The Girls I Might Have Married (Part II)

Part II of A Series of Sketches by a Prominent Bachelor, written for the Canadian Jewish Chronicle
Read Part One

When I reached the age of 21, I had become the foreman of my department and was earning $25 a week. This was in the days when a man who earned fifteen hundred a year had a right to look upon himself as a financial success. Not that I was satisfied with myself. I had developed a boundless ambition during my few years’ stay in Canada and I felt that I was destined to go to the very top.

But my parents felt that I had reached the stage where marriage was the only proper solution. My parents were dependent upon me, nevertheless they considered it their place to advise me in all matters whether they pertained to my state of living, my business or my physical well-being. So strongly ingrained was my respect for parental authority that I never even thought of resenting their interference in my affairs.

So that when they urged marriage and even went so far as to speak to the shadchan and arranged for a meeting with (what they called) an eligible party, I consented to fall in with their plans.

From what I could judge from my father’s description, the young lady had been chosen with a view to her pedigree rather than her own capabilities. It seems that somewhere in the dim past my ancestors had boasted a chassid and it was therefore a matter of great moment that the lady who was to grace my fireside should have blood in her veins at least as Jewishly aristocratic as the chassidic strain made mine.

One statement he made, I found rather disturbing. “She is no beauty,” he said, “but what are looks after all? She is a balabatish girl. She will make a good wife.”

I was distressed at the thought that she was not beautiful. Why could she not have been at least beautiful? I worshipped beauty without having any very clear ideas as to what constituted beauty for me.

However, I was surprised to find that I considered the young lady beautiful, though today I would label her a shapeless mass of flesh.

She was quite stout, with beady black eyes and a coarse, pimpled face. She was a creature of the flesh and she appealed to me, young and ignorant as I was.

We did not speak a word to each other all evening but sat opposite each other and listened while her parents discussed the news of the day with Mr. Levi.

Ever and anon, I stole a glance at her and found her staring at me in a way that embarrassed me. It was almost bold. She was older than I and much more experienced in the ways of mankind than I was of womankind.

On our way home, Mr. Levi said: “Well, it is all arranged. You are to take her to the Jewish theatre on Thursday night to see The Undying Love. I believe they like you and it will be a good shidduch yet.”

“Take her to the theatre!” I gasped remembering my first attempt. “I — I — I couldn’t — I — !”

“Tush, tush! Don’t be such a stick-in-the-mud. A young man who wants to get acquainted with a young lady, he takes her to the theatre. Everybody is doing it. It’s all arranged. The young lady will expect you.”

“But I haven’t asked her!” I burst out.

“You didn’t need to ask her, he said tranquilly. “I told her parents about it and they consented.”

The night I was to call on her found me quite calm and unperturbed. I had been much more excited when interviewing the “Boss” of my shop.

Mr. Levi, the Shudchan, accompanied me and gave me much sage advice which showed him to be a man who had made a profound study of women.

“Don’t show yourself over-anxious,” he cautioned, “or the parents may try to beat us down. Don’t show your feelings at all. Talk on general subjects. Don’t grow sentimental or loving because then the girl becomes master of the situation and you can no longer control it. Keep a cool head and leave it to me.”

So the following Thursday I escorted Miss Leah Tarnus to the Yiddish Theatre.

We hardly spoke on the way to the theatre, and yet her presence had the effect of making me feel strangely elated.

At the theatre we sat close together, and I thrilled to the nearness of my divinity and to the sentimentalities of the play, while Leah ate peanuts and oranges and drank pink liquid out of a bottle and scrunched, scrunched, scrunched contentedly into my ear.

On our way home she complained of my treatment.

“You didn’t buy me a box of chocolates even,” she opined, “you are not yet a gentleman. A real gentleman always buys a lady a box of chocolates when they go to the theatre.

I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself and bought her a box right then and there, for I was most anxious to be a gentleman.

At her door we paused for a few awkward moments. I did not know what was expected of me. Leah took the initiative.

“Are we engaged?” she asked

I blushed to the roots of my hair. “I — I think so,” I gasped.

“Then you may kiss me,” she said calmly.

I gazed at her speechlessly. I was longing to avail myself of her offer, but somehow it took courage to do so — more courage than I possessed.

Leah threw her arms around me and kissed me with a resounding smack.

“There, you greenhorn,” she said with a laugh, and ran into the house.

I went home, treading on air. ♦