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´╗┐Title: In Those Days: The Story of an Old Man
Author: Steinberg, Judah, 1863-1908
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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              IN THOSE DAYS





             GEORGE JESHURUN


               IN THOSE DAYS



When the time drew near for Samuel the Beadle to let his son begin
his term of military service, he betook himself to the market,
purchased a regulation shirt, a knapsack, and a few other things
needed by a soldier--and he did not forget the main item: he ran and
fetched a bottle of liquor.  Then he went home.

And there, in the presence of his neighbors, of whom I had the
privilege of being one, he drank a glassful to "long life," and
offered another to Rebekah, his good wife.

"Drink, madam," said he, merrily.  At this Rebekah turned up her
nose, as if ready to blurt out with "How often have you seen me
drink liquor?"

Indeed, it was an affront which she would not have passed over in
silence at any other time, but she had no heart for an open quarrel
just then, when about to part with her son, and was satisfied with a
silent refusal.

"Woman," said Samuel, angrily, "take it, and do as you are told!"
But Rebekah was not impressed by his angry tone, for in fact Samuel
was an easy "lord and master."  As to his loudness, it was but part
of an old habit of his, dating from the days of his own military
service, to bully his inferiors and to let those above him in
authority bully him.

"So are they all of his kind," she would often explain to her
neighbors.  "They just fuss, to blow off their tempers, and
then--one may sit on them."

Rebekah persisted in her refusal, and Samuel began in a softer tone:

"But why does it worry you so much?  Woman, woman, it is not to
Shemad, God forbid, that he is going!"

At the mention of conversion, Rebekah burst into tears, for Samuel
had unintentionally touched her sore spot: there were rumors in the
town that her family was not without blemish.

"Now that you are crying," exclaimed Samuel, thoroughly angry, "you
are not only hard-headed, but also silly, simply silly! 'Long of
hair but short of sense.'  To cry and cry, and not know wherefore!"
With this Samuel turned towards us, and began to plead his case.

"Have you ever seen such a cry-baby?  Five times in her life she
filled the world with a hue and cry, when she bore me a child, and
every time it was but an empty bubble: five girls she brought me!
Then, beginning with the sixth birth, she was fortunate enough to
get boys, the real thing.  Three sons she gave me as my old age was
approaching.  And now, when she ought to thank Heaven for having
been found worthy of raising a soldier for the army, she cries!
Think of it--your son enters the army a free man; but I, in my
time,--well, well, I was taken by force when a mere youngster!"

Here the old man settled his account with the bottle, and took leave
of his crying wife and his good neighbors, and in the company of his
son mounted the coach waiting outside, ready to go to H., the
capital of the district, where the recruits had to report.

By special good fortune I was going to H. by the same coach, and so
I came to hear the story of old Samuel's life from the beginning
till that day.

It was the rainy season; the roads were muddy, and the horses moved
with difficulty.  The driver made frequent stops, and whenever the
road showed the slightest inclination to go uphill he would intimate
that it might be well for us to dismount and walk beside the coach a

The cold drizzle penetrated to our very skin and made our flesh
creep.  The warmth we had brought with us from the house was
evaporating, and with it went the merry humor of the old man.  He
began to contemplate his son, who sat opposite to him, looking him
over up and down.

The wise "lord and master," who had tried to instruct his wife at
home and celebrate the fact of her having reared a soldier for the
army, he failed himself to stand the trial: he began to feel the
pangs of longing and lonesomeness.  The imminent parting with his
son, to take place on the morrow, seemed to depress him greatly.

Bent and silent he sat, and one could see that he was lost in a maze
of thoughts and emotions, which came crowding in upon him in spite
of himself.

I took a seat opposite to him, so that I might enter into a
conversation with him.

"Do you remember all that happened to you in those days?" I asked by
way of starting the conversation.

