Hunger

by


Hunger was published in Yezierska's short story collection, Hungry Hearts (1920). Samuel Goldwyn bought the rights, and adapted the stories into a silent film in 1922. Yezierska's work was most popular during the 1920's, with renewed interest in her works in the 1960's and 70's as part of women literature studies.

Shenah Pessah paused in the midst of scrubbing the stairs of the tenement. “Ach!” she sighed. “How can his face still burn so in me when he is so long gone? How the deadness in me flames up with life at the thought of him!”

The dark hallway seemed flooded with white radiance. She closed her eyes that she might see more vividly the beloved features. The glowing smile that healed all ills of life and changed her from the weary drudge into the vibrant creature of joy.

It was all a miracle—his coming, this young professor from one of the big colleges. He had rented a room in the very house where she was janitress so as to be near the people he was writing about. But more wonderful than all was the way he stopped to talk to her, to question her about herself as though she were his equal. What warm friendliness had prompted him to take her out of her dark basement to the library where there were books to read!

And then—that unforgettable night on the way home, when the air was poignant with spring! Only a moment—a kiss—a pressure of hands! And the world shone with light—the empty, unlived years filled with love!

She was lost in dreams of her one hour of romance when a woman elbowed her way through the dim passage, leaving behind her the smell of herring and onions.

Shenah Pessah gripped the scrubbing-brush with suppressed fury. “Meshugeneh! Did you not swear to yourself that you would tear his memory out from your heart? If he would have been only a man I could have forgotten him. But he was not a man! He was God Himself! On whatever I look shines his face!”

The white radiance again suffused her. The brush dropped from her hand. “He—he is the beating in my heart! He is the life in me—the hope in me—the breath of prayer in me! If not for him in me, then what am I? Deadness—emptiness—nothingness! You are going out of your head. You are living only on rainbows. He is no more real—

“What is real? These rags I wear? This pail? This black hole? Or him and the dreams of him?” She flung her challenge to the murky darkness.

“Shenah Pessah! A black year on you!” came the answer from the cellar below. It was the voice of her uncle, Moisheh Rifkin.

“Oi weh!” she shrugged young shoulders, wearied by joyless toil. “He’s beginning with his hollering already.” And she hurried down.

“You piece of earth! Worms should eat you! How long does it take you to wash up the stairs?” he stormed. “Yesterday, the eating was burned to coal; and to-day you forget the salt.”

“What a fuss over a little less salt!”

“In the Talmud it stands a man has a right to divorce his wife for only forgetting him the salt in his soup.”

“Maybe that’s why Aunt Gittel went to the grave before her time—worrying how to please your taste in the mouth.”

The old man’s yellow, shriveled face stared up at her out of the gloom. “What has he from life? Only his pleasure in eating and going to the synagogue. How long will he live yet?” And moved by a surge of pity, “Why can’t I be a little kind to him?”

“Did you chop me some herring and onions?” he interrupted harshly.

She flushed with conscious guilt. Again she wondered why ugly things and ugly smells so sickened her.

“What don’t you forget?” His voice hammered upon her ears. “No care lays in your head. You’re only dreaming in the air.”

Her compassion was swept away in a wave of revolt that left her trembling. “I can’t no more stand it from you! Get yourself somebody else!” She was surprised at her sudden spirit.

“You big mouth, you! That’s your thanks for saving you from hunger.”

“Two years already I’m working the nails off my fingers and you didn’t give me a cent.”

“Beggerin! Money yet, you want? The minute you get enough to eat you turn up your head with freshness. Are you used to anything from home? What were you out there in Savel? The dirt under people’s feet. You’re already forgetting how you came off from the ship—a bundle of rags full of holes. If you lived in Russia a hundred years would you have lived to wear a pair of new shoes on your feet?”

“Other girls come naked and with nothing to America and they work themselves up. Everybody gets wages in America—”

“Americanerin! Didn’t I spend out enough money on your ship-ticket to have a little use from you? A thunder should strike you!”

Shenah Pessah’s eyes flamed. Her broken finger-nails pierced the callous flesh of her hands. So this was the end—the awakening of her dreams of America! Her memory went back to the time her ship-ticket came. In her simple faith she had really believed that they wanted her—her father’s brother and his wife who had come to the new world before ever she was born. She thought they wanted to give her a chance for happiness, for life and love. And then she came—to find the paralytic aunt—housework—janitor’s drudgery. Even after her aunt’s death, she had gone on uncomplainingly, till her uncle’s nagging had worn down her last shred of self-control.

