Chapter the Eleventh.
Liubovitshove again. - Her Influence on my wife. - I start having problems. - I am running after prescriptions. - A nasty affair with a horse. - Doctors. - I start thinking about moving on again. - I go to Kamenits. - At grandfather's in Pruske.- Excise tax evasion. - Denounced to the authorities. - Paper coins. -A friend of mine. - Black magic.
As time went on my wife came more and more under the influence of Liubovitshove. She worked day and night without ever stopping and this messed up my life.
My wife had given birth to a daughter. On the day after the Lady came to visit. She told her that she looked very well and said that in her opinion my wife could get up from childbed the next day. There was no need for her to stay in confinement for eight days like all Jewish women do.
"You're such an efficient woman", she said with a smile, "get up quickly."
My wife listened to her. Not on the third day, as Liubovitshove had wanted, but on the fourth did she come out of confinement and started working, doing all the heavy work related to the milk-concession: making cheese from sour-cream, butter from cream, milking the cows and similar heavy tasks.
Unsurprisingly, these strenuous activities resulted in her developing a bad cough. She had pains in her chest too. I fetched a doctor who said it was the beginning of consumption.
Finally I succeeded in convincing her to stop working and took her to Grodno to another doctor. She really was seriously ill. Only now, being sick, did she fully realise how big a mistake she had made. Not only had the work made her sick, but she had also harmed us by weaning the maids from doing work. The servants always did little, my wife did everything herself. Now there was nobody to do the work, the maids were not willing. Suddenly everything fell into disorder and I was running after doctors and prescriptions for days on end. I got a wet-nurse for the baby. The tavern and the milk business became neglected. Rozenblum took away our milk license, he wasn't going to give me any leeway. We came into dark times..
In my tavern the mead and wine went bad, I didn't have the time to keep things up and as a result another inn keeper in the neighborhood took away all my income.
My wife became even more ill and I was constantly busy with doctors and prescriptions.
One evening the doctor came. He wrote out a prescription and ordered us to have it made up without delay. I took a horse from Rozenblum and rode to the pharmacy in Krinik. When I came home it was one o'clock at night. I made the horse halt in front of the house, but when I was getting down from the saddle my foot got caught in the stirrup [farshtepe ikh ober a fus in klamre fun zotl >farshtepn - stitch up; P. klamre - clasp, buckle], while the horse, a very tall one, took off for the farm. I fell on the ground, with one foot hitched to the stirrup and this big horse dragged me along over the road. The horse, fed up with the attachment dangling after him, started bucking and kicking with his hind feet. That was a very nasty extra.
I started shouting loudly, which startled the horse. Passing the fence I got hold of a pole and tried to wrangle my foot loose, but didn't succeed. So, while struggling I did what a Jew would do under the circumstances and passed out.
I got rid of the horse. My shoe came off by itself, though it remained stuck to the saddle. I was unconscious for about half an hour, than I came to. I was laying close to the house and started shouting. They carried me in, revived me, rubbed my body with alcohol. I had a good long sleep and woke up in good health.
Eventually I got a famous doctor to come to the house. He inspected the tavern, felt the wall with his hand. The walls were saturated with humidity. The doctor said that my wife's illness was caused by the walls, that is, by their dampness and that she didn't have a chance if she wouldn't leave the tavern.
To tell the truth, in those days I didn't understand at all that dampness was something dangerous. Who would bother about a bit of dampness? Something different again [oykh mir a zakh]. I did have a dry room and I carried my wife's bed into it. She recovered slowly and eventually regained her health.
Rozenblum gave me back the concession, but the tavern would never be what it had been. I didn't succeed in winning back the customers that had left me.
Once again I started thinking about ... moving on. Makarovtsi just wasn't the right place for me. Liubovitshove would eventually kill my wife with her conviction that people had to toil beyond their forces and save, save, save.
I wrote a letter to my grandfather about the matter. He replied that he would somehow find me a farm if I returned to Kamenits. My uncle Mordkhe-Leyb and his only son [Arn-Leyb] were the only members of the family still living there. As I have told, grandfather lived in Pruske.