He seemed to welcome my question.  In that hour of trial the old man
was eager to unload his bosom, to share his thoughts with some one,
and return mentally to all the landmarks of his own life, till he
reached the period corresponding to that into which he was
introducing his son.  The old man took out his well-beloved short
pipe.  According to his story it had been a present from his
superior officer, and it had served him ever since.  He filled the
pipe, struck a match, and was enveloped in smoke.


You ask me whether I remember everything--he began from behind the
smoke.  Why, I see it all as if it had happened yesterday.  I do not
know exactly how old I was then.  I remember only that my brother
Solomon became a Bar-Mitzwah at that time.  Then there was Dovidl,
another brother, younger than Solomon, but older than myself; but he
had died before that time.  I must have been about eleven years old.

Just then the mothers fell a-worrying: a Catcher was coming to town.
 According to some he had already arrived.

At the Heder the boys were telling one another that the Catcher was
a monster, who caught boys, made soldiers out of them, and turned
them over to the Government, in place of the Jewish grown-ups that
were unwilling and unable to serve.  And the boys were divided in
their opinions: some said that the Catcher was a demon, one of those
who had been created at twilight on the eve of the Sabbath.  Others
said that he was simply a "heathen," and some others, that he was an
"apostate."  Then, there were some who asserted that he was merely a
bad Jew, though a learned one nevertheless;--that he wore the
regular Jewish costume, the long coat and the broad waistband, and
had the Tallis-Koton on his breast, so that the curse of the
righteous could not hurt him.  According to rumor, he was in the
habit of distributing nuts and candy among Jewish boys; and if any
one tasted of them, he could not move from the spot, until the
Catcher put his hand on him and "caught" him.  I happened to
overhear a conversation between father and mother, and I gathered
from it that I need not fear the Catcher.

It was a Saturday night, soon after the death of my elder brother
Dovidl, within the period of the thirty days' mourning for him.
Mother would not be consoled, for Dovidl had been her "very best."

Three brothers had I.  The first-born, Simhah, may he rest in peace,
had been married long before; he was the junior Shohet in town, and
a candidate for the Rabbinate.  Solomon was more learned in the
Torah, young though he was, peace be unto him. . . .  Well, they are
now in the world-of-truth, in the world-to-come, both of them.  But
Dovidl, had he lived, would have excelled them both.  That is the
way of the Angel of Death, he chooses the very best.  As to
myself--why deny it?--I was a dullard.  Somehow my soul was not
attuned to the Torah.

As I said, mother was uttering complaints against Heaven, always
crying.  Yes, in the matter of tears they are experts.  I have
pondered over it, and have found it out: fish were created out of
the mud-puddle, and woman out of tears.  Father used to scold her
mightily, but she did not mind it; and she never ceased bemoaning
Dovidl and crying unto Heaven, "who gave the Angel of Death power
over him."

On the night after Sabbath, when father had extinguished the taper
in the dregs of the Havdolah cup, he turned to mother, and said:
"Now man born of woman is unwise all his life long.  He knows not
how to thank for the sorrows that have been sweetened by His mercy,
blessed be He!"

Mother did not understand, and looked at father questioningly.  "The
Catcher is in town," explained father.

"The Catcher!" shuddered mother.

"But he takes only Fourths and upwards," said father, reassuringly.

Fourths, Fifths, etc., those households were called which had four,
or five, or more sons.

"And our household has only three sons at present," continued
father.  "Do you understand, woman?  Three sons were left to us, and
our household is exempt from military duty.  Now do you see the
mercy of the Lord, blessed be He?  Do you still murmur against Him,
blessed be He?"--

So it was in those days.  Every Jewish community had to deliver a
certain fixed number of recruits to the Government annually.  This
number was apportioned among the families, and every family taxed
the households composing it.  But not every household had to supply
a recruit.  A household with a large number of sons secured the
exemption of a household with fewer sons.  For instance, a household
with four sons in it was exempted, if there was a household with
five sons to levy from in the same family.  And a household of three
sons was spared when there was, in the same family, a household of
four sons.  And so forth.--

And as father was speaking--the old man continued--mother
contemplated us, as one that escapes from a fire contemplates the
saved remnants; and her eyes overflowed with silent tears.  Those
were the last tears shed over the grave of Dovidl, and for those
tears father had no rebuke.  We felt that Dovidl was a saint: he had
departed this life to save us from the hand of the Catcher.  It
seemed to me that the soul of Dovidl was flitting about the room,
listening to everything, and noticing that we were pleased that he
had died; and I felt ashamed.

