Chapter the Twelfth.
Grandfather. - Lord Shemet. - Kushelyeve. - Sir Shemet fools grandfather. - He leases a farm for me. - We leave Makarovtsi. - I become a real leaseholder. - At my father's. - The departure for Kushelyeve. - Hard-core trouble. - Business with goyim. - Wolves. - A scary "Huhu! Huhu!". - Moors. - Regrets. - Anton.
Grandfather was very busy with the distillery. He wanted to visit Marshal Shemet, who owned a lot of farms in the Pruzhani District . He himself lived about thirteen miles from Kamenits. Grandfather had leased a farm from him before for his son Yosl1, the farm Babitsh, close to Kamenits.
You could get a farm from him cheaply. He never evicted any Jews that were leaseholders on his property.
He possessed five million guilders in pure gold, which he kept in a bank in Warsaw. Though he was an old man himself he had a young wife and a fifteen year old only daughter.
He hated contracts. He always kept his word. You only had to pay for the lease and even if you failed to pay it in time nothing bad would happen. Shemet never did anything bad.
That's why grandfather wanted to see him first. But he could not tear himself away from the distillery and I was obliged to hang around at Pruske. Only after several months did grandfather go to see Shemet.
From Shemet, who, like most of the nobility, was very pleased with his visit, he learned that all estates were occupied. He had only one small estate free, named Kushelyeve which had in total three hundred acres sowing-land. Wheat couldn't be grown on it, for it was poor soil, but hay there was plenty. So called mire-hay, because it grew on mire. There was also hay in the forest.
"I think you should take it." The lord had told grandfather. "I'll let a grandson of yours have it for six hundred rubles. Your grandson can make a living for himself. He can get four hundred carloads of hay. The farmers will do all the field work in exchange for hay. But if you take it, make sure nobody hears about it yet, because the farmers still have to sow the summer crop. If they find out, that you have a contract, they will sow so badly that the crop will be worth next to nothing. Make sure you take another road home, not the one going through the village Mikholke. Mikhokle is too close to Kushelyeve2.
After all, Shemet was a big swindler. His always kept his word but if he saw some fishy way to cheat someone he would not let the chance slip by.
If someone would say to him, "Lord, you've cheated me." he would reply, "You should be ashamed of yourself to tell me that you are a big fool. Only a fool can be fooled. Let me tell you, it's a shame if someone lets himself be fooled that way. A fool shouldn't go in business." That's how he would ridicule him.
And even if that person took him to task [hot im fort araynkrogen in yat arayn], showing him black on white that Shemets had gone too far, the old fox would not be too impressed and answer him in his arrogant way. "If you behave cleverly from now on you will not make a fool of yourself in future."
He cheated my clever grandfather as well. He told him on purpose not to return by the same road, wanting to make sure that grandfather would not inspect the farm, knowing that if grandfather saw the farm he certainly would not lease it. It never occurred to grandfather that his grandson would get involved in a constant war with the farmers, that he would be out of place and lonely in a forest. The main reason was that my dear grandmother wasn't there anymore. She would never ever have agreed to get involved with such a kind of leasehold.
Grandfather made a down payment of a hundred rubles and got a paper, stating that he had leased the estate Kushelyeve for six hundred rubles a year. But it didn't say for how many years. That was one problem. The second was, that it was stipulated in the receipt that I would keep in charge of the sowing of the fields myself and not allow the farmers to take over, thus ensuring that they would have to work the fields, giving their employer two thirds of the produce [snopes] and keeping one third for themselves.
This point, a common form of exploitation, which had been sneaked in underhandedly, spelled out my misfortune.
Grandfather had asked Shemet how it was that this whole goyem village hadn't got the tiniest plot of pasture, though after the uprising a commission had toured around, allotting every farmer fields. Certainly, if they had fields they should have pasture and hay. How could they have one without the other?
"I was more clever than they were." Shemet said smiling triumphantly. "When the commission came to me, I gave those bureaucrats [R. tsjinovnik] a taste of my vintage vodka - enough of it. With vodka you can get someone pretty confused, especially when it has aged. In the end the commission wrote down exactly what I wanted them to write. I did even better: I got myself a parcel of meadow, right next to the village. That parcel of meadow, which can yield fifty carloads of hay, serves me as a whip with the farmers. The cattle, you know, must go through that field, even if they don't want to. If I spot them I get half a ruble for each animal. That way I can skin the farmers alive. If your grandson behaves like a man, he will be able to make lots of money from them. You tell him; just tell him."
