Chapter the Seventh.
A concession and a tavern. - My wife arrives. - In business - Krinik. - The thieves of Krinik. - The 'akhim'. - Mr. Dovid Mreyne. - My letter. - Gibianski. - My trips to Grodno. - Khaytshe Hurvitsh [Khaye?]. - Khaytshe and the Governor. - The discussions in her 'salon'. - Czar Aleksander the Second. - His visits to Grodno.
Having taken over the tavern and the concession I wrote a letter to my wife. I told her to come to Makarovtsi with all her belongings, because we had a 'good' business there. She took off and I rode out to meet her. I brought my wife and two children home to Makarovtsi
The tavern was well located. As I mentioned before, it stood facing a Polish church. Many country gentlemen, land holding farmers, lived close by. They were the kind of folks that did not have a taste for ordinary vodka, but went for the better types of distilled, which sold at a far bigger profit than plain vodka.
But the tavern had been neglected, it was in disorder. The lease holder was a simple man. He just didn't know how to run a tavern for squires in need of superior beverages and, not to forget, refined treatment.
I was really pleased at having taken over the tavern. I immediately started selling the best of everything. This attracted a great number of squires. On Sundays all the rooms would be packed with people, and huge rooms they were.
I brought sweet brandies from Grodno. Mead and wine I got from Krinik, manufactured by Yokheved the widow herself and famous throughout the region. She would take up to fifty kopecks for a gallon; I did a lot of business with her.
Rozenblum had given me a good horse and a cart. To me, a young man, it felt great driving around with it, going wherever I wanted. When I came to Krinik for the first time I went to Yokheved's wine house. It was a beautiful day. I tied my horse up to the railing in front of the windows of the big house. It stood in the middle of the market with shops all around. I went in. After some time I had a look at my horse from the window and saw that the horse stood there yoked to the fore-carriage but that the cart with the back wheels was tilted down at the front. It was clear that someone had taken out the pivot [svoren - P. sworzen - bolt] from the swivel.
I went outside and asked who had taken the bolt out of my cart. Something strange was going on. Yokheved's sons tried to calm me down, but their words caused me to cry out that I had never heard of such a thing before.
The explanation they gave was that there were two brothers in Krinik who were the leaders of all the thieves in the region. They were called the "akhim" [H. brothers]. It was an absolute must for all merchants, villagers, lessees of estates, agents and tenants farmers to acknowledge and accommodate the 'akhim'. One had to pay his respects to them. When the 'akhim' toured the district [poviet - P. powiat], they would be received with great honors everywhere. It was very important to be on good terms with them because only then was one insured against thefts.
If something had been stolen anyway, one could make a deal with the 'akhim' and it would be returned. Since I was a new-comer to the community they had wanted to give me a hint that I should introduce myself to them. The introduction could be made best with a 'token' [funde].
I was surprised and shocked. What was this? I would have to introduce myself to thieves, look them in the eye and shake hands with them? I realised that Yokheved's sons were serious and decent lads, not out to tell me stories and send me on a fool's errand. [un veln mir nisht dreyen a kop glat azoy in der velt arayn].
I could not bring myself to become acquainted with the leaders of thieves and, after buying a new bolt, I quietly drove home without having introduced myself.
I told Rozenblum the story and he agreed that everybody paid a yearly contribution to the 'akhim' and that 'tokens' were given. They were a bit afraid of him though, because he knew all the officials well. It still would not be wise for him to look for trouble with them, because the Chief Inspector of Police or the Assessor could not offer any protection against their gang of thieves. Therefore, since I lived at a tavern on the main road, I would be well advised to stay on friendly terms with them. If they choose to visit me in the tavern I should behave well towards them and give them and their horses food and drink.
I used to buy my vodka from Mr. Mreyne, a son-in-law of the great genius Rov Yisroel Salanter1. He was in charge of the Krinik estate and its distillery. He was rich, worth eighty thousand rubles. A learned and intelligent man, but very hot tempered, heaven forbid!