“It’s the last time you’ll holler on me!” she cried. “You’ll never see my face again if I got to go begging in the street.” Seizing her shawl, she rushed out. “Woe is me! Bitter is me! For what is my life? Why didn’t the ship go under and drown me before I came to America?”

Through the streets, like a maddened thing, she raced, not knowing where she was going, not caring. “For what should I keep on suffering? Who needs me? Who wants me? I got nobody—nobody!”

And then the vision of the face she worshiped flashed before her. His beautiful kindness that had once warmed her into new life breathed over her again. “Why did he ever come but to lift me out of my darkness into his light?”

Instinctively her eyes sought the rift of blue above the tenement roofs and were caught by a boldly printed placard: “Hands Wanted.” It was as though the sign swung open on its hinges like a door and arms stretched out inviting her to enter. From the sign she looked to her own hands—vigorous, young hands—made strong through toil.

Hope leaped within her. “Maybe I got yet luck to have it good in this world. Ach! God from the sky! I’m so burning to live—to work myself up for a somebody! And why not?” With clenched fist she smote her bosom. “Ain’t everything possible in the new world? Why is America but to give me the chance to lift up my head with everybody alike?”

Her feet scarcely touched the steps as she ran up. But when she reached the huge, iron door of Cohen Brothers, a terror seized her. “Oi weh! They’ll give a look on my greenhorn rags, and down I go—For what are you afraid, you fool?” she commanded herself. “You come not to beg. They need hands. Don’t the sign say so? And you got good, strong hands that can turn over the earth with their strength. America is before you. You’ll begin to earn money. You’ll dress yourself up like a person and men will fall on their knees to make love to you—even him—himself!”

All fear had left her. She flung open the door and beheld the wonder of a factory—people—people—seas of bent heads and busy hands of people—the whirr of machinery—flying belts—the clicking clatter of whirling wheels—all seemed to blend and fuse into one surging song of hope—of new life—a new world—America!

A man, his arms heaped with a bundle of shirts, paused at sight of the radiant face. Her ruddy cheeks, the film of innocence shining out of eyes that knew no guile, carried him back to the green fields and open plains of his native Russia.

“Her mother’s milk is still fresh on her lips,” he murmured, as his gaze enveloped her.

The bundle slipped and fell to her feet. Their eyes met in spontaneous recognition of common race. With an embarrassed laugh they stooped to gather up the shirts.

“I seen downstairs hands wanted,” came in a faltering voice.

“Then you’re looking for work?” he questioned with keen interest. She was so different from the others he had known in his five years in this country. He was seized with curiosity to know more.

“You ain’t been long in America?” His tone was an unconscious caress.

“Two years already,” she confessed. “But I ain’t so green like I look,” she added quickly, overcome by the old anxiety.

“Trust yourself on me,” Sam Arkin assured her. “I’m a feller that knows himself on a person first off. I’ll take you to the office myself. Wait only till I put away these things.”

Grinning with eagerness, he returned and together they sought the foreman.

“Good luck to you! I hope you’ll be pushed up soon to my floor,” Sam Arkin encouraged, as he hurried back to his machine.

Because of the rush of work and the scarcity of help, Shenah Pessah was hired without delay. Atremble with excitement, she tiptoed after the foreman as he led the way into the workroom.

“Here, Sadie Kranz, is another learner for you.” He addressed a big-bosomed girl, the most skillful worker in the place.

“Another greenhorn with a wooden head!” she whispered to her neighbor as Shenah Pessah removed her shawl. “Gevalt! All these greenhorn hands tear the bread from our mouths by begging to work so cheap.”

But the dumb appeal of the immigrant stirred vague memories in Sadie Kranz. As she watched her run her first seam, she marveled at her speed. “I got to give it to you, you have a quick head.” There was conscious condescension in her praise.

Shenah Pessah lifted a beaming face. “How kind it was from you to learn me! You good heart!”

No one had ever before called Sadie Kranz “good heart.” The words lingered pleasantly.

“Ut! I like to help anybody, so long it don’t cost me nothing. I get paid by the week anyhow,” she half apologized.

Shenah Pessah was so thrilled with the novelty of the work, the excitement of mastering the intricacies of her machine, that she did not realize that the day was passed until the bell rang, the machines came to a halt, and the “hands” made a wild rush for the cloak-room.

“Oi weh! Is it a fire?” Shenah Pessah blanched with dread.

