Chapter the fourteenth.
The situation improves. - Visitors. - My father and sister. - Grandfather. - Cigars. - More upset [es rudert zikh]. - A contract with the farmers. - "Let's go, brothers!" - Tshernokove. - The Lord's dog. - Mr. Shemet's wife. - The daughter. - How Shemet made his fortune. - The scandal with the daughter. - She begs to come home. - A heavy scene at the fence. - The end of Shemet, his family and his fortune.
Even today I still don't understand how I managed to live through a month of such horror, without sleep, amidst such diseases, in a deserted corner of the world. My distant neighbors, the only ones I had, were afraid to come to my house to see how the patients were and to nurse them [mevaker-khoyle zayn]; even the goyim kept away from my farm. They obviously understood the nature of typhoid fever. Silence reigned; the place was wrapped in a heavy, profound silence that was really frightening.
The condition of my wife and children seemed to improve a little, but then they relapsed getting a high fever again. The little one's constant wailing almost broke me.
But the little thing had a quick death and it was removed even quicker to prevent the other patients from seeing it. I didn't want them to know1.
Only when the sick ones had recovered did people start reacting to my telegrams and coming to visit. That is to say, precisely at the time that I didn't have any use for them anymore. My father came with my sister and my brother, all three together. But I was so exhausted that I couldn't see out of my eyes anymore. I left everything in the care of my guests and simply went to sleep.
My father soon returned home and the others stayed for a couple of weeks. Later my grandfather came to visit. Up to this very day I feel regret that I displeased him with the cigars I had bought him.
Grandfather used to smoke 'Miller's' cigars, which came at twelve kopecks the dozen. In those days they were about the most expensive cigars. It was the cigar smoked by the very rich. They must have been of better quality than those you get now, because wrapper leaves that cost eighty rubles the 'pud' then cost around four hundred rubles nowadays and that despite the fact that the excise duty was lower then.
My shopkeeper had talked me into buying a hundred cigars for a ruble, saying they were top-class cigars, much better than Millers. I let him convince me and bought the cigars. But my grandfather turned up his nose diasapprovingly after trying his first cigar.
I really felt deeply sorry, I was overcome by remorse. Here my grandfather was visiting me, a married man, for the first time and I had bought him bad cigars.
After that all my visitors left and the quiet returned, the same silence as before. But now the silence didn't upset me any longer. On the contrary, the silence was sweet and pleasant to me now. I was badly in need of rest. I went to bed at eight in the evening and slept like like a log [mit tem un mit eyn otem] until eight or nine in the morning.
It took me a long time to regain my strength after all that had happened.
Only after several weeks did I start working in the fields again. I had to buy all the seed for sowing if I wanted to go on as a farmer, there was nothing else for it. The land had to be plowed and harrowed and the manure had to be spread out. But that last thing broke me up. They had needed a hundred carts to transport the manure, so I hadn't anything left to pay for sowing grain.
The disease, our house-hospital, had cost me five to six hundred rubles. I never resorted to swindling or fishy money business like other Jews do when facing problems. I wouldn't even have known how to go about getting an interest-free loan2from someone. I simply had to buy oats, barley, peas and seed-potatoes and had not the wherewithal to do it.
There was one more problem on top of the thousands of problems Kushelyeve had already caused me.
At the end of the winter the cows started calving and because of the dearth of hay cows became so cheap that there were no buyers for calves at all. Who needed calves? You could not get rid of them giving them away for next to nothing. I had to butcher all the calves myself and what was worse, eat them myself. Such food doesn't go down well at all.
Winter passed ever so slowly. Heavy and foul weather set in, like winter didn't want to go, like it was fighting to stay. But spring is forceful and finally winter was over like a bad dream from which you wake up with relief.
After Peysekh I made a new contract with the all farmers of the village. It was like the one from the previous year3, but the big plot of pasture right next to the village I didn't want to give them for the same price I had asked the year before. I asked hundred and twenty rubles instead of the hundred I had settled for last year. But we couldn't reach an agreement.
I got a tip4that all the farmers herded their horses at night onto this meadow, thus wasting my hay. One night, at twelve o'clock, I rode down to see whether it was true. I had to be on my guard, for I was likely to suffer great damage.
When I arrived I found all the farmers of the village with their horses there, just grazing away. And that selfsame Theodore, that bad goy that I have mentioned before, split the night with a shout: "brothers, let's go!"
They all jumped on a horse and away they went, leaving me behind beaten. But the next morning I left for Pruzhan, about five miles from Kushelyeve, to the Court of the Peace, where I laid a claim against the whole village, all twenty seven heads of families, for grazing on my meadow every night. Soon the farmers received summons [poviyestkes R. povestka] to appear in court in Pruzhan.
The morning after that all the goyim came to see me, to reach an agreement about the meadow, and after extensive haggling they gave me one hundred and ten ruble and twenty-seven reapers. I don't know where I found the courage, who took away from me the fear, the dread for that big, angry and foreign crowd of goyim. Later on many people made me realise that I had played quite a dangerous game, because a chap like Theodore, someone with his temperament and hatred, might easily have killed me on the spot. One should be careful.