He was a proud man and if he felt that someone had insulted him he would come down on him with a load of abuse. But he had a good side to his character as well: he would soon calm down and immediately apologize to his victim, even if this person happened to be a very thoughtless person who had provoked him. The procedure was always the same: Mr. Dovid would calm down as soon as he had spoken his mind. Once he realised that he had offended someone he would not let go of him and whatever it took, he would go on until that person told him that he was forgiven and exchanged kisses with him.
It was always crowded in Mreyne's office. All the innkeepers from Krinik as well as those living in villages far away would go there. About two versts down the road there was an even bigger distillery, also in Jewish hands. That business was run completely by a woman called Yente. She was a woman who knew her business, very good looking and clever. Her husband was just a fifth wheel on the wagon. Nobody knew him and the distillery operated under her name. Some people didn't even know she had a husband. He was quite a decent fellow, preoccupied with his studies and quite knowledgeable, but she was so overbearing, so much a lady wearing the pants, that even if he happened to be sitting in the office nobody would think about talking business with him.
She had lots of farms and two distilleries and ran everything by herself, but her vodka she had to sell wholesale to distant regions, not retail to publicans and leaseholders of taverns from the nearby villages. They all preferred to do business with Mreyne because of his honesty, because his word was strong as iron and never broken. If he had sold or bought something and found out later that the price had been too high or too low, he would always stick to the price agreed on previously.
Honestly speaking, one had to suffer quite often from his mean mouth, his vehemence, his quick temper [zayn tsekaastn hast]. Even if he apologized afterwards, he failed to completely eradicate the hurt his offensive behavior had caused someone. But honest he was, he was certainly honest! His honesty was the big attraction for everyone. There were innkeepers who were in his debt, refused to pay him and went over to Yente to buy their vodka. They would eventually have to return to him, pay him what they owed him and do business again with him. He drew back that type of merchant like a magnet.
I normally bought my vodka from Mreyne myself. I would load up a cask holding ten to fifteen buckets2 of vodka and drive away. Mreyne did not know me at all and had never found the time to have a chat with me. To him I was just a young man that came for vodka, so vodka I got.
I remember well how one time Rozenblum gave me a message for Mreyne. I had to tell him that it was not fair that he did not come to collect the potatoes he had bought because Rozenblum had nowhere to keep them.
Coming in for vodka I gave Mreyne Rozenblum's message. Mr. Dovid did not answer, looked at me for a moment and next attacked me so viciously with insults that God must have had pity on me. The room was full of people. I was very embarrassed and did not dare to look anyone in the face.
After I had made my exit his son-in-law told him that I had done nothing to deserve that and that his insults had been completely out of order. The only thing he'd done was offend a young stranger. I had left hastily and Mr. Dovid was too late to get me back in to apologize to me, as was his habit.
I had left without buying any vodka, so I drove on to Yente and got there what I needed. But her vodka wasn't as good. I did not feel happy about the whole thing. I regretted that affair with Mreyne a lot. I had actually wanted to buy five hundred liter at once at a reduced price and such a purchase had to be made from Mreyne.
I did not feel like telling Rozenblum that Mr. Dovid Mreyne had offended me. I was not in a position to spread around 'stories'. So I kept thinking about a possible solution and the matter caused me a lot of distress.
I talked with several people from the town about Mreyne. They all said the very same thing: one simply had to put up with Mr. Dovid, because what it boiled down to in the end was that it was good doing business with him. They also told me that he was really sorry about the whole thing, that he was eating his heart out because he had offended me and that he had announced that he would give twenty five rubles if someone would bring me to him to accept his apology and to make peace.
I thought about it and decided to write a letter in Hebrew - my best weapon in those days. When I went to buy vodka at Yente's I would pass the estate Krinik and I figured that I would meet someone there who could deliver the letter.
But when I passed the house Mr. Dovid was just standing on the road near the gate with some other people. In a flash I decided to hand the letter to him myself. From some distance, sitting on my cart, I pointed at the letter. He came towards me, took the letter from me and standing next to my wagon he opened it and started reading. He was so taken with the first introductory line of my letter that he grabbed me, started kissing me and begged me with tears in his eyes to forgive him. He had not known me, he had been completely wrong, out of his mind etc.
