« PreviousContinue »
making plans as to how to dispose of the money promised to them as a reward. The two ladies who appeared so suddenly before Reb Simche in the courtroom were the insurgent's housekeeper and the governess of his child, the women having been held for the purpose of his identification.
Besides contributing a sum of money to a number of charitable institutions, and distributing an even larger amount among the poor immediately after he reached his home, true to his vow, Reb Simche henceforth did all within his power to bring succor to prisoners when and wherever an opportunity afforded itself. By special arrangement he bailed out Jewish prisoners on Friday or " Erev Yomtov " — eve of a holiday or feast day — making himself responsible for the return of the prisoners at the time agreed upon. He did all this in grateful commemoration of his speedy deliverance from the tortures of his imprisonment. Of the great number whose benefactor he had been, but two had paid him with ingratitude by escaping. Yet despite the large sum of money this had cost him, not to mention the tribulation, Reb Simche cheerfully continued his Samaritan work.
Shebsl Pravnik had been brought on "Erev Pesach " — eve of the Passover — chained by wrist and ankle to another prisoner, in company with a number of criminals on etape. His release under bond was soon effected. A bath and fresh linen were provided for him and thus we find him, at the outset of this story, a guest for the Passover of the Pogoda family.
It was not that their hearts were immuned on account of having become accustomed to sad sights that Reb Simche and his wife presumably paid no heed to the sorrow of the stranger, but because of the prompting of their feelings to allow him to find relief unchecked in tears, the purifiers of the soul and blessed means of lightening an oppressed heart. Golda, their beautiful daughter, who sat directly opposite Shebsl and thus was offered full view of his face, was overcome by a deeper compassion than she had ever felt for any one of the many who had enjoyed their hospitality heretofore. The young man soon collected himself, however, and readily joined the family in the "Seder" ceremonies, during which he was treated by the host and hostess with their wonted consideration and by Golda with even special solicitude. Following a Talmudical command: "Ayn bodkin bim 'zonos " — one should not investigate before feeding (the stranger) —it was not the custom of Pogoda to put questions to those whom he befriended before permitting them to satisfy their hunger and to rest. After the banquet they retired to the sitting room.
The Pogodas had at once recognized in Shebsl Pravnik the unmistakable air of a gentleman. Were it not for the sorrowful lines on his face, his natural, easy manner and his refined, graceful bearing would have caused them to forget for the time that he was a complete stranger and the circumstance which made him their guest. Now very few words sufficed for the Pogodas to discover that he was unusually intelligent and learned. All three felt fully convinced that his present unfortunate position was due to some circumstance which he had not been able to control. The longer they conversed the greater grew their astonishment, for he was not only a fine Talmudist, but also learned in secular branches and versed in ancient and modern languages. Reb Simche's interest was more than usually aroused, while Golda devoured every word of the stranger with avidity. Far too well-bred a girl to take the initiative, she welcomed the question of her father as to the cause of his arrest. In an unfaltering voice Pravnik spoke: " Had I been guilty of any crime which had caused my arrest, I should have acquainted you with the fact before accepting your generous hospitality. I know not to what act of Providence I owe this kindness — a kindness so unheard-of that it is utterly beyond my power to express my feelings. It is certainly beyond the power of mortal beings to repay such deeds. That can be done only by the merciful God who guides you in your noble actions!" He paused a moment, overcome by emotion, then continued: "Before telling you what led to my arrest, I shall have to give you a short sketch of my life. While still very young I drifted away from home in quest of learning, for which Ozerkof, my native town,