Grandfather, well contented, came home to Pruske without having passed Kushelyeve. He was convinced that he had leased a good estate for me cheaply, from a good landlord.
"If Khatskl moves in there, he will be all right." said grandfather, rubbing his hands in delight. "Shemet never raises the rent, doesn't mix in the business of a leaseholder. He can work the farm just like he wants. Shemet won't even look his way.
Soon after I went home to Makarovtsi also a happy man. In this I followed my grandfather. If he was content, why shouldn't I be? I informed Rozenblum that I would leave the place after Peysekh. I was going to my own farm, the one I had leased. He could start looking for a new leaseholder for the tavern and the concession.
Gradually I started thinking about moving in at Kushelyeve. I could do it around Shvues, but I would have to buy a lot of things first, and not just trifles: cows, oxen, horses, harnesses and all the equipment needed on a farm.
It was important to start buying beforehand. It would be summer and there would be plenty to do on the fields. If I started buying and organizing after arriving at Kushelyeve it would take me all summer and no work would be done on the fields.
All leaseholders, after taking a new farm on lease, move in during winter, around New Year, when the fields are covered with snow. They take their time to prepare everything and around Peysekh they are ready to go. But since I was planning to move in during summer I would have to make my preparations here beforehand, while living at another farm.
I started corresponding with my father, telling him that I would come to stay with him in Paseki in March, buy everything, keep it at his farm and move in with the whole caboodle to Kushelyeve at the end of May.
Meanwhile I had sold everything in Makarovtsi and I had it announced in all prayer houses in Krinik that whoever had a claim on me should come to see me, since I was about to leave Makarovtsi.
Actually, this announcement was quite unnecessary, because nobody had a claim on me and I didn't owe anyone a penny. It was nothing but a customary formality3, or rather an arrogant gesture out of vanity, something I had in my innocence picked up from my grandfather.
It was proclaimed in the prayer houses and ... nobody came.
That's how I left Makarovtsi. Many people cried saying good bye to me and the loudest of all the Pope of Arlian4. He couldn't live without me and he told me that whenever I would come to him for help, he would, God forbid, take of his last shirt and give it to me. And I myself was very sorry to leave all my neighbors and good friends, to whom I had become so close. But what to do if the wandering life calls? Fate it was.
When I arrived at my father's in short clothes he didn't receive me coldly. He smiled his usual smile and acted as if he had forgiven me all my sins. May be he had realised that it was much easier to keep silent, to forgive, than to make a big fuss about my trousers [dreyn a spodek mit di hoyzn].
My family, my father, uncle Yosl and the youngest brother Arn Leyb, all helped buying the things needed for the house, everything needed to work the fields. I ordered new wagons to be made for the transport of sheaves of grain and to transport manure. I bought plows, harrows, rakes. I bought horses, oxen, cows. Really everything.
Every Sunday we bought a few things and on the Yuri-year market, which was always a big affair in Kamenits, we bought the last things we still needed. And that was it!
On the fifteenth of May we set out for Kushelyeve.
When we reached the forest of Kushelyeve, four versts from the farm, fear came over us: huge wild bogs and swamps on all sides as far as the eye could see. It took us maybe two hours to haul our way trough those four versts. Pretty soon everything turned sour for us.
I had seen forests before where it was dry, wonderful, but here there were wide stretches of moors and mires where our cows would have to graze. It didn't take me long to figure out that such a type of pasture was no good for cattle. They get stuck in the mud and the moors and won't be able to get out. During my stay in Makarovtsi I had already some experience with farming. But how to approach this [ober vos iz di pule?] ?. Better to say nothing. A hopeless situation.
Having barely made it to the farm our last hopes dimmed. Such a desolate place. No fence around it, ditches, potholes, stones, only small patches of grass.
Inside, on the farm, stood a somber house, a misery without end [lang vi der goles], black, old, abandoned. Everything seems to be covered with gloom, enveloped in a musty coldness.
Later I found out that it had been lived in by simple farmers and farm-hands [poyerim-batrakes > R. batrak - farm-hand] for thirteen years.
