Chapter the sixth.
Rozenblum's trips to Grodno. - The girl. - A complicated situation. - The intrigues of the lady of the house. - The blacksmith. - More intrigues. - The girl cries. - Gone home. - The lady of the house has succeeded.
At that time Rozenblum often went to Grodno, five miles away from Makarovtsi. There he got acquainted with the well known Maskl A. G., who ran a six-year grammar school [a zeks-klasishe gimnazye]. Rozenblum fell in love with a daughter of A.G., a pretty young lady.
I doubt whether the cunning Liubovitshova had counted on consolidating her love by marrying Rozenblum. A women like her must have realised that the game could only last a few years. Soon she would be too old or too weak to keep Rozenblum from marrying whomever his heart desired. But she never showed what went on in her mind.
She knew about his feelings for the girl from Grodno and it was with her disingenuous permission that he proposed to A. G.'s daughter.
The situation was impossible. How could he think of getting married to a young and pretty girl and bringing her to stay under one roof with the owner of the place who claimed his love herself?
She probably did not give her permission without having made her plans at the same time on how to poison his true feelings of love for the girl.
Rozenblum, all exited, gave orders to put the horses to his carriage telling the lady of the house that he was off to Grodno to draw up the marriage contract. Without giving it a moment's thought she took of her diamond bracelet and pins, worth three thousand rubles, handing them to him as a gift for his girl... He left in good spirits. After the contract had been written up he immediately went to his lady to share the news of his good fortune with her and she ... wished him luck.
In May, when people go to their summer houses, Liubovitshova did not wait for him to ask her whether he could invite his future bride to come and stay for the summer. Before he could ask she told him to send a carriage to fetch her.
"I will do all I can", she gave him to understand, "to give the girl a good time here".
She ordered him to prepare those things a young couple might want to enjoy themselves, such as a beautiful 'ambler'[hoydavke>hoydn; hoydevdik?], a nice carriage etc.
On the fifteenth of May he drove to Grodno with two footmen. He brought back the girl to stay with him at the farm. The lady of the house kissed the girl warmly and affectionately. They gave her a room by herself with maid servants. The young couple had a great time. Because of his girl he did less work than normal, though it was summer and the work could not wait - such is the power a girl has over a man!
His employer gave them a friendly smile, but underneath this smile was a lot of bitterness and anguish. He used to spend all his time with her, but now he had this young girl. Who knew, may be she would kick her out of the house after becoming his wife? After all, she had handed over her whole fortune to him! How could she have done such a foolish thing? She probably went through the worst time of her life.
The lady kept a blacksmith on the farm, as was normal on a big estate. His name was Dovid.
Landowners who kept their private Jew would trust such a person completely and ask him for advice. Liubovitshova used her blacksmith for her secret missions and affairs. When Rozenblum became engaged the blacksmith remained her only advisor and she bared her heart to him.
She had this strange weakness for Jews. She used to interrogate ordinary Jews about all Jewish customs and traditions, about the way they lived, even about very personal things. She wanted to know and understand all about them. And really knowing Jews well she especially criticized Jewish women, saying that they were good for nothing, bad house keepers, sloppy etc. Laziness was their main vice. She had a good repertoire of invectives and a sharp tongue. As a result all her female Jewish neighbors toiled day and night.
The lady kept thinking about the young couple who had robbed her of her peace. One morning during breakfast, while the girl was still in her bedroom, she suddenly addressed Rozenblum: "You, know, I have an idea. Instead of keeping your twenty thousand rubles in the bank at a low interest rate you would do better to hand it over now to your future father-in-law so he can invest it safely against a better rate. He could get as much as seven or eight percent, which would easily give you a thousand rubles a year; it would be a shame not to."
What she intended to achieve with this advice was in a nutshell: The engagement would certainly be broken off, simply because she would not allow it to go through. It was therefore very likely that the twenty thousand rubles would be lost this way. That would certainly shock Rozenblum and keep him from even thinking about a marriage in future. Twenty thousand rubles is a huge amount and Rozenblum would be careful not even to look at a girl in future. The lady did not have any reason to have misgivings about the money which was not hers anymore anyway. She did not mind Rozenblum's loss for her benefit.
Rozenblum, in love and confused, liked the idea and carried it out immediately.
After this Liubovitshova started working on the girl, showing her lots of love and affection. Playing the 'devoted mother pampering her only daughter' she told her for instance on purpose, that she should sleep fifteen hours out of twenty four at least. Rozenblum never slept more than four, five hours.
