“I can’t even begin to explain to you what it will mean to me if someone has stolen that money”
eb Meir wasn’t sure what to respond for several moments. When he composed himself, he tried eliciting more information from Freida.
“Did you by any chance touch any money, Freida?”
“Freida… I want you to understand something. My friend entrusted me with a fortune, enough to purchase an entire block of buildings in this city. This was the largest amount of money that anyone has ever entrusted me with. I can’t even begin to explain to you what it will mean to me if someone has stolen that money. It will not only crush me, it will crush my friend as well when he finds out. I’m going to ask you again: Did you touch any money, even accidentally, when you were cleaning my study and moving things around on my desk?”
“No?” Reb Meir felt his blood beginning to boil. “Freida… no one else was in my study today except you. How could you have moved around things on my desk and not have touched the money?”
“Meir, calm down and don’t raise your voice.” Reb Meir’s wife shook her head. “I’m sure Freida has a good reason for being in your study. If you yell, you’ll just frighten her. Now let me try.”
Blima turned to Freida and smiled. Freida did not return the smile, and it was difficult to read the expression on her face.
“Freida, I know this must be very scary for you. I don’t want to frighten you, so I’m going to try and speak very gently. But you must, for your own sake, talk, even just a bit. Okay?”
Freida shook her head.
“What do you mean, no?” Reb Meir demanded. “Do you not realize how much money we are talking about? The least you can do is share information with us, Freida! Isn’t that fair? After all we’ve done for you? I’m not accusing you of taking the money, nor is anyone else. We only want you to describe your day, starting all the way from the morning when you woke up, until the moment you came into my study. Okay?”
Fraida looked even more stone-faced than before. Everyone knew that when she got that expression on her face, she was shutting down and would not speak any more.
It did not take long until the police was inside the home. These men were not soft and sensitive, but rather made of infinitely more brutish stuff than was Reb Meir. Swords dangling menacingly from their hips, they accepted payment from Reb Meir for the job, and then got to work interrogating everyone in the house.
The search yielded no results, so the soldiers went from house to house in the city, demanding information from anyone who had ventured anywhere remotely near Reb Meir’s home. But no one knew anything. There was only one suspect, and that was Freida.
Reb Meir’s friend returned eventually to collect his money, and his wail of anguish upon learning of its disappearance echoed throughout the city.
“How can this be? No clues left behind as to who might have made away with it? Come now, you must have some idea or suspicion as to a possible suspect!”
“Well, there is one girl in my house who never talks. She did venture into the study and even admitted to moving some things on the desk.”
“So what are we waiting for? Soldiers! Follow me!”
Reb Meir’s friend took the soldiers and barged into Freida’s room. She looked petrified as they interrogated her, getting increasingly frustrated with her stubborn silence.
“Can we look through your things?”
“Ah, for that the little one suddenly finds her tongue. Well, let’s look through her things then.”
The search yielded nothing, but at this point everyone in the house was convinced Freida had taken the money. Another girl even began to talk about how Freida had been mentioning to her lately how she had been wishing she could get a little bit more money to purchase some nicer dresses. This testimony was the final straw.
“Little girl, you either tell us where the money is right this moment, or we will take you to a dark, scary place called prison. There you will be all alone and frightened. Tell us now where the money is, and you won’t have to go there. Either way, you’re going to tell us where the money is, whether you take the easy way or the hard way where we must force the information out of you.”
“Tell the truth, Freida,” Reb Meir pleaded with her for the last time. “If it’s more money you need, then you’ll get it. I’ll get you many pretty dresses, and you won’t even be punished for taking the money in my study. In fact, for telling the truth, I’ll even reward you! Please…”
Freida just shook her head.
“Then I’m afraid that these men must take you. You leave us no choice, Freida. You are not a child anymore. You can choose to do the right thing, right here, right now. Otherwise, they will keep you for a few days in prison, and you will admit the truth there after seeing how unpleasant it is. I don’t want you to go through that, and I know you don’t want to experience that either. Last chance; where’s the money?”
Freida stared at the ceiling, tears in her eyes, but her lips remained sealed.
“So be it.”
The soldiers moved in and off to prison Freida went.
Days turned into weeks, and still Freida maintained her stubborn silence. And unbeknownst to Reb Meir, she was not just being kept there, but also beaten occasionally by the cruel soldiers. He kept traveling to the prison to speak with her, literally beg her to just tell the truth, but she did not listen to him. Again and again, he returned, coming up with all sorts of tactics, but all failed.
And then, one day, when he went to visit her cell, he learned of the terrible news. Freida had perished in prison. He then learned about the harsh treatment of the guards, but it was much too late to change anything. She was gone, and he felt himself torn in half with grief. Guilt burned inside him.
And then, two weeks later, another major event occurred.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 943)
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