not going to the
wedding, and only congratulating by telegram, for good manners' sake.
Since he had asked no one's advice, and engaged himself without them,
let him get married without them, too!
Gittel, up in her bedroom, could not so soon compose herself after the
events of the day. What she had experienced was no trifle. Moishehle
engaged to be married! She had been through so much on his account in
the course of her life, she had loved him, her youngest born, so dearly!
He was such a beautiful child that the light of his countenance dazzled
you, and bright as the day, so that people opened ears and mouth to hear
him talk, and God and men alike envied her the possession of such a boy.
"I counted on making a match for him, as I did with Avremel before him.
He was offered the best connections, with the families of the greatest
Rabbis. But, no--no--he wanted to go on studying. 'Study here, study
there,' said I, 'sixteen years old and a bachelor! If you want to study,
can't you study at your father-in-law's, eating Koest? There are books in
plenty, thank Heaven, of your father's.' No, no, he wanted to go and
study elsewhere, asked nobody's advice, and made off, and for two months
I never had a line. I nearly went out of my mind. Then, suddenly, there
came a letter, begging my pardon for not having said good-by, and would
I forgive him, and send him some money, because he had nothing to eat.
It tore my heart to think my Moishehle, who used to make me happy
whenever he enjoyed a meal, should hunger. I sent him some money, I went
on sending him money for three years, after that he stopped asking for
it. I begged him to come home, he made no reply. 'I don't wish to
quarrel with Avremel, my sister, and her husband,' he wrote later, 'we
cannot live together in peace.' Why? I don't know! Then, for a time, he
left off writing altogether, and the messages we got from him sounded
very sad. Now he was in Kieff, now in Odessa, now in Charkoff, and they
told us he was living like any Gentile, had not the look of a Jew at
all. Some said he was living with a Gentile woman, a countess, and would
never marry in his life."
Five years ago he had suddenly appeared at home, "to see his mother," as
he said. Gittel did not recognize him, he was so changed. The rest found
him quite the stranger: he had a "goyish" shaven face, with a twisted
moustache, and was got up like a rich Gentile, with a purse full of
bank-notes. His family were ashamed to walk abroad with him, Gittel
never ceased weeping and imploring him to give up the countess, remain a
Jew, stay with his mother, and she, with God's help, would make an
excellent match for him, if he would only alter his appearance and ways
just a little. Moishehle solemnly assured his mother that he was a Jew,
that there was no countess, but that he wouldn't remain at home for a
million rubles, first, because he had business elsewhere, and secondly,
he had no fancy for his native town, there was nothing there for him to
do, and to dispute with his brother and sister about religious piety was
not worth his while.
So Moishehle departed, and Gittel wept, wondering why he was different
from the other children, seeing they all had the same mother, and she
had lived and suffered for all alike. Why would he not stay with her at
home? What would he have wanted for there? God be praised, not to sin
with her tongue, thanks to God first, and then to him (a lightsome
paradise be his!), they were provided for, with a house and a few
thousand rubles, all that was necessary for their comfort, and a little
ready money besides. The house alone, not to sin with her tongue, would
bring in enough to make a living. Other people envy us, but it doesn't
happen to please him, and he goes wandering about the world--without a
wife and without a home--a man twenty and odd years old, and without a
The rest of the family were secretly well content to be free of such a
poor creature--"the further off, the better--the shame is less."
A letter from him came very seldom after this, and for the last two
years he had dropped out altogether. Nobody was surprised, for everyone
was convinced that Moisheh would never come to anything. Some told that
he was in prison, others knew that he had gone abroad and was being
pursued, others, that he had hung himself because he was tired of life,
and that before his death he had repented of all his sins, only it was
His relations heard all these reports, and were careful to keep them
from his mother, because they were not sure that the bad news was true.
Gittel bore the pain at her heart in silence, weeping at times over her
Moishehle, who had got into bad ways--and now, suddenly, this precious
letter with its precious news: Her Moishehle is about to marry, and
invites them to the wedding!
Thus Gittel, lying in bed in her own room, recalled everything she had
suffered through her undutiful son, only now--now everything was
forgotten and forgiven, and her mother's heart was full of love for her
Moishehle, just as in the days when he toddled about at her apron, and
pleased his mother and everyone else.
All her thoughts were now taken up with getting ready to attend the
wedding; the time was so short--there were only three weeks left. When
her other children were married, Gittel began her preparations three
months ahead, and now there were only three weeks.
Next day she took out her watered silk dress, with the green satin
flowers, and hung it up to air, examined it, lest there should be a hook
missing. After that she polished her long ear-rings with chalk, her
pearls, her rings, and all her other ornaments, and bought a new yellow
silk kerchief for her head, with a large flowery pattern in a lighter
A week before the journey to Warsaw they baked spice-cakes, pancakes,
and almond-rolls to take with her, "from the bridegroom's side," and
ordered a wig for the bride. When her eldest son was married, Gittel had
also given the bride silver candlesticks for Friday evenings, and
presented her with a wig for the Veiling Ceremony.