The next day I went to the Heder, somewhat proud of myself.  I
boasted before my mates that I was a Third.  The Fourths envied me;
the Fifths envied the Fourths, and all of us envied the Seconds and
the only sons.  So little chaps, youngsters who knew not what their
life was going to be, came to know early that brothers, sons of one
father, may at times be a source of trouble to one another.

That was at the beginning of the summer.

The teachers decided that we remain within the walls of the Heder
most of the time, and show ourselves outside as little as possible
during the period of danger.  But a decree like that was more than
boys could stand, especially in those beautiful summer days.

Meanwhile the Catcher came to town, and set his eye on the
son-in-law of the rich Reb Yossel, peace be unto him.  The name of
the young man was Avremel Hourvitz--a fine, genteel young man.  He
had run away from his home in Poland and come to our town, and was
spending his time at the Klaus studying the Torah.  And Reb Yossel,
may he rest in peace, had to spend a pile of money before he got
Avremel for his daughter.  From the same Polish town came the
Catcher, to take Avremel as the recruit of the family Hourvitz due
to the Jewish community of his city.  When he laid his hand on
Avremel, the town was shocked.  The rabbi himself sent for the
Catcher, and promised to let him have, without any contention, some
one else instead of Avremel.  Then they began to look for a
household with the family name of Hourvitz, and they found my
father's.  Before that happened I had never suspected that my father
had anything like a family name.  For some time the deal remained a
deep secret.  But no secret is proof against a mother's intuition,
and my mother scented the thing.  She caught me by the arm--I do not
know why she picked me out--rushed with me to the rabbi, and made it
hot for him.

"Is this justice, rabbi?  Did I bear and rear children, only to give
up my son for the sake of some Avremel?!"

The rabbi sighed, cast down his eyes, and argued, that said Avremel
was not simply "an Avremel," but a "veritable jewel," a profound
Lamdan, a noble-hearted man, destined to become great in Israel.  It
was unjust to give him away, when there was someone else to take his
place.  Besides, Avremel was a married man, and the father of an
infant child.  "Now where is justice?" demanded the rabbi.  But my
mother persisted.  For all she knew, her own sons might yet grow up
to become ornaments to israel . . .  And she, too, was observing the
ordinances of the Hallah and the Sabbath candles, and the rest of
the laws, no less than Avremel's mother.

More arguments, more tears without arguments--till the rabbi
softened: he could not resist a woman.  Then mother took me and
Solomon up to the garret, and ordered us not to venture outside.--

Here the old man interrupted himself by a soft sigh, and

To a great extent it was my own fault, wild boy that I was.  I broke
my mother's injunction.  In the alley, near the house of my parents,
there lived a wine-dealer, Bendet by name.  Good wine was to be
found in his cellar.  For this reason army officers and other
persons of rank frequented his place, and he was somewhat of a
favorite with them.  In short, though he lived in a mean little
alley, those important personages were not averse to calling at his
house.  That Bendet had an only child, a daughter.  She was
considered beautiful and educated.  I had not known her.  In my day
they spoke ill of her.  Naturally, her father loved her.  Is there a
father who loves not his offspring?  And how much more such a
daughter, whom everyone loved.  However that may be, one day
Bendet's daughter broke away, left her father's house, and renounced
her faith--may we be spared such a fate!  And many years after her
father's death she returned to our town, to take possession of her
portion of the inheritance.  That happened at a time when we were
hiding in the garret.  The town was all agog: people ran from every
street to get a look at the renegade, who came to take possession of
a Jewish inheritance.  I, too, was seized with a wild desire to get
a look at her, to curse her, to spit in her face . . . .  And I
forgot all the dangers that surrounded me.