She explained to her that it was very healthy for a young girl to sleep a lot. The girl, who did not have anything to do and was lazy anyway, used to sleep at least ten hours when at home. She did not need much convincing, just slept.
The lady had provided her with three maids, who had orders to keep at her side at all times. One was in charge of her food and drink. The second was to take care of her wardrobe and to help her dressing and undressing, making sure that the young mistress would not have to lift a finger. The third one had to see to all her other needs. All three were under strict orders not to let the young mistress, God forbid, even pick up a piece of straw from the ground.
In the morning they served her tea with snacks in bed and at ten o'clock the lady of the house would enter her bedroom. She would sit down next to the bed, fondle and pet her, talk to her endlesly. Thus passing the time with her in long, sweet and insincere conversations, she managed to keep her in bed till noon.
Rozenblum was in the habit of taking his breakfast between nine and ten. His employer would come in casually mentioning while passing through the room that his fiancée was still in bed and sent her greetings. Never mind, she would comment, she had no reason to hurry. Anyway, she was still in bed. At noon he would normally pay his fiancée a visit, to find her still in bed indeed...
Once he said to the lady, "How can she possibly lay in bed half of the day?"
And she answered him, "Not to worry, she is just a young thing."
Rozenblum would always come in for lunch at three. Even then his fiancée would not join him at the table. She would not finish dressing and making her toilet before two. As soon as she was ready Liubovitshova would bring her something nice to eat, sweets, ensuring that she would have no appetite left for lunch. Bringing in the snacks she would pretend to be tired and say to her, "I will lay down for a while here, in your bedroom. Come and lay next to me, so we can have a chat together; I love a good chat."
Around three she would get up to see whether Rozenblum had arrived for his lunch, leaving the weak and naive girl behind in the bedroom.
In response to his usual question: "Where is she?" she would say in a quiet, composed, manner, "Oh, she is still on the sofa"...
Rozenblum started to develop an aversion for this girl that wallowed in laziness. He would get red in the face with disgust on hearing her answer.
"Oh, come on, what's wrong with you?", the lady would comfort him sweetly, "she's just a young kid, it doesn't matter."
Rozenblum, who loved work and achievements [oyftuekhtsen], could not possibly come to terms with this and slowly but surely his feelings towards the girl changed. He started avoiding her, devoting himself completely to his work.
The naive and sweet girl did notice the change and complained about it to the lady. The lady answered her that Rozenblum was a man in love with his work, ill suited for love and family happiness.
"The only thing he cares about", she proclaimed deviously, "is work and work and work. He will clean out the dung from the stable himself and he is terribly stingy. If you thought him mild, that's only my influence on him: I just don't allow him to be as stingy as he would like to be with al his heart."
The poor girl was shocked and answered, "But he will certainly start changing his habits after the marriage. I won't allow him to work so much. I will try to speak to him about it even before the marriage."
The lady put even more coals on the fire, with the clear intention of freezing the girls heart, replying, "Much good that would do."
In this way the lady of the house carried out her schemes, much like in a melodrama on stage.
Next Rozenblum had a talk with her and asked her for her advice: should he drop the plan to marry or not? His feelings for the girl had turned sour and he did not know what to do. But she, clever as she was, advised him against such a step and ostensibly took sides for the girl.
"That girl will turn into a decent person yet if she stays with us.", she falsely and slyly consoled him. "She is good for nothing, lazy, a sleepy-head, loves nothing better than her bed, but that will be over after the marriage. On the other hand. what would you need an expert housewife for anyway? You will have maids and servants and they will take care of everything. But then, that would not work either, you need to be a good housewife to manage servants."
No need to say that he clearly understood from the words of his employer that this was not the girl for him, although she actually advised him to marry her. Her positive advice did more to make him decide against it than anyone's negative counsel might have done.
He now went for the first time to his father to consult him, though he had never asked him for his advice before.
His father made it perfectly clear to him, that his employer would never be able to stand it, would not survive if he would marry. She would not be able to endure it.
"The matter is simple enough, my son. You've got her whole fortune. She herself is not that old yet. How could you think of bringing a beautiful young woman into the house, into her house? That's asking for trouble! She cannot possibly have that happen. If she advises you to marry, she cannot be sincere. It 's just tactics, my son. I doubt whether you will ever be able to get married; after all, you are living under Liubavitshova's roof."
In the middle of the summer, when all the vegetables were fully grown in the gardens and the fruits had ripened in the orchards, the lady suggested that they ought to send a carload of vegetables and fruits to the father of the girl in Grodno.
"After all, he is your father-in-law.", she advised, "It would be wrong not to."