And there was another problem: there were cows grazing in the rye growing adjacent to the yard. Wasn't that a nice arrangement! The cowherds, who saw us coming, ran off. After this first welcome my wife and I startedto drive the cattle out of the rye.We drove them into the cow-shed [P. obora] and counted them: There were ninety-two of them. We closed the door and bolted the latch with a wooden wedge.
Within half an hour most of the goyim of the village had collected at the farm. They had come to ask me to give them back their cows. They didn't venture to take them out of the cow-shed themselves, though it wasn't locked. At first I made a point of demanding a ruble a cow and I gave them a talking to: how could they let their cows graze in someone else's rye? A sin it was before God. But they paid up and I handed over the detainees to them.
I told them that I gave them untill Sunday to have their cows graze in my forest. Then we would have to make up a contract in the village chancery by which they would pledge themselves to work for me during the summer in exchange for pasture .The representative lived in the village Mikholke, which, as mentioned before, is part of the estate Kushelyeve. I sent someone to fetch him.
"Your lordship village-elder", I said to him. "Sunday you must call all inhabitants of the village together, all twenty-seven families. They must come to discuss with me the pasture I am going to give them in the forest. If they don't reach an understanding with me and don't close a contract, I won't let them graze their cows on my land any longer."
Sunday morning all the goyim villagers and the representative appeared and I was asked how much I wanted for the pasture. We haggled for a couple of hours, until we reached an agreement, that for every cow, or horse, or even for a calf, they would supply the labor of two people during one day, bringing their own team, a horse I mean.
We discussed all that at my farm and then we all went to the chancery. There the contract was written up, in which I had added that whenever I called someone up for work, be it just a laborer or one with a horse, he would have to come soon. If he wouldn't come after a repeated call I would be paid a penalty of three rubles.
Another important point was this: during harvest time, they had to reap on my fields three days before starting on their own harvest and after these three days they would reap one day for themselves and one day for me alternately. Moreover, within two weeks they would bring in my whole harvest into the barn.
The clerk wrote up the contract for a mere five rubles; he became so submissive that he would willingly have sold me all the farmers. The representative also started buttering me up, hoping there would be something in it for him. The document was officially stamped an signed. That was done. I told them that I would come to the village early next morning to write down how many cows every household had, in order to find out how many laborers each had to give me
Early next morning I arrived in the village. I got the senior representative5and the village-chief6and we went from house to house to count the heads.
I realised that the goyim were out to fool me, they all accused their neighbors of cheating.
I recall that everyone said that other 'goys' [text: goyes] had hidden away calves in [text: unter] a stable, so I would not see them. So I made it my job [Hob ikh mikh ongegurt di lenden] to inspect carefully , at the same time putting some fire into [unterwarimendik] the representative. And when I caught a calf, which they had hidden so they would not have to pay in labor for a bit of harmless grass, the representative would start shouting at them, "You thief!", like someone had stolen a calf from me personally.
I listed more than six hundred head of cattle. That amounted to six hundred wagon-laborers and six hundred foot-laborers. That was pretty good business. I couldn't complain.
The plot of meadow next to the village they took off my hands for a hundred rubles and twenty-seven reapers. About the mire-hay we reached a fifty-fifty deal:
half to be mowed and brought in to my barn, half for them.
The goyim did all my fieldwork to perfection, everything neatly, in apple-pie order. A leaseholder can't wish for more. All summer we had no worries whatsoever about getting laborers. Let me tell you, harvest time has all kinds of trouble in store: If it has been, with God's help, a dry summer, the ears ripen quickly and soon reach the stage that the kernels will fall out. Or ,when the sheaves are standing in the field and it starts raining, you might have to bring them in to the barn sooner, to prevent them from starting to rot. Then, at the beginning of autumn you might have to sow the summer crop and long rains cause pools of water, preventing you from sowing. As soon as the sun comes through the clouds you want to start working. At such times you need a lot of hands, because time is pressing. You plow and harrow as fast as you can, you quickly sow. If you don't make it in time, the crop wont have enough time to grow and you will have no end of trouble, your life is no fun at all. In short: you need some more laborers. God forbid that you are short of laborers at such times, for then you are really done for. If that happens leaseholders go haywire, run around with lamps looking for field-workers, their faces dripping with sweat.
In that respect I was doing really all right; what was wrong was the place Kushelyeve itself.