From Kamenits I went to my grandfather in Pruske. Right then his distillery was in full operation, plenty of work to do.
In those days all distilleries in the Government Grodno were in the hands of Jews. Every still would have a gauge, indicating how many units [troles ?] of alcohol are taken out each day. Before a distillery could start operating the excise tax officials had to come and seal up every caldron [kaden ? > Hark. kodke - tub > P. kadz - tub; R. kadka -tub, vat] and kettle with an official [kazione - R. of the crown] lead seal again.
In the beginning there were only a few of these seals. Later, when they found out that too much alcohol was spirited away, more seals were added. That there were less seals before was not because they didn't know earlier which places should be sealed off, but simply because the official cashed in big on bribes and turned a blind eye.
In the course of time the number of seals on all of the equipment used in a distillery rose to three hundred. But new ways of fraud with the gauge were thought up. The excise officials themselves became experts on how to bypass the gauge, on how to tap off alcohol before it reached the gauge. The excise people and the owners of the distilleries enjoyed golden times together, the officials had struck liquid gold.
In Kamenits we had a chief-gauger by the name of M., who was a master in the art of falsifying seals and signatures. His work was so perfect that it was impossible to distinguish it from the real thing.
He could very well have been a counterfeiter, minting in silver or gold, but he did not feel like putting his life at risk. But in the distilleries he faked all signatures on tax papers and seals. The officials were in the know.
He should have been a rich man, but he used to gamble it away playing cards with the officials; he wasn't any good with cards. He like living it up. He would often go to Brisk for a couple of days, going through a small fortune.
People would drag him all over the Grodno Government, to every distillery. He had all kinds of advice on how to go about stealing alcohol. But he never went behind the backs of the officials, they always knew, because he wanted a secure life without having to be afraid of anyone.
He had carried out one of his tricks at my grandfather's in Pruske: He had drilled a tiny hole in one of the copper 'snakes'.1 This was a kind of coil made out of a copper tube, weighing of about hundred and fifty kilograms, which they called the 'snake' because it was coiled up like one. The hot alcohol entered into the gauge through this tube. The little hole was a work of art. A small tube would be inserted through which huge amounts of alcohol were siphoned off every day.
This worked fine for a month. Grandfather did good business though he had a lot of overhead expenses. When stealing there were always expenses. He paid for instance fifty rubles a month to the supervisor, twenty five to the overseer [objezdnem >P.objezdzac - to go around?] and the manager with his assistants three hundred rubles a month. The farmers that did the actual tapping received money too. Altogether it took around seven hundred rubles a month.
But it didn't last long. Someone secretly informed the government about it. A committee of excise tax officials showed up. They came unannounced and immediately went for the 'snake', catching the goyim busy tapping alcohol in the act. About six buckets of alcohol had been siphoned off. The goyim managed to run away [di goyim hobn ober nokh uspeyet tsu antloyfn > R.uspetj.]
In no time they had sealed the still with the snake and written out a warrant. But it was evening and they weren't able to see very well how the thieving had been carried out.They posted three constables to make sure that the written seal would not be taken off. After that the members of the commitee and the assessor went to sleep on the farm, planning to have a better look next morning.
Grandfather immediately fetched the technician. The constables received their due and pretended to fall asleep. Next they took down the snake and patched the tube on the inside so that the hole looked the same but didn't let any alcohol through. The head-gauger knew how to finish an operation quickly if necessary.
The next morning at twelve o'clock, after breakfasting, the committee came to have a better look at how the scam had operated. But not a drop would come out. All the alcohol went through into the gauge. Again the necessary money passed hands to ensure that the whole affair would be forgotten. The committee left in peace and grandfather continued his affairs in peace. They immediately thought up another scheme, but I forgot what it was.
A few distilleries in the Grodno District were managed by Lords and they became rich in no time: they didn't make bones about stealing.