Loud laughter quelled her fears. “Greenie! It’s six o’clock. Time to go home,” chorused the voices.

“Home?” The cry broke from her. “Where will I go? I got no home.” She stood bewildered, in the fast-dwindling crowd of workers. Each jostling by her had a place to go. Of them all, she alone was friendless, shelterless!

“Help me find a place to sleep!” she implored, seizing Sadie Kranz by the sleeve of her velvet coat. “I got no people. I ran away.”

Sadie Kranz narrowed her eyes at the girl. A feeling of pity crept over her at sight of the outstretched, hungry hands.

“I’ll fix you by me for the while.” And taking the shawl off the shelf, she tossed it to the forlorn bundle of rags. “Come along. You must be starved for some eating.”

As Shenah Pessah entered the dingy hall-room which Sadie Kranz called home, its chill and squalor carried her back to the janitor’s basement she had left that morning. In silence she watched her companion prepare the hot dogs and potatoes on the oil-stove atop the trunk. Such pressing sadness weighed upon her that she turned from even the smell of food.

“My heart pulls me so to go back to my uncle.” She swallowed hard her crust of black bread. “He’s so used to have me help him. What’ll he do—alone?”

“You got to look out for yourself in this world.” Sadie Kranz gesticulated with a hot potato. “With your quickness, you got a chance to make money and buy clothes. You can go to shows—dances. And who knows—maybe meet a man to get married.”

“Married? You know how it burns in every girl to get herself married—that’s how it burns in me to work myself up for a person.”

“Ut! For what need you to work yourself up. Better marry yourself up to a rich feller and you’re fixed for life.”

“But him I want—he ain’t just a man. He is—” She paused seeking for words and a mist of longing softened the heavy peasant features. “He is the golden hills on the sky. I’m as far from him as the earth is from the stars.”

“Yok! Why wills itself in you the stars?” her companion ridiculed between swallows.

Shenah Pessah flung out her hands with Jewish fervor. “Can I help it what’s in my heart? It always longs in me for the higher. Maybe he has long ago forgotten me, but only one hope drives in me like madness—to make myself alike to him.”

“I’ll tell you the truth,” laughed Sadie Kranz, fishing in the pot for the last frankfurter. “You are a little out of your head—plain mehsugeh.”

“Mehsugeh?” Shenah Pessah rose to her feet vibrant with new resolve. “Mehsugeh?” she challenged, her peasant youth afire with ambition. “I’ll yet show the world what’s in me. I’ll not go back to my uncle—till it rings with my name in America.”

She entered the factory, the next day, with a light in her face, a sureness in her step that made all pause in wonder. “Look only! How high she holds herself her head! Has the matchmaker promised her a man?”

Then came her first real triumph. Shenah Pessah was raised above old hands who had been in the shop for years and made assistant to Sam Arkin, the man who had welcomed her that first day in the factory. As she was shown to the bench beside him, she waited expectantly for a word of welcome. None came. Instead, he bent the closer to his machine and the hand that held the shirt trembled as though he were cold, though the hot color flooded his face.

Resolutely, she turned to her work. She would show him how skillful she had become in those few weeks. The seams sped under her lightning touch when a sudden clatter startled her. She jumped up terror-stricken.

“The belt! The belt slipped! But it’s nothing, little bird,” Sam Arkin hastened to assure her. “I’ll fix it.” And then the quick warning, “Sh-h! The foreman is coming!”

Accustomed to her uncle’s harsh bickering, this man’s gentleness overwhelmed her. There was something she longed to say that trembled on her lips, but her voice refused to come.

Sam Arkin, too, was inarticulate. He felt he must talk to her, must know more of her. Timidly he touched her sleeve. “Lunch-time—here—wait for me,” he whispered, as the foreman approached.

A shrill whistle—the switch thrown—the slowing-down of the machines, then the deafening hush proclaiming noon. Followed the scraping of chairs, raucous voices, laughter, and the rush on the line to reach the steaming cauldron. One by one, as their cups of tea were filled, the hungry workers dispersed into groups. Seated on window-sills, table-tops, machines, and bales of shirts, they munched black bread and herring and sipped tea from saucers. And over all rioted the acrid odor of garlic and onions.

Rebecca Feist, the belle of the shop, pulled up the sleeve of her Georgette waist and glanced down at her fifty-nine-cent silk stocking. “A lot it pays for a girl to kill herself to dress stylish. Give only a look on Sam Arkin, how stuck he is on that new hand.”