Young as I was, I considered myself as a Jew responsible for the
wayward one.  I lost control of myself, and ran out.  But after I
had been in the street for some time, I was seized with fear of the
Catcher.  Every stranger I met seemed to me to be a Catcher.  I
shrank into myself, walked unsteadily hither and thither, and did
not know how to hide myself.  Then a man met me.  His large beard
and curled side-locks made me think he was a good man.  I looked at
him imploringly.  "What ails you, my boy?" he asked in a soft tone.
"I am afraid of the Catcher," said I, tearfully.

"Whose son are you?"

I told him.

"Then come with me, and I shall hide you, my boy.  Don't be afraid.
I am your uncle.  Don't you recognize me?"

He took me by the arm, and I went after him.  Then I noticed that
the children of my neighborhood were eyeing me terror-stricken.  The
womenfolk saw me, wrung their hands, and lamented aloud.

"What are they crying about?" I wondered.

"Do you want some candy?  Your uncle has plenty of it," said he,
bending over me, as if to protect me.  "Or maybe your feet hurt you?
 Let your uncle take you on his arms."  As soon as I heard "candy,"
I felt that the man was the Catcher himself, and I tried to break
away.  But the "uncle" held me fast.  Then I began to yell.  It was
near our house, and the people of our alley rushed towards us, some
yelling, some crying, some armed with sticks.  Pretty soon I
recognized my mother's voice in the mixture of voices and noises.
You see, peculiar is the charm of a mother's voice: a knife may be
held to one's throat, but the mere sound of mother's voice awakens
new courage and begets new hope.  Mother made a way for herself, and
fell upon the Catcher like a wild beast.  She struck, she pinched,
she scratched, she pulled his hair, she bit him.  But what can a
woman do in the line of beating?  Nothing!  Her neighbors joined
her, one, two, three; and all tried hard to take me out of the hands
of the Catcher.  What can a few women do against one able-bodied
man?  Nothing at all!  That happened during the dinner hour.  One of
our neighbors got the best of the Catcher, a woman who happened
rather to dislike me and my mother; they quarreled frequently.
Perhaps on account of this very dislike she was not over-excited,
and was able to hit upon the right course to take at the critical
moment.  She went to our house, took in one hand a potful of roasted
groats, ready for dinner, and in the other a kettle of boiling
water.  Unnoticed she approached the Catcher, spilled the hot groats
upon his hands, and at the same time she poured the boiling water
over them.  A wild yell escaped from the mouth of the Catcher--and I
was free.--

There was no more tobacco in the pipe, and the old man lost his
speech.  That was the way of Samuel the Beadle; he could tell his
story only from behind the smoke of his pipe, when he did not see
his hearers, nor his hearers saw him.  In that way he found it easy
to put his boyhood before his mind's eye and conjure up the
reminiscences of those days.  Meanwhile the horses had stopped, and
let us know that a high and steep hill was ahead of us, and that it
was our turn to trudge through the mud.  We had to submit to the
will of the animals, and we dismounted.


After tramping a while alongside the coach, the old man lit his
pipe, emitted a cloud of smoke, and continued:--

I do not know what happened then.  I cannot tell who caught me, nor
the place I was taken to.  I must have been in a trance all the

When I awoke, I found myself surrounded by a flock of sheep, in a
meadow near the woods.  Near me was my brother Solomon; but I hardly
recognized him.  He wore peasant clothes: a linen shirt turned out
over linen breeches and gathered in by a broad belt.  I was eyeing
my brother, and he was eyeing me, both of us equally bewildered, for
I was disguised like himself.