And before she left, Gittel went to her husband's grave, and asked him
to be present at the wedding as a good advocate for the newly-married
Gittel started for Warsaw in grand style, and cheerful and happy, as
befits a mother going to the wedding of her favorite son. All those who
accompanied her to the station declared that she looked younger and
prettier by twenty years, and made a beautiful bridegroom's mother.
Besides wedding presents for the bride, Gittel took with her money for
wedding expenses, so that she might play her part with becoming
lavishness, and people should not think her Moishehle came, bless and
preserve us, of a low-born family--to show that he was none so forlorn
but he had, God be praised and may it be for a hundred and twenty years
to come! a mother, and a sister, and brothers, and came of a well-to-do
family. She would show them that she could be as fine a bridegroom's
mother as anyone, even, thank God, in Warsaw. Moishehle was her last
child, and she grudged him nothing. Were he (may he be a good
intercessor!) alive, he would certainly have graced the wedding better,
and spent more money, but she would spare nothing to make a good figure
on the occasion. She would treat every connection of the bride to a
special dance-tune, give the musicians a whole five-ruble-piece for
their performance of the Vivat, and two dreierlech for the Kosher-Tanz,
beside something for the Rav, the cantor, and the beadle, and alms for
the poor--what should she save for? She has no more children to marry
off--blessed be His dear Name, who had granted her life to see her
Thus happily did Gittel start for Warsaw.
One carriage after another drove up to the wedding-reception room in
Dluga Street, Warsaw, ladies and their daughters, all in evening dress,
and smartly attired gentlemen, alighted and went in.
The room was full, the band played, ladies and gentlemen were dancing,
and those who were not, talked of the bride and bridegroom, and said how
fortunate they considered Regina, to have secured such a presentable
young man, lively, educated, and intelligent, with quite a fortune,
which he had made himself, and a good business. Ten thousand rubles
dowry with the perfection of a husband was a rare thing nowadays, when a
poor professional man, a little doctor without practice, asked fifteen
thousand. It was true, they said, that Regina was a pretty girl and a
credit to her parents, but how many pretty, bright girls had more money
than Regina, and sat waiting?
It was above all the mothers of the young ladies present who talked low
in this way among themselves.
The bride sat on a chair at the end of the room, ladies and young girls
on either side of her; Gittel, the bridegroom's mother in her watered
silk dress, with the large green satin flowers, was seated between two
ladies with dresses cut so low that Gittel could not bear to look at
them--women with husbands and children daring to show themselves like
that at a wedding! Then she could not endure the odor of their bare
skin, the powder, pomade, and perfumes with which they were smeared,
sprinkled, and wetted, even to their hair. All these strange smells
tickled Gittel's nose, and went to her head like a fume. She sat
between the two ladies, feeling cramped and shut in, unable to stir, and
would gladly have gone away. Only whither? Where should she, the
bridegroom's mother, be sitting, if not near the bride, at the upper end
of the room? But all the ladies sitting there are half-naked. Should she
sit near the door? That would never do. And Gittel remained sitting, in
great embarrassment, between the two women, and looked on at the
reception, and saw nothing but a room full of decolletees, ladies and
Gittel felt more and more uncomfortable, it made her quite faint to look
"One can get over the girls, young things, because a girl has got to
please, although no Jewish daughter ought to show herself to everyone
like that, but what are you to do with present-day children, especially
in a dissolute city like Warsaw? But young women, and women who have
husbands and children, and no need, thank God, to please anyone, how are
they not ashamed before God and other people and their own children, to
come to a wedding half-naked, like loose girls in a public house? Jewish
daughters, who ought not to be seen uncovered by the four walls of their
room, to come like that to a wedding! To a Jewish wedding!... Tpfu,
tpfu, I'd like to spit at this newfangled world, may God not punish me
for these words! It is enough to make one faint to see such a display
After the ceremony under the canopy, which was erected in the centre of
the room, the company sat down to the table, and Gittel was again seated
at the top, between the two women before mentioned, whose perfumes went
to her head.
She felt so queer and so ill at ease that she could not partake of the
dinner, her mouth seemed locked, and the tears came in her eyes.
When they rose from table, Gittel sought out a place removed from the
"upper end," and sat down in a window, but presently the bride's mother,
also in decollete, caught sight of her, and went and took her by the
"Why are you sitting here, Mechuteneste? Why are you not at the top?"
"I wanted to rest myself a little."
"Oh, no, no, come and sit there," said the lady, led her away by force,
and seated her between the two ladies with the perfumes.
Long, long did she sit, feeling more and more sick and dizzy. If only
she could have poured out her heart to some one person, if she could
have exchanged a single word with anybody during that whole evening, it
would have been a relief, but there was no one to speak to. The music
played, there was dancing, but Gittel could see nothing more. She felt
an oppression at her heart, and became covered with perspiration, her
head grew heavy, and she fell from her chair.