There followed a chorus of voices. “Such freshness! We been in the shop so long and she just gives a come-in and grabs the cream as if it’s coming to her.”

“It’s her innocent-looking baby eyes that fools him in—”

“Innocent! Pfui! These make-believe innocent girls! Leave it to them! They know how to shine themselves up to a feller!”

Bleemah Levine, a stoop-shouldered, old hand, grown gray with the grayness of unrelieved drudgery, cast a furtive look in the direction of the couple. “Ach! The little bit of luck! Not looks, not smartness, but only luck, and the world falls to your feet.” Her lips tightened with envy. “It’s her greenhorn, red cheeks—”

Rebecca Feist glanced at herself in the mirror of her vanity bag. It was a pretty, young face, but pale and thin from undernourishment. Adroitly applying a lip-stick, she cried indignantly: “I wish I could be such a false thing like her. But only, I’m too natural—the hypocrite!”

Sadie Kranz rose to her friend’s defense. “What are you falling on her like a pack of wild dogs, just because Sam Arkin gives a smile on her? He ain’t marrying her yet, is he?”

“We don’t say nothing against her,” retorted Rebecca Feist, tapping her diamond-buckled foot, “only, she pushes herself too much. Give her a finger and she’ll grab your whole hand. Is there a limit to the pushings of such a green animal? Only a while ago, she was a learner, a nobody, and soon she’ll jump over all our heads and make herself for a forelady.”

Sam Arkin, seated beside Shenah Pessah on the window-sill, had forgotten that it was lunch-hour and that he was savagely hungry. “It shines so from your eyes,” he beamed. “What happy thoughts lay in your head?”

“Ach! When I give myself a look around on all the people laughing and talking, it makes me so happy I’m one of them.”

“Ut! These Americanerins! Their heads is only on ice-cream soda and style.”

“But it makes me feel so grand to be with all these hands alike. It’s as if I just got out from the choking prison into the open air of my own people.”

She paused for breath—a host of memories overpowering her. “I can’t give it out in words,” she went on. “But just as there ain’t no bottom to being poor, there ain’t no bottom to being lonely. Before, everything I done was alone, by myself. My heart hurt so with hunger for people. But here, in the factory, I feel I’m with everybody together. Just the sight of people lifts me on wings in the air.”

Opening her bag of lunch which had lain unheeded in her lap, she turned to him with a queer, little laugh, “I don’t know why I’m so talking myself out to you—”

“Only talk more. I want to know everything about yourself.” An aching tenderness rushed out of his heart to her, and in his grave simplicity he told her how he had overheard one of the girls say that she, Shenah Pessah, looked like a “greeneh yenteh,” just landed from the ship, so that he cried out, “Gottuniu! If only the doves from the sky were as beautiful!”

They looked at each other solemnly—the girl’s lips parted, her eyes wide and serious.

“That first day I came to the shop, the minute I gave a look on you, I felt right away, here’s somebody from home. I used to tremble so to talk to a man, but you—you—I could talk myself out to you like thinking in myself.”

“You’re all soft silk and fine velvet,” he breathed reverently. “In this hard world, how could such fineness be?”

An embarrassed silence fell between them as she knotted and unknotted her colored kerchief.

“I’ll take you home? Yes?” he found voice at last.

Under lowered lashes she smiled her consent.

“I’ll wait for you downstairs, closing time.” And he was gone.

The noon hour was not yet over, but Shenah Pessah returned to her machine. “Shall I tell him?” she mused. “Sam Arkin understands so much, shall I tell him of this man that burns in me? If I could only give out to some one about him in my heart—it would make me a little clear in the head.” She glanced at Sam Arkin furtively. “He’s kind, but could he understand? I only made a fool from myself trying to tell Sadie Kranz.” All at once she began to sob without reason. She ran to the cloak-room and hid from prying eyes, behind the shawls and wraps. The emptiness of all for which she struggled pressed upon her like a dead weight, dragging her down, down—the reaction of her ecstasy.

As the gong sounded, she made a desperate effort to pull herself together and returned to her work.

The six o’clock whistles still reverberated when Sam Arkin hurried down the factory stairs and out to the corner where he was to meet Shenah Pessah. He cleared his throat to greet her as she came, but all he managed was a bashful grin. She was so near, so real, and he had so much to say—if he only knew how to begin.

