“Perhaps you should extinguish your lantern, Gimpel. Then we’ll have the element of surprise,” Shoshanah suggested
The cloaked figure turned and began running down the street.
It must be some anti-Semitic plot against my father! Shoshanah thought. Those gentile woodchoppers are always trying to frame him for one thing or another! I must put a stop to this harassment. I have to confront that man so that he knows I know what he looks like. Whatever he planted at our doorway, he’ll have to take responsibility for it!
Shoshanah slipped on her boots and winter coat and flew down the stairs and out into the wintry night. She could see the figure ahead, running in the direction of the forest. Summoning all the courage she could, she began to give chase.
Shoshanah’s voice rang out through the night, shattering the sleepy silence.
She heard hoofbeats behind her and turned, startled to see an older man galloping in a wagon toward her.
“What are you screaming about, girl? What’s the problem? I’m on the community watch tonight, keeping an eye out for trouble. Tell me, what’s wrong?”
Shoshanah peered closer at the concerned face starting down at her and recognized the man in the carriage.
“How do you know my name, young lady?”
“It’s me, Shoshanah. I’m the daughter of—”
“Ah, I know who you are. Chaim the righteous woodchopper’s daughter. Tell me, what are you doing, running around in the freezing darkness, screaming like you’ve seen a ghost?”
“I was looking out of my window and I saw a man wrapped in a black cloak. He put something at my front door and then saw me. Then he took off running!”
“What did he leave at your door?”
“I haven’t checked yet, because I’m trying to chase him down. My father’s been harassed terribly lately by the local gentile woodchoppers. They’re always concocting plans to frame him for crimes.”
“You ran out all by yourself, risking your life?”
“I love my father. I’ll do anything to help him against his enemies.”
“You’re courageous, but foolish, young one.”
“Are you going to help me or not? I have to catch that man.”
“What man?” Gimpel raised a glove hand and pointed at the emptiness around them. “He’s long gone, whoever he was.”
“I’m going to search a bit further. Perhaps I’ll find his tracks.”
“You won’t get very far on two feet.”
“Are you offering to help me?”
“Yes, I am. Let’s go pick up Baruch, my son. We’ll need a strong, brave young man.”
Gimpel, Baruch, and Shoshanah took off across the snow, following the tracks of the mysterious stranger.
“Sssh! Listen!” Baruch placed a finger to his lips. “There’s another wagon traveling not too far ahead.”
“Perhaps you should extinguish your lantern, Gimpel. Then we’ll have the element of surprise,” Shoshanah suggested.
Gimpel put out his lantern and they were plunged in near total darkness. Only the moon overhead cast shadowy, white glows across the silent forest.
Suddenly an arrow thudded into the seat next to Gimpel and his scream echoed around the forest trees.
“We give up! Please! Don’t kill us!”
“Turn around, old man. Go back now!” The voice was booming and authoritative.
“We will, we will!” Gimpel whimpered as he hurriedly prodded the horses to turn the wagon around.
“Who are you? Why do you people love harassing my father? Leave him alone!” Shoshanah shouted at the voice in the dark.
“I have no quarrels with your father, Shoshanah. Go home in peace.”
Gimpel and Baruch turned to stare at Shoshanah in shock.
“How does he know your name?”
“I-I d-don’t know.” Shoshanahh swallowed hard. “I really don’t.”
When Shoshanah got back home she was surprised to see light from the fireplace reflected in the windows. She searched through the snow outside the door, desperate to find whatever it was that the stranger had left.
The door swung open and her father stood in the doorway, his face lined with worry.
“Shoshanah! What happened? Where were you?”
“Papa! I saw a man dropping something outside our door! He was all cloaked up. I gave chase and even met Gimpel on the way. He brought along his son, Baruch, and we tried following the figure. Then someone shot an arrow into our wagon and told us to go back.”
“Why did you run out all by yourself? Don’t ever do that again!”
“I’m sorry.” Shoshanah hung her head in shame. “I know it wasn’t the smartest thing to do.”
“You could have been killed!”
“I won’t do it again! I just thought it was the gentile woodchoppers who make your life so miserable. I wanted to catch them in the act.”
“I know you had good intentions, Shoshanah, but you mustn’t risk your life like this ever again. I could not bear to lose you….”
“Okay, Papa.” Shoshanah looked back at the snow around the doorway. “But, Papa, I saw the man put something in the snow and now I can’t see anything! I’m positive about what I saw, but whatever it was seems to have disappeared into thin air!”
“Don’t worry about what you saw, Shoshanah. All is okay. Just go back upstairs and go to sleep.”
“Yes, Papa. But what about you? Are you not also returning to bed?”
“I will, soon.”
As Shoshanah walked upstairs, she noticed a black envelope lying on the kitchen table….
“Papa, what is that?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing. Just something I, uh, brought home from work. It’s, um, for your mother….”
Chaim waited until Shoshanah was upstairs before he ripped open the letter. His hands were trembling as he began to read.
I do hope you understand there is a reason for this secrecy. Even the simplest of men can deduce that if one cannot show his or her face, then it is likely a matter of life and death. These letters are all that can be given for now, nothing more, nothing less. I speak in riddles only because I have to, not because I want to cause you anguish. Understand this…
Many birthdays have passed for the girl and you have continued to support her. You raise her as if she were your own child. Surely, your reward is great. I do wonder, though, does the girl ever wonder about her true origins? Does Shoshanah know of where she truly comes from?
For now, my dear sir, I can only dream and say, one day, one day…
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 814)
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