They put three horses in front of a huge wagon and loaded this cart with fruits, butter, well ripened cheeses and the blacksmith Dovid, who went along to deliver everything at the house of the father-in-law.
The lady had secretly instructed Dovid on how to act. If they would ask him how their daughter was doing, how she was spending her time in Makarovtsi and how she was looking, he was to put on a grave face, implying that things were not going too well with the daughter. They then would certainly be all over him, trying to find out from him exactly what was amiss with their daughter. Giving them the impression that he was very reluctant to speak he then should confess that she was very bored there and that Rozenblum did not show any devotion to her, his fiancée. All his attention went to this Liubovitshova and the girl did not play any role of importance on the farm. Nobody respected her. Only Liubovitshova herself behaved in a friendly way to her. But the girl was completely mistaken about her intentions. She did not realise that her love and friendship were just a show she put on while in her heart she considered her as a deadly enemy and did her very best to make up all kinds of false accusations against her. There was no telling what kind of trouble the lady of the house might cook up for her. It was his employer he was in love with, not his fiancée. The lady had her wits about her and was very cunning. Who knows what kind of tricks she might play on her?
"I feel pity for your daughter when I see her", he was to say, "There is nobody there to explain to her what kind of situation she is in. A lucky thing that I had a chance to deliver the gift here, so I could inform you of her plight at the same time [un gebn aykh far aynvegs ir tsar]."
The blacksmith caused an uproar in the house of the father-in-law: it was their only daughter and she had turned out well. They had received good marriage proposals from doctors, lawyers, people with a good income but had turned these down thinking that their daughter would be happier with a wealthy man.
But they had missed the fact that Rozenblum was beholden to a Christian woman who had given away her whole fortune to him. To have their daughters stay at that woman's place was like putting oil and water together.*. May be it was already too late and their daughter had fallen so deeply in love with him that it would be impossible to separate her from him! They felt devastated.
*vi tsvey kets in eyn zak: Comp. Bernstein: tsvey kets in eyn zak kenen sholem nisht hobn.
After much deliberation on how to proceed they decided to write her a letter and to have the blacksmith deliver it to her in person. The letter would say, that they, her parents, missed her very much and begged her to come to Grodno for while. They could not come to visit her, because of the lady of the house. She had been on the farm for a couple of months now, the summer was drawing to an end, so she might as well come home.
They further asked the blacksmith to tell their daughter, that her father and mother were quite worried about her and that her mother was crying a lot. Bad things had been said about her marriage by their adversaries.
Dovid the blacksmith had done an excellent job, he had caused even more upheaval than actually needed. On his return home he handed the girl the letter, gave her the message and added some more of his own. After that he told Liubvitshova what he had accomplished and he informed her that they on their part were willing to do whatever it took to put an end to engagement.
*az fun zeyer zayt voltn zey zikh oysgeton biz der letster hemd, abi...
The blacksmith had, on the instigation of the lady, also told Rozenblum in secret, that his parents-in-law had been very upset and had complained that their daughter had been deceived by him. She obviously had written her parents very disturbing letters. They had asked him to tell their daughter that her father and mother were crying all the time and terribly upset and wished her to come home quickly.
Rozenblum was far from happy with this news, though in his heart he was pleased that the marriage was not to take place.
Dovid the blacksmith had delivered a smooth and well polished piece of work and only modesty kept the lady from kissing him all over. She handed him hundred rubles and she was as happy as can be.
After the return of the blacksmith everybody on the farm became very agitated. Their hearts were seething with anguish. Only Liubovitshove's heart was overflowing with joy, having carried out her plan so magnificiently. The fiancée was to return home never to come back. Thanks God it was over. Sure, the father-in-law had obtained twenty thousand rubles. As far as she was concerned he might as well swallow them, as long as she did not have to see his daughter ever again.
Rozenblum was very sorry about the money and he started thinking about recovering the twenty thousand rubles. Really, it would be only fair to give half the amount to the girl. After all, he had caused her to suffer by first asking her to marry him and now putting an end to the engagement. In such a situation you paid the girl compensation. But how was he to get back the rest?
'It's a good thing that I reconsidered the matter in time. I still can correct my mistake. I will break off my engagement. It is clear from Dovid's story that it won't be too difficult. But what to do about that big sum of money? They've really got me. I lent out a huge amount without making any stipulations... It's a pity.... I would be happy to get back even half of it... I'll write off half. Forget about it. But the remainder?'
Liubovitshove who now saw her chance to talk to him laid it on thickly... Her eyes were sparkling.