I told him that I forgave him and in the same moment he took my horse by the bridle and led it into the gate.
"Mr. Dovid, please, let me come in to visit you by myself."
But he answered,
"No, I owe you this as a sign of my respect, I'll walk your horse myself all the way to my office so that everyone can see that I've apologized to you."
When I stepped down from my cart Mr. Dovid took me by the arm and brought me into his office. The office was full of people and he announced in a loud voice,
"Folks, 'bifney-kol-am-veeyde', in front of all of you I apologize to this young man and I confess, that it was completely wrong of me to insult him about six weeks ago.
Next Mr. Dovid gave orders to bring in a bottle of his vintage vodka, fifteen years old, with cake and cookies and pickled herring for everyone. When the moment had come to lift the glass and drink to each other's health we kissed each other on the cheeks.
When I came outside they had already put a barrel of vodka on my cart and when I drove off I thought Mr. Dovid a fantastic fellow and had forgotten all about the insults.
This is just an example of how, in those days, a gentleman worth some eighty thousand rubles might comport himself.
From that day on Mr. Dovid Mreyne really took a liking to me and a kind of love developed between us. We made a point of meeting each other every week and I have passed many a pleasant hour in his company.
Close to Krinik I also met with a big fan of the Hebrew writers of those days, Yosef Gibianski [nebn krinik hob ikh oykh gefunen a tayern khaver fun di amolike hebreer un shrayber, yo(y)sef gibianski,]. He was a young man of about the same age as me or maybe slightly younger. He was the son-in-law of a miller in a village and his father-in-law had given him a dowry of five hundred rubles and five years board and lodging.
Gibianski had become engaged at the age of fifteen. His father-in-law, who used to live in Krinik, had invited Gibianski to come over and spend Peysekh with them. The future husband had given a speech, a 'droshe', in the shul in Krinik. His 'sermon' had made a great impression - those were not the words of a boy of fifteen, but of a fifty year old man. He had married at the age of sixteen. After that his father-in-law had taken a lease on a water-mill in a village and had gone to live in it, taking along the young couple who by rights had board and lodging with him.
He was widely known as a good hebraist, with a good writing style in the holy tongue.
The year before I came to Makarovtsi3 Rov Yisroel Salanter had visited his son-in-law Mr. Dovid Mreyne on his estate for a period of rest and he had stayed all summer at the manor house of Krinik. The young scholars of Krinik would sit at his table every afternoon and Gibianski had been one of them. Gibianski had reported everything Rov Yisroel Salanter had said at the table, in the"Hamagid"4". As a result Rov Yisroel's words had stirred the Jewish world.
I became close friends with Gibianski. I used to visit him in his village and he would come over to my house.
To tell the truth, I did not apply myself much to my business like other people would have done. That is to say, I did not go in for earning a bit more money, getting more income, profit, working my way up with flattery, pushing myself, having ambitions and the like. I basically had a fine tavern and I might have made it big by making up to Rozenblum. But I did not do my best to get closer to him and the lady, I did not do my best to find grace in their eyes. I was only interested in finding nice, pleasant an educated people that I could become friends with, could spend my time with theorizing and debating. That was my only pleasure.
I was not interested in acquiring more money. True, without money one cannot live and with money everything becomes possible, but I am a very modest man, content with whatever I have. Maybe that's a serious shortcoming and maybe it's a great virtue. And maybe if I had made getting money my chief concern I would not have made any. There are examples enough of people who pawned body and soul in quest of money without succeeding. Who is to know, who can predict the future?
Mr. Dovid had a well brought up son and we became very good friends. We spent a lot of time with each other philosophizing and day-dreaming.
I started reading lots of Haskole books and because of that I made extra trips to Grodno regularly on the pretext that I had to sell butter or buy sweet brandies, but actually only intending to buy new Haskole books there. If I could not buy a book, I would borrow it. For my business I didn't have to go that often, one trip would have been enough to last for a long time.
Because I came into Grodno quite often I found out that I had a relative there, by the name of Khaytshe Hurvitsh; a very interesting lady, who deserves to be described in some detail.