The summer-work went better this time; things were better organized than the year before.
But my enthusiasm was short lived and I began longing for Haskole, for books once more. I felt sorry for myself again, having to waste my best years among goyim.
So what, even if I would succeed in making a living in this desert, what good would it be? I would live as a curmudgeon and my children would remain ignorant hayseeds, unpolished. I made up my mind that it would be better to remain poor in a city than to become wealthy in a desert among wolves.
As if to mock my decision the summer was prosperous [keshure] and I have to admit that this rather gave me a heartache. I became so depressed that I even regretted having given up my career as a teacher in Warsaw. Please! A big city!
I was thinking about it all the time and had given up doing the things I ought have done for the sake of a future in Kosheliyeve. In my mind I had completely given up on Kushelyeve. The sooner we left, the better.
I used to visit Marshal Shemet in Tshernokovi5four times a year to bring him the payments for the farm. At the Lord's palace, that looked quite modest from the outside but was very rich and beautiful inside, they kept a vicious dog. When someone had business with the Marshal he would go to the agent, a Jew, who would send along one of his children to accompany the visitor to the door of the salon [pokoi - R./P. rest, peace; room, chamber]. People used to be very afraid of that dog6.
Well, one day I arrived at the Lord's place and first passed by his agent to have someone bring me to the lord, but at the agent's I didn't find anyone home. I was in a hurry to get my trip over with an tried to make it on my own. The dog was nowhere in sight. But when I came close to the palace he suddenly leapt forth from somewhere and grabbed my hand in his big muzzle. The lower windows of the palace happened to be open, so I jumped through a window and fell on a table. On my shouting the Lord's wife arrived. The Lady, a young, beautiful and vivacious woman, was quite taken with my exploit. She thought the way I had retrieved my hand from the dog's muzzle a mixture of marvel and heroism. She ordered tea with refreshments and kept me with her for along time.
Ever since Shemet's wife would visit me on my farm when she went on an outing; she really had a weak spot [laske] for me.
This young woman had a very beautiful young daughter, that looked more like her sister than her child.
Shemet came to a bad end, like many of the Lords in his days. The beginning of the end was caused by his daughter.
Even though the daughter was young she had many ardent suitors asking for her hand. They used to be visited by a young Lord from the Slonim region. This young lord wasn't rich, but nevertheless a generous fellow. At times he would have money, which he earned by getting contracts in Petersburg. He would bring expensive childrens' toys from Petersburg for the daughter, when she was only twelve or thirteen year old. These rare trinkets were often of great value and with them he won over the heart of the young lady bit by bit.
When she reached the age of fifteen and had become a stunning beauty the greatest Lords asked for her hand. But the young Lord, whose name was Lizanski, had bought her heart starting when she was a child with these expensive and marvelous trinkets he always brought her from Petersburg. Now, when she had grown up, he presented her with a new gift: five tiny ponies, worth six thousand rubles, with a miniature carriage and silver and golden harness. The young lady loved horses and the ponies with the carriage really enchanted her.
Old Shemet did not want such a person as his son-in-law; he wanted pedigree, treasures in gold, grandeur. But his young daughter was very much taken with the latest present and together they planned to elope, to sneak out and get away. What will be will be. . Their decision was made, nobody was able to come between them.
And once upon a Friday he came to visit Shemet and stayed until very late. Earlier he had made a deal with all the servants, handing out hundred ruble notes to everyone. They were to remain silent, act like they didn't notice him sneaking the young lady out during the night. And the plan was carried out accordingly.
At two o'clock in the morning, when everybody was asleep, a carriage was on the ready outside the gate. He made his escape with her and drove away to Slonim.
She had left a note behind for her parents, saying that they would marry tomorrow at ten in the morning, on their arrival in Slonim.
The old man was up early, as usual, and took his tea. At ten o'clock his wife Shemetova got up. But time passed and the daughter still hadn't come down from her bedroom. They started wondering and next it hit them.
On the table they found the note.
Shemetova fainted and cried. Lizanki was not their idea of a son-in-law. Moreover, he was in debt over his ears, as was the fashion among young Lords. It was a terrible affront. The old Shemet, a plain-spoken Lord of the old stamp, made no secret of how he had 'made' his fortune. He used to rent out his serfs in Warsaw and elsewhere for eight rubles the months, stashing the money in a box. If he made a deal for a number of farmers, let us say in the Warsaw inner city [tsitadel] he would throw in an extra farmer to beat them up, to give the other farmers a thrashing in case they didn't work hard enough.
"And for who did I collect that money?" he lamented, "for my child ..., my child.
He wrote, as is the custom, a letter to Lizanski, saying that he was no longer her father and that he would rewrite his testament in favor of his brothers' children. The daughter wouldn't get a penny.
