Veile returned to her home, as she had escaped, unnoticed. The narrow
street was deserted, as desolate as death. The searchers were to be
found everywhere except there where they ought first to have sought for
the missing one. Her mother, Selde, still sat on the same chair on which
she had sunk down an hour ago. The fright had left her like one
paralyzed, and she was unable to rise. What a wonderful contrast this
wedding-room, with the mother sitting alone in it, presented to the
hilarity reigning here shortly before! On Veile's entrance her mother
did not cry out. She had no strength to do so. She merely said: "So you
have come at last, my daughter?" as if Veile had only returned from a
walk somewhat too long. But the young woman did not answer to this and
similar questions. Finally she signified by gesticulations that she
could not speak. Fright seized the wretched mother a second time, and
the entire house was filled with her lamentations.
Ruben Klattaner and Veile's husband having now returned from their
fruitless search, were horrified on perceiving the change which Veile
had undergone. Being men, they did not weep. With staring eyes they
gazed upon the silent young woman, and beheld in her an apparition which
had been dealt with by God's visitation in a mysterious manner.
From this hour began the terrible penance of the young woman.
The impression which Veile's woeful condition made upon the people of
the _gasse_ was wonderful. Those who had danced with her that evening on
the wedding now first recalled her excited state. Her wild actions were
now first remembered by many. It must have been an "evil eye," they
concluded--a jealous, evil eye, to which her beauty was hateful. This
alone could have possessed her with a demon of unrest. She was driven by
this evil power into the dark night, a sport of these malicious
potencies which pursue men step by step, especially on such occasions.
The living God alone knows what she must have seen that night. Nothing
good, else one would not become dumb. Old legends and tales were
revived, each more horrible than the other. Hundreds of instances were
given to prove that this was nothing new in the _gasse_. Despite this
explanation, it is remarkable that the people did not believe that the
young woman was dumb. The most thought that her power of speech had been
paralyzed by some awful fright, but that with time it would be restored.
Under this supposition they called her "Veile the Silent."
There is a kind of human eloquence more telling, more forcible than the
loudest words, than the choicest diction--the silence of woman!
Ofttimes they cannot endure the slightest vexation, but some great,
heart-breaking sorrow, some pain from constant renunciation,
self-sacrifice, they suffer with sealed lips--as if, in very truth, they
were bound with bars of iron.
It would be difficult to fully describe that long "silent" life of the
young woman. It is almost impossible to cite more than one incident.
Veile accompanied her husband to his home, that house resplendent with
that gold and silver which had infatuated her. She was, to be sure, the
"first" woman in the _gasse_; she had everything in abundance. Indeed,
the world supposed that she had but little cause for complaint. "Must
one have everything?" was sometimes queried in the _gasse_. "One has one
thing; another, another." And, according to all appearances, the people
were right. Veile continued to be the beautiful, blooming woman. Her
penance of silence did not deprive her of a single charm. She was so
very happy, indeed, that she did not seem to feel even the pain of her
punishment. Veile could laugh and rejoice, but never did she forget to
be silent. The seemingly happy days, however, were only qualified to
bring about the proper time of trials and temptations. The beginning was
easy enough for her, the middle and end were times of real pain. The
first years of their wedded life were childless. "It is well," the
people in the _gasse_ said, "that she has no children, and God has
rightly ordained it to be so. A mother who cannot talk to her child,
that would be something awful!" Unexpectedly to all, she rejoiced one
day in the birth of a daughter. And when that affectionate young
creature, her own offspring, was laid upon her breast, and the first
sounds were uttered by its lips--that nameless, eloquent utterance of an
infant--she forgot herself not; she was silent!
She was silent also when from day to day that child blossomed before her
eyes into fuller beauty. Nor had she any words for it when, in effusions
of tenderness, it stretched forth its tiny arms, when in burning fever
it sought for the mother's hand. For days--yes, weeks--together she
watched at its bedside. Sleep never visited her eyes. But she ever
remembered her penance.
Years fled by. In her arms she carried another child. It was a boy. The
father's joy was great. The child inherited its mother's beauty. Like
its sister, it grew in health and strength. The noblest, richest mother,
they said, might be proud of such children! And Veile was proud, no
doubt, but this never passed her lips. She remained silent about things
which mothers in their joy often cannot find words enough to express.
And although her face many times lighted up with beaming smiles, yet she
never renounced the habitual silence imposed upon her.
The idea that the slightest dereliction of her penance would be
accompanied with a curse upon her children may have impressed itself
upon her mind. Mothers will understand better than other persons what
this mother suffered from her penalty of silence.
Thus a part of those years sped away which we are wont to call the best.