"The bridegroom's mother has fainted!" was the outcry through the whole
room. "Water, water!"
They fetched water, discovered a doctor among the guests, and he led
Gittel into another room, and soon brought her round.
The bride, the bridegroom, the bride's mother, and the two ladies ran
"What can have caused it? Lie down! How do you feel now? Perhaps you
would like a sip of lemonade?" they all asked.
"Thank you, I want nothing, I feel better already, leave me alone for a
while. I shall soon recover myself, and be all right."
So Gittel was left alone, and she breathed more easily, her head stopped
aching, she felt like one let out of prison, only there was a pain at
her heart. The tears which had choked her all day now began to flow, and
she wept abundantly. The music never ceased playing, she heard the sound
of the dancers' feet and the directions of the master of ceremonies; the
floor shook, Gittel wept, and tried with all her might to keep from
sobbing, so that people should not hear and come in and disturb her. She
had not wept so since the death of her husband, and this was the wedding
of her favorite son!
By degrees she ceased to weep altogether, dried her eyes, and sat
quietly talking to herself of the many things that passed through her
"Better that he (may he enter a lightsome paradise!) should have died
than lived to see what I have seen, and the dear delight which I have
had, at the wedding of my youngest child! Better that I myself should
not have lived to see his marriage canopy. Canopy, indeed! Four sticks
stuck up in the middle of the room to make fun with, for people to play
at being married, like monkeys! Then at table: no Seven Blessings, not a
Jewish word, not a Jewish face, no Minyan to be seen, only shaven
Gentiles upon Gentiles, a roomful of naked women and girls that make you
sick to look at them. Moishehle had better have married a poor orphan,
I shouldn't have been half so ashamed or half so unhappy."
Gittel called to mind the sort of a bridegroom's mother she had been at
the marriage of her eldest son, and the satisfaction she had felt. Four
hundred women had accompanied her to the Shool when Avremele was called
to the Reading of the Law as a bridegroom, and they had scattered nuts,
almonds, and raisins down upon him as he walked; then the party before
the wedding, and the ceremony of the canopy, and the procession with the
bride and bridegroom to the Shool, the merry home-coming, the golden
soup, the bridegroom brought at supper time to the sound of music, the
cantor and his choir, who sang while they sat at table, the Seven
Blessings, the Vivat played for each one separately, the Kosher-Tanz,
the dance round the bridegroom--and the whole time it had been Gittel
here and Gittel there: "Good luck to you, Gittel, may you be happy in
the young couple and in all your other children, and live to dance at
the wedding of your youngest" (it was a delight and no mistake!). "Where
is Gittel?" she hears them cry. "The uncle, the aunt, a cousin have paid
for a dance for the Mechuteneste on the bridegroom's side! Play,
musicians all!" The company make way for her, and she dances with the
uncle, the aunt, and the cousin, and all the rest clap their hands. She
is tired with dancing, but still they call "Gittel"! An old friend sings
a merry song in her honor. "Play, musicians all!" And Gittel dances on,
the company clap their hands, and wish her all that is good, and she is
penetrated with genuine happiness and the joy of the occasion. Then,
then, when the guests begin to depart, and the mothers of bridegroom and
bride whisper together about the forthcoming Veiling Ceremony, she sees
the bride in her wig, already a wife, her daughter-in-law! Her jam
pancakes and almond-rolls are praised by all, and what cakes are left
over from the Veiling Ceremony are either snatched one by one, or else
they are seized wholesale by the young people standing round the table,
so that she should not see, and they laugh and tease her. That is the
way to become a mother-in-law! And here, of course, the whole of the
pancakes and sweet-cakes and almond-rolls which she brought have never
so much as been unpacked, and are to be thrown away or taken home again,
as you please! A shame! No one came to her for cakes. The wig, too, may
be thrown away or carried back--Moishehle told her it was not required,
it wouldn't quite do. The bride accepted the silver candlesticks with
embarrassment, as though Gittel had done something to make her feel
awkward, and some girls who were standing by smiled, "Regina has been
given candlesticks for the candle-blessing on Fridays--ha, ha, ha!"
The bridal couple with the girl's parents came in to ask how she felt,
and interrupted the current of her thoughts.
"We shall drive home now, people are leaving," they said.
"The wedding is over," they told her, "everything in life comes to a
Gittel remembered that when Avremel was married, the festivities had
lasted a whole week, till over the second cheerful Sabbath, when the
bride, the new daughter-in-law, was led to the Shool!
The day after the wedding Gittel drove home, sad, broken in spirit, as
people return from the cemetery where they have buried a child, where
they have laid a fragment of their own heart, of their own life, under
Driving home in the carriage, she consoled herself with this at least:
"A good thing that Beile and Zlatke, Avremel and Yossel were not there.
The shame will be less, there will be less talk, nobody will know what I
Gittel arrived the picture of gloom.
When she left for the wedding, she had looked suddenly twenty years
younger, and now she looked twenty years older than before!