A little boy, a real peasant boy, was standing near us.  He smiled
at us in a good-natured, hospitable way.  It was the chore-boy of
the Jewish quarter.  On the Sabbaths of the winter months he kept up
the fires in the Jewish houses; that is why he could jabber a few
words of Yiddish.  During the summer he took care of the flocks of
the peasants that lived in the neighborhood.

When I awoke, my mother was with us too.  She kissed us amid tears,
gave us some bread and salt, and, departing, strictly forbade us to
speak any Yiddish.  "For God's sake, speak no Yiddish," said she,
"you might be recognized!  Hide here till the Catcher leaves town."

It was easy enough to say, "Speak no Yiddish"; but did we know how
to speak any other language?

I saw then that I was in a sort of hiding-place--a hiding-place
under the open sky!  I realized that I had escaped from houses,
garrets, and cellars, merely to hide in the open field between
heaven and earth.  I had fled from darkness, to hide in broad

Indeed, it was not light that I had to fear.  Nor was it the sun,
the moon, or the sheep.  It was only man that I had to avoid.

Mother went away and left us under the protection of the little
shepherd boy.  And he was a good boy, indeed.  He watched us to the
best of his ability.  As soon as he saw any one approach our place,
he called out loudly: "No, no; these are not Jewish boys at all!  On
my life, they are not!"

As a matter of facet, a stranger did happen to visit our place; but
he was only a butcher, who came to buy sheep for slaughtering.

Well, the sun had set, and night came.  It was my first night under
an open sky.  I suffered greatly from fear, for there was no Mezuzah
anywhere near me.  I put my hand under my Shaatnez clothes, and felt
my Tzitzis: they, too, seemed to be in hiding, for they shook in my

Over us the dark night sky was spread out, and it seemed to me that
the stars were so many omens whose meaning I could not make out.
But I felt certain that they meant nothing good so far as I was
concerned.  All kinds of whispers, sizzling sounds of the night,
reached my ears, and I knew not where they came from.

Looking down, I saw sparks a-twinkling.  I knew they were stars
reflected in the near-by stream.  But soon I thought it was not the
water and the stars: the sheen of the water became the broad smile
of some giant stretched out flat upon the ground; and the sparks
were the twinkling of his eyes.  And the sheep were not sheep at
all, but some strange creatures moving to and fro, spreading out,
and coming together again in knotted masses.  I imagined they all
were giants bewitched to appear as sheep by day and to become giants
again by night.  Then I knew too well that the thick, dark forest
was behind me; and what doesn't one find in a forest?  Is there an
unholy spirit that cannot be found there?  Z-z-z---- a sudden
sizzling whisper reached my ear, and I began to cry.

"Why don't you sleep?" asked the shepherd boy in his broken Yiddish.

"I am afraid!"

"What are you afraid of?"

"Of--of--the woods . . . ."

"Ha--ha--ha--I have good dogs with the flock!"

I wanted a Mezuzah, some talisman, a protection against evil
spirits, and that fool offered me barking dogs!  All at once he
whistled loudly, and his dogs set up a barking that nearly made me
deaf.  The flock was panic-stricken.  I thought at first that the
earth had opened her mouth, and packs of dogs were breaking out from

The noise the dogs made broke the awful hush of the night, and my
fears were somewhat dispelled.

But there were other reasons why I liked to hear the dogs bark.  I
was myself the owner of a dog, which I had raised on the sly in my
father's house.  Imagine the horror of my brother Solomon, who as a
real Jewish lad was very much afraid of a dog!