To start with, there was the Kushelyeve forest. It covered thirty-six thousand acres and bordered on the even bigger Temre forest. The Temre forest in its turn went over in other forests; there was forest everywhere, on all sides. My tiny farm stood in the middle of the Kushelyeve forest, like an amazed little bird, miserable, lonely, deserted, a real wilderness. The soil was poor and where it wasn't poor there were horrible moors and mires and muck; a good place for ghosts to settle. There wasn't any road through the forest stretching, as is normally the case, from one town to the other. No road, no path.
There were many wolves in the forest. The governor of Grodno used to organize a wolf-hunt every other year. These wolves were not afraid to steel a goose from my very farm. I remember how once farmers plowing the fields next to the farm saw a limping wolf. They stopped in the middle of what they were doing and took off to kill the wolf with pikes shouting so loudly that it made you shudder.
There were also wild boars that liked eating the potatoes on the field.
When the cows were grazing in the forest the cowherd could not collect them at one spot before driving them home. Every cowherd would call and shoo his cows and drive them away one by one. A cow might have wandered off behind some trees, so the cowherd cannot see it. The cows would take off in all directions between the trees, so you needed lots of cow-herds.
Every farmer had his own cow-herd, but it was almost impossible for a cow-herd to get all his cows home in one drive. They would often end up with one cow staying behind in the evening, forced to spend the night there. This would upset the goyim a lot. There was a good chance that the cow would be eaten by wolves during the night. During such a night the farmers would walk around in the forest like maniacs, looking for their cows. They would shout loudly, hoping on the one hand that the cows would recognize their masters voice and on the other to frighten off the wolves.
Already during my first night I heard the drawn out sad calls of the farmers walking around in the forest: "Hu-hu! Hu-hu!"
You shudder: the forest, the night, wolves and farmers that never can be my friends. The shouts get louder, come closer and closer.
In the beginning we would be scared to death when after the terrible shouting we saw a group of farmers with shotguns in hand (all farmers owned a gun).
But when they just raised their caps, wished us a "dobri-vetsher" and asked us in a friendly but desperate voice whether we had by chance caught their cattle because they were doing damage we felt a little bit better.
We already got a taste of this during the very first night after our arrival in Kushelyeve. Our teeth were chattering Later, when we had seen the desperate farmers my wife and I comforted each other, erroneously thinking that we had nothing to fear from those farmers; good goyim we called them.
In terms of law and order the situation wasn't too bad for the farmers in those days. After all, it was after the abolition of serfdom. The farmers had their own courts wielding extensive powers. Such a court, consisting of four farmers, could pass a sentence of up to fifty lashes. It only had jurisdiction over farmers. If a Jew had a law-suit with a farmer, it would resort under the Court of the Peace. If the Jew wanted to, he could transfer the his law-suit with a farmer to the farmers' court.
This court was very impartial. They didn't distinguish between a Jew and a Christian; they did justice to a just cause and condemned injustice. Jews had an additional privilege. If a Jew was not happy with a verdict of the farmers' court, he had the option to ignore its decision and to have the trial transferred to the Court of the Peace.
In those days the farmers generally respected Jews, even thought them quite superior people. You never heard of farmers molesting Jews and if such things did happen it was exceptional. The administrative offices also showed them respect.
Eventually we settled down, even though their nightly shooing and shouting was eerie. The cows caused me a lot of aggravation, because they kept sinking into the forest bogs. Not a day would pass without a cow getting stuck in a morass. It was a precarious situation. A cow is by nature a 'weak creature' and after laying in the morass for a few hours it catches a cold and dies of it afterwards.
Every day a cowherd would come running with the same message, "Boss [R. khozyain], a cow got stuck in the morass!"
You had to get goyim together quickly, to lift the cow out of the morass. I used to go with the farmers myself to muck about in the deep mud. Very bad for my health. You would step in with one foot and thanks to God succeed in dragging it out again, but then your other foot would already have sunk deeply into the mud .
Often we would find the cow completely exhausted. We lit a fire of dry branches and warmed them up after pulling them out of the swamp, until they could get up and go home
Thus I had to deal with cows every single day.
Later I had a lot of work selling off one by one small plots of grassland, about forty plots, situated faraway in the wet region of the forest. The farmers of the nearby villages would come to buy a plot of grassland. They would take me through the wet forest: one foot in, the other foot out and so on, again and again for a long time. I would come home tired out completely.
From all this plodding through the mud I became sick. I got pains in the chest and returning home I would fall down on the sofa, more dead than alive. My wife would often appeal to me, saying, "Let's leave Kushelyeve for what it is and try to get out alive".