He cracked his knuckles and bit his finger-tips, but no words came. “Ach! You yok! Why ain’t you saying something?” He wrestled with his shyness in vain. The tense silence remained unbroken till they reached her house.

“I’m sorry”—Shenah Pessah colored apologetically—“But I got no place to invite you. My room is hardly big enough for a push-in of one person.”

“What say you to a bite of eating with me?” he blurted.

She thought of her scant supper upstairs and would have responded eagerly, but glancing down at her clothes, she hesitated. “Could I go dressed like this in a restaurant?”

“You look grander plain, like you are, than those twisted up with style. I’ll take you to the swellest restaurant on Grand Street and be proud with you!”

She flushed with pleasure. “Nu, come on, then. It’s good to have a friend that knows himself on what’s in you and not what’s on you, but still, when I go to a place, I like to be dressed like a person so I can feel like a person.”

“You’ll yet live to wear diamonds that will shine up the street when you pass!” he cried.

Through streets growing black with swarming crowds of toil-released workers they made their way. Sam Arkin’s thick hand rested with a lightness new to him upon the little arm tucked under his. The haggling pushcart peddlers, the newsboys screaming, “Tageblatt, Abendblatt, Herold,” the roaring noises of the elevated trains resounded the pæan of joy swelling his heart.

“America was good to me, but I never guessed how good till now.” The words were out before he knew it. “Tell me only, what pulled you to this country?”

“What pulls anybody here? The hope for the better. People who got it good in the old world don’t hunger for the new.”

A mist filled her eyes at memory of her native village. “How I suffered in Savel. I never had enough to eat. I never had shoes on my feet. I had to go barefoot even in the freezing winter. But still I love it. I was born there. I love the houses and the straw roofs, the mud streets, the cows, the chickens and the goats. My heart always hurts me for what is no more.”

The brilliant lights of Levy’s Café brought her back to Grand Street.

“Here is it.” He led her in and over to a corner table. “Chopped herring and onions for two,” he ordered with a flourish.

“Ain’t there some American eating on the card?” interposed Shenah Pessah.

He laughed indulgently. “If I lived in America for a hundred years I couldn’t get used to the American eating. What can make the mouth so water like the taste and the smell from herring and onions?”

“There’s something in me—I can’t help—that so quickly takes on to the American taste. It’s as if my outside skin only was Russian; the heart in me is for everything of the new world—even the eating.”

“Nu, I got nothing to complain against America. I don’t like the American eating, but I like the American dollar. Look only on me!” He expanded his chest. “I came to America a ragged nothing—and—see—” He exhibited a bank-book in four figures, gesticulating grandly, “And I learned in America how to sign my name!”

“Did it come hard to learn?” she asked under her breath.

“Hard?” His face purpled with excitement. “It would be easier for me to lift up this whole house on my shoulders than to make one little dot of a letter. When I took my pencil—Oi weh! The sweat would break out on my face! ‘I can’t, I can’t!’ I cried, but something in me jumped up. ‘You can—you yok—you must!’—Six months, night after night, I stuck to it—and I learned to twist around the little black hooks till it means—me—Sam Arkin.”

He had the rough-hewn features of the common people, but he lifted his head with the pride of a king. “Since I can write out my name, I feel I can do anything. I can sign checks, put money in the bank, or take it out without nobody to help me.”

As Shenah Pessah listened, unconsciously she compared Sam Arkin, glowing with the frank conceit of the self-made man, his neglected teeth, thick, red lips, with that of the Other One—made ever more beautiful with longings and dreams.

“But in all these black years, I was always hoping to get to the golden country,” Sam Arkin’s voice went on, but she heard it as from afar. “Before my eyes was always the shine of the high wages and the easy money and I kept pushing myself from one city to another, and saving and saving till I saved up enough for my ship-ticket to the new world. And then when I landed here, I fell into the hands of a cockroach boss.”

“A cockroach boss?” she questioned absently and reproached herself for her inattention.

“A black year on him! He was a landsman, that’s how he fooled me in. He used to come to the ship with a smiling face of welcome to all the greenhorns what had nobody to go to. And then he’d put them to work in his sweatshop and sweat them into their grave.”

“Don’t I know it?” she cried with quickened understanding. “Just like my uncle, Moisheh Rifkin.”

“The blood-sucker!” he gasped. “When I think how I slaved for him sixteen hours a day—for what? Nothing!”

She gently stroked his hand as one might a child in pain. He looked up and smiled gratefully.