In that way we spent a few days, hiding under the open sky,
disguised in our Shaatnez clothes.  Soon enough the time came when
my parents _had_ to understand what they would not understand when
the rabbi wanted to give me up in place of the famous Avremel.  For
they caught my oldest brother Simhah, may he rest in peace.  And
Simhah was a privileged person; he was not only the Shohet of the
community and a great Lamdan, but also a married man, and the father
of four children to boot.  Only then, it seems, my parents
understood what the rabbi had understood before: that it was not
fair to deliver up my brother when I, the ignorant fellow, the lover
of dogs, might take his place.  A few days later mother came and
took us home.  As to the rest, others had seen to it.--

Here the old man stopped for a while.  He was puffing and snorting,
tired from the hard walk uphill.  Having reached the summit, he
turned around, looked downhill, straightened up, and took a deep
breath.  "This is an excellent way of getting rid of your tired
feeling," said he.  "Turn around and look downhill: then your
strength will return to you."--


We had left the coach far behind, and had to wait till it overtook
us.  Meanwhile I looked downhill into the valley below: it was a
veritable sea of slush.  The teams that followed ours sank into it,
and seemed not to be moving at all.  The oblique rays of the setting
sun, reflected and radiating in every direction, lent a peculiar
glitter to the slushy wagons and the broken sheet of mire, as if
pointing out their beauty to the darkening sky.  So much light
wasted, I thought.  But on the summit of the hill on which I was
standing, the direct rays of the sun promised a good hour more of

The old man drew breath, and continued his story:--

Well, I was caught, and put into prison.  I was not alone.  Many
young boys had been brought there.  Some were crying bitterly; some
looked at their companions wonderingly.  We were told that the next
day we should be taken away to some place, and that the rabbi wished
to come to see us, but was not permitted to enter our prison.

Yes, a good man was the rabbi, may he rest in peace; yet he was
compelled to cheat for once.  And when an honest man is compelled to
cheat he may outdo the cleverest crook.  Do you want to know what
the rabbi did?  He disguised himself as a peasant, went out, and
walked the streets with the rolling gait of a drunkard.  The night
guards stopped him, and asked him what his business was.  "I am a
thief," said the rabbi.  Then the guards arrested him, and put him
into the prison with us.

In the darkness of that night the rabbi never ceased talking to us,
swallowing his own tears all the while.  He told us the story of
Joseph the righteous.  It had been decreed in Heaven, said the
rabbi, that his brethren should sell Joseph into slavery.  And it
was the will of the Almighty that Joseph should come to Egypt, to
show the Egyptians that there is only one God in Heaven, and that
the Children of Israel are the chosen people.

Then the rabbi examined us:  Did we know our Modeh-Ani by heart?
did we know our Shema?

He told us that we should be taken very, very far away, that we
should be away many, many years, and should become soldiers when
grown up.  Then he warned us never to eat of any food forbidden by
the Jewish law, and never to forget the God of Israel and our own
people, even if they tore our flesh with thorns.  He told us also
the story of the Ten Martyrs, who sacrificed their lives to sanctify
the God of Israel.  He told us of the mother and her seven children
that were killed for having refused to bow before idols; and he told
us many more such things.  All those saints and martyrs, he said,
are now in Paradise, enjoying the bliss of the Divine Presence.
That night I really envied those saints; I longed with all my heart
to be forced to bow to idols, to have to withstand all sorts of
trials, so as to enjoy, after my death, the bliss of the Divine
Presence in Paradise.

Many more stories the rabbi told us; many more words of warning,
encouragement, and praise came from his lips, till I really believed
I was the one whom God had picked out from among my equals, to be
put through great trials and temptations. . . .

Morning came, and the guard entered the prison.  Then the rabbi
turned towards us, and said: "Lambs of the God of Israel, we have to
part now:  I am going to be lashed and imprisoned for having entered
this place by a trick, and you will be taken into exile, to undergo
your trials!  I may hardly expect to be found worthy of surviving
till you return.  But there, in the world-of-truth, we shall surely
meet.  May it be the will of God that I may have no reason to be
ashamed of you there, before Him and His angels, in Heaven!"

We parted, and the words of the rabbi sank deep into my heart.

Then they began dumping us into wagons.  The obstreperous boys, who
tried to run away, were many of them bound with ropes and thrown
into the wagon.  Of course, we all howled.