First of all, she was woman with a strong personality. The name-plate on the front door of her house in the 'Skidler' street in Grodno read "Khaytshe Hurvitsh", stating her father's family name and not her husband's. The lady wore the pants. I found the house, entered it and introduced myself to her, saying we were relatives, though not closely related. She received me courteously and I would be lying if I denied that she made a very strong impression on me.
Her house was always full of people, from all walks of life and every age group. Youngsters, grown ups, elderly people, merchants, contractors, lawyers, doctors and just clever people. They would come to ask her for advice on business, family affairs or whatever. They would come to her to ask her how to conduct a lawsuit and in case someone had to appear before a magistrate of the court [sud] she would instruct him on how to speak and how to behave.
She herself could get whatever she wanted done from a magistrate. Even lawyers would sometimes take council with her when a case was very complicated or consult her on how to draw up a good contract between two partners. She was an exceptionally wise woman with a lucid mind and a well developed sense of humor. She could tell a joke well.
She used to make four to five thousand rubles yearly from conscription5-petitions and juridical affairs. But in the first place she was a very kind person. She would for instance go to the Head of police, to the Superintendent of police, to the Governor.
In order to help someone she would run around and would almost always succeed in achieving what she had set out to do. Whether she saved someone completely from a catastrophe or just gave a bit of assistance, she would never let anyone go without having achieved anything, she made it a point to do at least something
"To go and see the Governor" meant nothing much to her and the Governor liked talking with her. She knew how to speak to him with such sharp wit that it would hit him in his weak spots, but he would laugh anyway, because she had made her point so cleverly and had scored.
[zi hot gekent dem guvernator oykh araynzogn aza sharfn vits, az es zol im a shtokh gebn in zibnter rip. un er hot gemuzt lakhn, vayl es iz gerotn un klug a shtokh geton.]
Her husband was also a very nice and even a learned man, but he never got a chance to open his mouth in her presence. He was too afraid to utter a word. But it must be said that this fear was not only felt by her husband. She had too brilliant a mind and too sharp a tongue. After all, few men like to be ridiculed by a woman.
During my first visit I stayed as her guest for a few hours. I didn't know anybody there. I just looked at Khaytshe and her guests, heard her words of wisdom, observed her poise and behavior and decided just to sit and listen. I left the talking to her, for a clever talker she was.
She introduced me to her guests and kept me from going even after everybody else had left. She obviously wanted to dissect me, to see what kind of stuff I was made of. She invited me for lunch.
After lunch she took me out for a walk in the streets. While walking she asked me to tell her all about my affairs and to inform her about 'worldly status'. as it is called. She proved to be a very devoted relative in this respect and she took an interest in the smallest detail. The present situation was, she concluded, that I had come to Grodno on business: I had brought butter and cheese to sell and was going to buy vodka and other products. So, she could help me with that. She could provide me with whatever I needed and she would not allow me to busy myself with anything. If I came to Grodno I would do better to enjoy myself and all my affairs would be taken care of. It wouldn't cause her any trouble, she had agents everywhere, who could deliver to me in an instant.
And she was not just boasting, as I was to find out later. I came to realise that I had been cheated in the past selling butter and buying brandy. It was Khaytshe herself who opened my eyes to that. Eventually she found me the fairest merchants in butter and did not allow anyone to cheat me. I was able to get the best price for my butter. She also bought my brandy at a different distillery, getting better quality at a lower price. In short, I was very fortunate to have met her.
She would always set aside one day to take care of my business and then I would spend two more fantastic extra days, amidst the best company Grodno had to offer who always happened to be present in her house. I used to make eight of these trips to Grodno in a year an every trip was ever so pleasant, a real treat.
Czar Aleksander the Second6 Used to come to Grodno for a 'Review'[smotr] every year. He liked the square in Grodno because it was large and because the army could be shown to its full advantage in it.
In summer, villagers, land owners and Jews from all over the region would gather to see the Czar and the review as well as the parade that Grodno organized for him. I myself would also go to Grodno every year at the time the Czar was expected.
The Czar normally stayed thirty six hours in Grodno. During this time Khaytshe would not have any visitors. Everyone was only interested in the parade and the Czar. But I would pay Khaytshe a visit even at this very exiciting time. She did not take a step outdoors, she hated to be in crowds.