" You know," she said not able to hide her pleasure, "you should count your blessings not to have fallen for such a woman. She knows how to spend, money means nothing to her. And a worse vice: she is just a big egoist: 'me, me, me', that's all she cares about. She has no respect for anybody, not for her father and mother, nor for her fiancé, her man. You would have ended up in a wheel chair because of her. You are very lucky man to have rid yourself of such a plague."
She told him not to worry about the money at all. God would make it up to him.
"But if you show yourself to be weak on that point now, she will be on her guard to anticipate your moves and you will certainly never see the back of her. What you need right now is someone clever, a good friend, who can negotiate about it with A. G. Or you could write a letter..."
As a well oiled robot the blacksmith went through another talk with the girl. He started impressing on her that he was her good friend and that he wanted to save her. He told her, that she, as a Jewish daughter, should not be there at all. There are goyim all around.... Rozenblum had a relation with the lady of the house, not with her. Rozenbum cared more about a finger of Liubovitshova than about all of her. Liubovitshove would stop at nothing, the girl could not be sure of her life. In short, she would do better to think twice before marrying him.
Two options were open to her:
Rozenblum would have to send Liubovitshove out of the house completely, not ever to return, or Rozenblum would have to go and live in Grodno after the marriage. They might leave the farm to the lady and work on some other estate. Rozenblum had money enough. If he wanted to, Rozenblum could arrange it all. But he, Dovid was not too sure that would work out all right either. After all, they had been in love for a long time...
The girl burst out crying loudly, went into a fit and through all the stages of womanly distress. Dovid shouted loudly and the maids and servants came running in. Immediately they sent someone to fetch Rozenblum, who came at once and eventually they calmed her down. Rozenblum, who wasn't a bad fellow at heart, was much affected by the whole thing. As soon as the girl came to her senses she declared that she wanted to go home.
The next morning Rozenblum gave orders to put horses to a wagon and drove off with the girl to Grodno, to her parents. The girl refused to kiss Liubovitshova good bye on her departure. The game was over now, Liubovitshova did not even have to pretend anymore...
Soon after arriving home in Grodno the girl went to bed, saying she felt ill. She refused to receive a doctor though. Her parents understood the girl to be sick from misery.
Rozenblum was devastated. They didn't even speak to him. He hardly spent any time at her bedside; they did not know what to say to each other, kept silent.
As soon as she felt a little better she told Rozenblum to go away. She was a nice girl, she had her pride. Her parents agreed with her and did not make it a secret to him that he was no longer welcome. He was far from happy with the situation. He understood that they wanted him out and though he wanted to go himself he was completely mortified by their urging him to go.
But he went away...
This had all happened just a few days before my arrival in Makarovtsi.
As told above, they were looking for someone who could write a letter to the father-in-law in Grodno, signing in a name not known to him. They took me to be the right person for the job and ordered me to write the letter. I knocked out a letter, partly dictated by Rozenblum. My letter had pleased them and they sent it off to Grodno, together with the marriage contract.
In this letter it said that ten thousand rubles was for the girl, but that it would be only fair if they would return ten thousand to him. Of course, they never saw a penny of the money back. But I was lucky and got their support. 'My' letter had impressed them favorably and I had consolidated my position with them.
They set me up in business, gave me a license. Liubovitshove let me have the milk for five kopeck the gallon1 In those days the price for butter was seven to eight ruble a 'pud'. They threw a tavern into the bargain, belonging to a Jew, a big house with a courtyard standing next to the farm and opposite the Polish church, on the highway between Krinik and Grodno. They left it up to me to pay whatever I could afford
I told them that I would not haggle another Jew out of his business, even if I would not have anything to eat because of it. But my uncle told me that he would try talking with the lease-holder, who might be willing to set a price to cede his rights. He had heard anyway that the lease holder was set on buying a tavern of his own in Urlion, four verst from Makarovtsi, he might settle for a few hundred rubles and go away without any bad feelings.
My uncle called him in and the lease-holder told him that he was thinking about buying the tavern in Urlion indeed, for a price of six hundred rubles and that if they would offer him that sum, he would gladly agree to leaving the place. And that is how it went. They offered the man 500 rubles and he vacated the tavern before New-Year.
1top: emer = R. vedro - approx. 12.30 litres = 100 tshakri (R. tsjarka: cup, goblet, small glas). 50 emer is approx. 200 tep > 1 emer is approx. 4 tep is approx. 12. l > 1 top is approx 3 litres. Comp. Hark.; Weinr.: top = gallon (Brits. = Imperial gallon: 4.54 l.; U.S. 4.405 l.).
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