“I want to forget what’s already over. I got enough money now to start for myself—maybe a tailor-shop—and soon—I—I want to marry myself—but none of those crazy chickens for me.” And he seemed to draw her unto himself by the intensity of his gaze.

Growing bolder, he exclaimed: “I got a grand idea. It’s Monday and the bank is open yet till nine o’clock. I’ll write over my bank-book on your name? Yes?”

“My name?” She fell back, dumbstruck.

“Yes—you—everything I only got—you—” he mumbled. “I’ll give you dove’s milk to drink—silks and diamonds to wear—you’ll hold all my money.”

She was shaken by this supreme proof of his devotion.

“But I—I can’t—I got to work myself up for a person. I got a head. I got ideas. I can catch on to the Americans quicker’n lightning.”

“My money can buy you everything. I’ll buy you teachers. I’ll buy you a piano. I’ll make you for a lady. Right away you can stop from work.” He leaned toward her, his eyes welling with tears of earnestness.

“Take your hard-earned money? Could I be such a beggerin?”

“God from the world! You are dearer to me than the eyes from my head! I’d give the blood from under my nails for you! I want only to work for you—to live for you—to die for you—” He was spent with the surge of his emotion.

Ach! To be loved as Sam Arkin loved! She covered her eyes, but it only pressed upon her the more. Home, husband, babies, a bread-giver for life!

And the Other—a dream—a madness that burns you up alive. “You might as well want to marry yourself to the President of America as to want him. But I can’t help it. Him and him only I want.”

She looked up again. “No—no!” she cried, cruel in the self-absorption of youth and ambition. “You can’t make me for a person. It’s not only that I got to go up higher, but I got to push myself up by myself, by my own strength—”

“Nu, nu,” he sobbed. “I’ll not bother you with me—only give you my everything. My bank-book is more than my flesh and blood—only take it, to do what you want with it.”

Her eyes deepened with humility. “I know your goodness—but there’s something like a wall around me—him in my heart.”

“Him?” The word hurled itself at him like a bomb-shell. He went white with pain. And even she, immersed in her own thoughts, lowered her head before the dumb suffering on his face. She felt she owed it to him to tell him.

“I wanted to talk myself out to you about him yet before.—He ain’t just a man. He is all that I want to be and am not yet. He is the hunger of me for the life that ain’t just eating and sleeping and slaving for bread.”

She pushed back her chair and rose abruptly. “I can’t be inside walls when I talk of him. I need the earth, the whole free sky to breathe when I think of him. Come out in the air.”

They walked for a time before either spoke. Sam Arkin followed where she led through the crooked labyrinth of streets. The sight of the young mothers with their nursing infants pressed to their bared bosoms stabbed anew his hurt.

Shenah Pessah, blind to all but the vision that obsessed her, talked on. “All that my mother and father and my mother’s mother and father ever wanted to be is in him. This fire in me, it’s not just the hunger of a woman for a man—it’s the hunger of all my people back of me, from all ages, for light, for the life higher!”

A veil of silence fell between them. She felt almost as if it were a sacrilege to have spoken of that which was so deeply centered within her.

Sam Arkin’s face became lifeless as clay. Bowed like an old man, he dragged his leaden feet after him. The world was dead—cold—meaningless. Bank-book, money—of what use were they now? All his years of saving couldn’t win her. He was suffocated in emptiness.

On they walked till they reached a deserted spot in the park. So spent was he by his sorrow that he lost the sense of time or place or that she was near.

Leaning against a tree, he stood, dumb, motionless, unutterable bewilderment in his sunken eyes.

“I lived over the hunger for bread—but this—” He clutched at his aching bosom. “Highest One, help me!” With his face to the ground he sank, prostrate.

“Sam Arkin!” She bent over him tenderly. “I feel the emptiness of words—but I got to get it out. All that you suffer I have suffered, and must yet go on suffering. I see no end. But only—there is a something—a hope—a help out—it lifts me on top of my hungry body—the hunger to make from myself a person that can’t be crushed by nothing nor nobody—the life higher!”

Slowly, he rose to his feet, drawn from his weakness by the spell of her. “With one hand you throw me down and with the other you lift me up to life again. Say to me only again, your words,” he pleaded, helplessly.

“Sam Arkin! Give yourself your own strength!” She shook him roughly. “I got no pity on you, no more than I got pity on me.”

He saw her eyes fill with light as though she were seeing something far beyond them both. “This,” she breathed, “is only the beginning of the hunger that will make from you a person who’ll yet ring in America.”


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