That wasn't to Lizanski's liking. He didn't have money. He had borrowed a lot from Jews in the region, pointing out to them that he had married Shemet's only daughter and that her father was very old and very rich - all the money would pass into her hands.
Naturally the Jews had lent him as much as they could. But when the contents of the letter became known in the region they stopped lending him money and Lizanski didn't have a penny left.
Finally the daughter wrote a letter to her father, desperately begging his forgiveness. She wrote a separate letter to her mother, knowing that her mother when she read it would certainly cry, ignore her old obstinate father and come riding to her to forgive her. After all, mothers are more lenient.
But the only daughter had miscalculated her chances. Her father didn't want to hear a word about her and her mother didn't soften up either.
Actually, her mother wasn't so much concerned about her daughter having a pauper for a husband. She was mainly upset about all the pleasures she had missed out on, the dashing splendor she could have reveled in if only her daughter had married a Count [P. hrabia - earl, count]. She certainly would have had a great time. For instance, she would have had to visit the big cities of Europe with her daughter: Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, London, Vienna. She would have ordered dresses for her daughter there and could easily have spent a whole year full of fun abroad that way. Not to mention that she would have had expensive clothes made for herself to show off to the youngsters surrounding her daughter.
That's why her daughter's letter wasn't successful. It was completely ignored.
But when the daughter started feeling really hard pressed for money, when she simply didn't have anything to live on an stared abject poverty in the eye, she sent a second letter, saying that she would come home crawling on all fours to the door of the house and kiss the feet of her father and mother. They should forgive her great sin.
On receiving this letter Shemet gave strict orders to his servants. When his daughter arrived at the house nobody should dare to open the entrance gate and she should not be let in. He also had his daughter informed that he didn't want to know her anymore and that they wouldn't let her in if she came home.
The young daughter, never having experienced hardship before, could not take anymore misery and destitution and went home. She was sure that her father would forgive her in the end.
When she arrived at the gate the servants refused to let her in. She implored the servants to have mercy on her and to let her in, crying big tears in front of the old servant that had raised her, had adored her when she was a little child and had respected her highly before. He cried along with her, but didn't let her in anyway. They had strict orders: "No!"
But he sent someone to tell Shemet that his daughter was all in tears and begged for mercy, to be let in.
Shemet sent the message back that if the man-servant would let the Lady in he would split his head open with his stick.
In despair she decided to climb over the fence. She couldn't get anywhere with the servants anyway.
So she started climbing the high fence in her long dress. She fell down several times but that only made her virulent despair more acute and scrambling up with all her forces, tearing her clothes and scratching her hands and legs open on the nails she finally managed to get on top of the fence.
But that got her only half-way. Now she had to climb down from the fence to the ground and she didn't have the strength left to do it. She was exhausted, broken.
The scene that followed was terrible, only fit to be seen by a parsimonious Lord gone wild.
When she couldn't get down she let herself drop down from high up on the ground. If it hadn't been for the farmers that had come to watch how the lady, all bloody, climbed the fence and who instinctively raised their hands to catch her when she let herself drop, she might have been killed. But she had quite a shock anyway and she fainted from fright. People started shouting and her mother came hurrying out. They brought her to and carried her into the house. They put the daughter in bed and her mother as well. The mother was terribly upset.
But Shemet remained in his chair with a cigar in his mouth and didn't stir. He said that if his daughter died he wouldn't go to her funeral. He wished she had died.
When daughter and the mother had recovered a little they both decided to visit the father and ask him for his pardon. They went in and the daughter fell at her father's feet taking on terribly. She cried endlessly, but he just kept sitting there smoking his cigar.
But then her mother also started crying and threatened that if he, Shemet, would not forgive his daughter, she would leave him too, leaving him all by himself. She didn't want to live with a criminal. She kept arguing with him till he finally gave in, accepted her apology and helped her get up from the floor. The peace was made.
Some time after that the mother travelled with her daughter to Warsaw where she first had her a wardrobe made for ten thousand rubles. Her husband however was not allowed into the house. Shemet didn't want to hear of it. The daughter would travel to Slonim every now and then.
Shemet died a few years later. The mother went mad and died not long after. The daughter was left with the huge and peculiar Shemet fortune, which her husband got rid of soon enough, squandering it and throwing it away [tsedrendelt = tsetrentselt un tseshleydert], as was the custom. Both probably ended up badly. Even though I don't know what happened with them in the end, I can safely assume that. No mistake about it.
1Comp. footnote to Vol. II, Chapt. IX on Kotik's children. At this time in the story the Kotiks have lived in Kushelyeve for about one year and the child that dies in this chapter was probably born there.
3The Kotiks had arrived after Shvues, during the second half of May of the previous year. (See Vol. II, Chapt. XII). We only know for sure that they left Makarovtsi some time after the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870- 10 May 1871.(Vol. II, Chapt VIII).
5Title has Tshernokove.
6Comp. Vol. I, Chapt. I, pp. 18-20 for a description of vicious dogs kept by Lords.
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