Talking about this genius-counterfeiter, the chief-gauger, a character truly typical of that period, I should tell a story about his youth.
He was a friend of mine. We studied together under the teacher Mote2. Because of a shortage in coins of small denomination in those days the government had given permission to everybody to issue his own paper coins, only small change, not higher than twenty five kopecks.
A lot of businessman started making coins of one, two, three, five, ten, fifteen, twenty and twenty five kopecks. To make sure that the farmers would understand their value they used to make signs with small stripes on them, in the 'farmers' alphabet' [pasekelekh > P. paseka - belt, stripe]. Every stripe [pasekel] stood for one kopeck. So many stripes, so many kopecks. Only on the coins from ten [text: five] to twenty five kopecks were there also bigger stripes, indicating the 'tens'. The family name of the person who had issued the coins would also be on them. Such 'I-O-Us' circulated in towns and villages all over the Grodno Government (and probably in other regions as well). Real coins under a half ruble were virtually non-existent, you seldom saw them. All farmers used to take paper-coins as payment for the produce they brought for sale. They would count the money according to the stripes. It wasn't that easy for them; for farmers counting is quite difficult, even if it is only stripes!
If they had sold out all their products they went to buy goods in the shops with these I.O.U.'s or get drunk with them. If they had any of them left they would submit them to Jews to exchange them. They would lose a little, but Jews would pay them out in cash.
This paper money wasn't very practical for farmers. They had problems counting them, they often lost these mall bits of paper, which were only one inch [P. cal] long and when used they suffered from wear and tear.
My grandfather was the very first to fabricate this type of money, but later on he got fed up with it. All business men started making it.
These bits of paper suited the keepers of small shops very well. It allowed them to manage [durkhkireven. Hark.: kireven manage; P. kierowac - lead, direct] their 'business' without ever being short of money. When they were a hundred, two hundred short they would issue some more "money" and soon the gap was filled. Thus the notes remained in circulation during a couple of years, until they were abolished and this partly because of the official complaint of a Jew... When they went out of circulation many people went broke, but without disgracing themselfs too much [ober on bizyoynes].
I remember that during that period this ten year old boy had worked the following scheme with notes issued by Trinkovski: He took notes of five kopecks, added a few stripes and Lo and behold! it had changed into a twenty fiver. However, he had done it so cleverly that you absolutely couldn't detect the forgery. The execution was perfect.
When Trinkovski started receiving such notes that people came to exchange for money he didn't notice anything wrong of course. But when he had cashed quite a lot of such coins it began to dawn on him that there were somehow too many of these twenty five notes. Too many, or more precise, more than he had ever made. He realised that some kind of forgery was going on.
As a matter of fact, the small boy had been able to do it only by gluing a piece of paper in the middle of the note, which you would notice straight away once you started checking them for it.
This forgery caused upset and anger in the city and only after a thorough judical investigation did they manage to trace down the little culprit. The rebbe, Motke, gave our head-gauger twenty five strong blows, to make him think of the false twenty five kopecks notes. During this punishment all the boys had to count and with every smack they would shout: one kopeck, and so on.
The morning after his beating he came over to me and said, "You know, Khatskele, I've already got a new idea for another scam with those money tickets, but this time I'll be more clever about it."
"But Moyshe", I answered, "you gave your word that you would never do it again!"
At his ordeal he had sworn in a loud voice in front of all.
"So what!", he said and laughed, like a grown-up might do, "Don't be so stupid. If the rebbe wants to be stupid, never mind, he still is a rebbe. Didn't I keep shouting that I would never do this trick again? So what is wrong with another trick?"
And indeed, for him it was just a trick, nothing more. He was really not out on making money. What counted for him, like with all artists, was the idea. He was also very good at drawing.
But in the end the chief-gauger could not survive on his art. Eventually accusations against him heaped up and the excise people tipped him off, telling him to make himself scarce. He took off to America.
1in English this spiral pipe of a still is referred to as a 'worm'.
2See Vol. I, Chapt. VIII.
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