She still flourished in her wonderful beauty. Her maiden daughter was
beside her, like the bud beside the full-blown rose. Suitors were
already present from far and near, who passed in review before the
beautiful girl. The most of them were excellent young men, and any
mother might have been proud in having her own daughter sought by such.
Even then Veile did not undo her penance. Those busy times of
intercourse which keep mothers engaged in presenting the superiorities
of their daughters in the best light were not allowed her. The choice of
one of the most favored suitors was made. Never before did any couple in
the _gasse_ equal this in beauty and grace. A few weeks before the
appointed time for the wedding a malignant disease stole on, spreading
sorrow and anxiety over the greater part of the land. Young girls were
principally its victims. It seemed to pass scornfully over the aged and
infirm. Veile's daughter was also laid hold upon by it. Before three
days had passed there was a corpse in the house--the bride!
Even then Veile did not forget her penance. When they bore away the
corpse to the "good place," she did utter a cry of anguish which long
after echoed in the ears of the people; she did wring her hands in
despair, but no one heard a word of complaint. Her lips seemed dumb
forever. It was then, when she was seated on the low stool in the seven
days of mourning, that the rabbi came to her, to bring to her the usual
consolation for the dead. But he did not speak with her. He addressed
words only to her husband. She herself dared not look up. Only when he
turned to go did she lift her eyes. They, in turn, met the eyes of the
rabbi, but he departed without a farewell.
After her daughter's death Veile was completely broken down. Even that
which at her time of life is still called beauty had faded away within a
few days. Her cheeks had become hollow, her hair gray. Visitors wondered
how she could endure such a shock, how body and spirit could hold
together. They did not know that that silence was an iron fetter firmly
imprisoning the slumbering spirits. She had a son, moreover, to whom, as
to something last and dearest, her whole being still clung.
The boy was thirteen years old. His learning in the Holy Scriptures was
already celebrated for miles around. He was the pupil of the rabbi, who
had treated him with a love and tenderness becoming his own father. He
said that he was a remarkable child, endowed with rare talents. The boy
was to be sent to Hungary, to one of the most celebrated teachers of the
times, in order to lay the foundation for his sacred studies under this
instructor's guidance and wisdom. Years might perhaps pass before she
would see him again. But Veile let her boy go from her embrace. She did
not say a blessing over him when he went; only her lips twitched with
the pain of silence.
Long years expired before the boy returned from the strange land, a
full-grown, noble youth. When Veile had her son with her again a smile
played about her mouth, and for a moment it seemed as if her former
beauty had enjoyed a second spring. The extraordinary ability of her son
already made him famous. Wheresoever he went people were delighted with
his beauty, and admired the modesty of his manner, despite such great
The next Sabbath the young disciple of the Talmud, scarcely twenty years
of age, was to demonstrate the first marks of this great learning.
The people crowded shoulder to shoulder in this great synagogue. Curious
glances were cast through the lattice-work of the women's gallery above
upon the dense throng. Veile occupied one of the foremost seats. She
could see everything that took place below. Her face was extremely pale.
All eyes were turned towards her--the mother, who was permitted to see
such a day for her son! But Veile did not appear to notice what was
happening before her. A weariness, such as she had never felt before,
even in her greatest suffering, crept over her limbs. It was as if she
must sleep during her son's address. He had hardly mounted the stairs
before the ark of the laws--hardly uttered his first words--when a
remarkable change crossed her face. Her cheeks burned. She arose. All
her vital energy seemed aroused. Her son meanwhile was speaking down
below. She could not have told what he was saying. She did not hear
him--she only heard the murmur of approbation, sometimes low, sometimes
loud, which came to her ears from the quarters of the men. The people
were astonished at the noble bearing of the speaker, his melodious
speech, and his powerful energy. When he stopped at certain times to
rest it seemed as if one were in a wood swept by a storm. She could now
and then hear a few voices declaring that such a one had never before
been listened to. The women at her side wept; she alone could not. A
choking pain pressed from her breast to her lips. Forces were astir in
her heart which struggled for expression. The whole synagogue echoed
with buzzing voices, but to her it seemed as if she must speak louder
than these. At the very moment her son had ended she cried out
unconsciously, violently throwing herself against the lattice-work:
"God! living God! shall I not now speak?" A dead silence followed this
outcry. Nearly all had recognized this voice as that of the "silent
woman." A miracle had taken place!
"Speak! speak!" resounded the answer of the rabbi from the men's seats
below. "You may now speak!"
But no reply came. Veile had fallen back into her seat, pressing both
hands against her breast. When the women sitting beside her looked at
her they were terrified to find that the "silent woman" had fainted.
She was dead! The unsealing of her lips was her last moment.
Long years afterwards the rabbi died. On his death-bed he told those
standing about him this wonderful penance of Veile.
Every girl in the _gasse_ knew the story of the "silent woman."
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