Sometimes I had to ride to the little towns in the region to buy things I wanted on the market, the things you regularly needed to run a farm. It would happen that I rode home after dark. All around lived packs of hungry wolves and to dispel my unpleasant thoughts I used to shout, clap my hands and ring a little bell. The desolation, the isolation, it really got to me.
Living in a village you can go to visit someone in your spare time. Village people don't have so much forest, their surroundings are more open. People pass the time with each other until late at night and then go home. But here I never get a visitor and I visit nobody. The accursed forest blocked the road to one and all.
I gave up completely on reading my philosophy books and became a real back-woods farmer in every respect. The Sundays and Christian holidays I would spend with the farmers. I was depressed, bitter, unhappy. I was worried about my children. They would come to nothing in such a desert.
And when I remembered the pleasures and possibilities of Makarovtsi, the dear good friends and acquaintances I had there, I would get overwhelmed with regret and could tear my heart out.
Why had I left there for this place?
I had quite a good relation with the farmers of Kushelyeve. I never took any punitive action when their cows caused me damage. After all, I was a Jew, an isolated single Jew and they, the goyim, where with a whole lot.
I kept giving them things, lent them money when thy really needed it, I often did them favors and I more or less adapted myself to them. But the farmer remained a stranger to me, or may be even worse than that ..., despite the fact that farmers will remember a favor done to them, some human kindness.
Once on a holiday I went out to have a look at my fields in the forest. I see two oxen graze in my rye field and the cowherd Anton, a twenty year old young man, the strongest in the village, just sitting there unconcerned smoking his pipe like he had nothing to do with it. So I cut myself a rod from a tree and start herding the oxen to my house. But Anton drives them to his home in the village. I towards my farm, he to the village. I told the representative that Anton had not allowed me to confiscate his oxen
after they had caused me damage. Next Sunday they tried Anton in the chancery and convicted him to 20 lashes.
The land-holder was a good man, so why cause him damage? Next Anton's family came to me, with his brother Pavel the village chief in front They fell down at my feet. begging me to have mercy. When I did forgive him it was very much appreciated by them. However, they were not capable of treating me well in every respect. I had the feeling that there was always one thought on their minds, "What was I doing here among them? Where had I come from? What right did I have to occupy their fields? What was I, a Jew up to, hanging out with their bunch of dark and hairy faced creatures with angry, gloomy, hungry eyes?"
At harvest time the whole village started on my harvest. They wanted to get it over with earlier and that was quite something. If the grain on the land becomes dry you need to harvest it a bit earlier and get the sheaves to the barn the very next day, to prevent the kernels sowing themselves out on the field. Within ten days all my rye had already been cut and brought in.
The summer harvest was so good that year, that the old people said they couldn't remember such a good rye year. Oats, potatoes, peas, buckwheat [grike] and all kitchen-garden vegetables were very bad: of the eighty acres sown in with oats I didn't even get enough to feed the few horses I had. Tiny black kernels; to sow next years harvest I had to buy all the seed.
But hay I had plenty. May be 400 carloads of it.
But what to do about the fact that it was the wrong place, boring and tedious, that I couldn't find my niche?
Time and time again I would reflect silently and with pangs of regret on the good, dear and cozy Makarovtsi.
1Yosl is the younger brother of Yekheskl's father Moyshe. In Vol. II, Chapt. I we read that Babitsh is an estate 'eight verst from Kamenits'.
2Kushelyeve = Koshelevo 52"23'N, 24"48'E; 20.8 km SW of Bereza, 35.7 km. from Kobrin, 37.3 km from Pruzhani, in the center of the triangle formed by Kobrin, Drogichin and Bereza. Mikholke I cannot identify.
3Text: nor dos hot zikh gepast tsum rumpel [rumpel - Hark. the morrow after the nuptials], vi men zogt in lito, un rikhtiker - dos iz geven a min puste gayve, vos ikh hob umshuldik etvos genasht fun zeydn.
4Text: der arlianer pop. Pope - Russian Orthodox priest. Comp. Vol II, Chapt VI: Urlion, four verst from Makarovtsi.
5R. starshina - sergeant-major; petty officer; leader, senior representative. Hark. starshina - elder, chief of a village.
6P. governor, prefect (of a district). Hark. starosta - starost, chief of a village.
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