"They just stand there staring with their eyes wide open", she would comment.
One time I stood next to the Czar, who was on horseback watching the military march by. I stood right next to his horse and stared the Czar straight in the face. I took a long, intense and penetrating look at him. The Czar was sitting there on his horse in good spirits, sprightly and he was nice to look at, an impressive figure. When he rode away I tried pushing my way to through to follow him. I wanted to get close to him .
I remember that one year the Czar arrived in Grodno at half past one at night. He was supposed to come to the review the next morning at seven. The next morning at five I went out, to get a place in the street he would pass through. The Czar rode in a closed carriage, accompanied by the Governor-General of Vilne, Potapov7. The huge crowd out there started shouting, "We want to see the Czar".
The Governor-General opened his door and shouted at them, "The Czar hasn't slept all night. He wants to rest."
The crowd did not hear him though and continued shouting, "Czar, we want to see you."
Then the Czar opened the door of the carriage himself and spoke, "Gospada, gentlemen, I have not slept all night. Give me some rest. On the way back from the review I will ride slowly in an open carriage and you will be able to see me."
And that he did. On his way back he rode in an open carriage, at an easy pace, visible to all. I stood next to the Polish church, where the Czar alighted and climbed up the porch which was decorated with pretty carpets8 and flowers. The Deacon was present there and the Czar, shaking hands with him, asked to be forgiven for not having time to enter the church. Soon he got in the carriage again to continue his tour through the whole city, at a slow pace, ending up at the house of the Governor. People had expected him to visit the Russian church and the synagogue also, but he did not get further than the porch of the Polish church - a fact that pleased the Poles [Polyakn]. He always left behind a good and strong impression.
I saw Aleksander the Second several times and if I succeeded in getting a place close to him I was always elated by the experience. [gehat a tayneg rukhani]. He would always look at the crowd good-naturedly.
He was a tall, able bodied and handsome man.
They say that Nikolai9 had an angry look. My grandfather Arn-Leyzer had a story that he once happened to be in Brisk while Czar Nikolai was passing through. A huge crowd had gathered. Everyone wanted to see the Czar and my grandfather was among them.
Soon the Czar appeared. He stood close to my grandfather and their glances, that's the Czar's and my grandfather's, crossed.
"That look made my blood curdle", my grandfather used to say, in a quivering voice, "I will never forget that look."
When Aleksander came to Grodno it was always a festive occasion for Jews. We were all happy about it and on the day that he would be out in the streets everybody would stop working and go out walking through the town in happy groups.
1Salanter (of Salant) = Yisroel ben Zeev Volf Lipkin (1810-1883); Lithuanian founder of the 'Muser' movement (1842), which stresses moral edification (the Misnagdic answer to Khsidism and Haskole); founder of yeshives. Assav: Dovid Mreyne married Hode-Liebe, the daughter of Rabbi Israel Salanter, after she divorced her first husband.
2emer = R. vedro - approx. 12 liters.
3Kotik came to Makarovtsi two years after the cholera epidemic of 1865/66; the visit must have taken place during 1866.
4Ha-Magid was the first modern Hebrew weekly newspaper, published in Lyck [Lutsk] (East Prusia, near the Russian border) since 1860. See Vol. I, Chapt XIX, p. 254, l. 19-20. (Assaf)
5priziv - military conscription in Czarist Russia; R prizivatj - call up, conscript > prizivnik.
6Alexander II 1818-1881; czar of Russia (1855-81); emancipated the serfs (1861): assassinated: son of Nicholas I.
7Alexander Potapov was nominated in 1868 to be the Governor-General of Vilna province. (Assaf)
8kavioren>kovioren - R. kowjor - carpet. Comp. Vol I, Chapt. 12, p. 180, l. 19-20: . vu tayere yogd-instrumentn zaynen geven oysgehangen oyf di vent, oyf tayere yogd-koviorn, . > tapestry with hunting scenes.
9Nicholas I - Nicolai Pavlovich 1796-1855; Czar of Russia (1825-1855).
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