I did not hear my own voice, nor the voice of my neighbor.  It was
all one great howl.  A crowd of men and women followed our
wagon--the parents of the boys.  Very likely they cried, too; but we
could not hear their voices.  The town, the fields, heaven and
earth, seemed to cry with us.

I caught sight of my parents, and my heart was filled with something
like anger and hatred.  I felt that I had been sacrificed for my

My mother, among many other mothers, approached the wagon, looked at
me, and apparently read my thoughts: she fainted away, and fell to
the ground.  The accident held up the crowd, which busied itself
with reviving my mother, while our wagon rolled away.

My heart was filled with a mixture of anger, pity, and terror.  In
that mood of mixed feelings I parted from my parents.

We cried and cried, got tired, and finally became still from sheer
exhaustion.  Presently a noise reached our ears, something like the
yelling of children.  We thought it was another wagonload of boys
like ourselves.  But soon we found out our mistake: it was but a
wagonload of sheep that were being taken to slaughter. . . .

Of course, we ate nothing the whole of that day, though the mothers
had not failed to provide us with food.  Meanwhile the sun had set;
it got dark, and the boys who had been bound with ropes were
released by the guard: he knew they would not attempt to escape at
that time.  We fell asleep, but every now and then one of the boys
would wake up, crying, quietly at first, then louder and louder.
Then another would join him; one more, and yet one more, till we all
were yelling in chorus, filling the night air with our bitter cries.
 Even the guard could not stand it; he scolded us, and belabored us
with his whip.  That crying of ours reminds me of what we read in
lamentations: "Weeping she hath wept in the night. . . ."

Morning came, and found us all awake: we were waiting for daylight.
We believed it would bring us freedom, that angels would descend
from Heaven, just as they had descended to our father Jacob, to
smite our guard and set us free.  At the same time, the rising sun
brought us all a feeling of hunger.  We began to sigh, each and
every one of us separately.  But the noise we made did not amount
even to the barking of a few dogs or the cawing of a few crows.
That is what hunger can do.  And when the guard had distributed
among us some of the food we had brought with us, we ate it with
relish, and felt satisfied.  At the same time we began to feel the
discomfort we were causing one another, cooped up as we were in the
wagon.  I began to complain of my neighbor, who was sitting on my
legs.  He claimed that I was pressing against him with my shoulder.
We all began to look up to the guard, as if expecting that he could
or would prevent us from torturing one another.

Still I had some fun even on that day of weeping.  I happened to
turn around, and I noticed that Barker, my dog, was running after
our wagon.

"Too bad, foolish Barker," said I, laughing at him in spite of my
heartache.  "Do you think I am going to a feast?  It is into exile
that I am going; and what do you run after me for?"--

This made old Samuel laugh; he laughed like a child, as if the thing
had just happened before his eyes, and as if it were really comical.
 Meanwhile our coach had reached the top of the hill; we jumped into
our seats, and proceeded to make one another uncomfortable.

The old man glanced at his son, who was sitting opposite to him.  It
was a loving and tender look, issuing from under long shaggy
eyebrows, a beautiful, gentle, almost motherly look, out of accord
with the hard-set face of an irritable and stern father.

The old man made his son's seat comfortable for him, and then fell


I am going to pass over a long time--resumed the old man later.
There was much traveling and many stops; much tramping on foot, with
legs swollen; but all that has nothing to do with the subject.

Once in a while our guard would get angry at us, curse us bitterly,
and strike us with his whip.  "You cursed Jews," he would say, "do I
owe you anything that I should suffer so much on your account, and
undergo all the hardships of travel?"

Indeed, there was a good deal of truth in what he said.  For,
willingly or unwillingly, we did give him much trouble.  Had we
died, say the year before, or even at that very moment, he would not
have been put to the necessity of leading a crowd of half-dumb boys.
 He would not have had to stand the hardships of travel, and would
not have been compelled to listen to the wailings of children torn
from the arms of their parents.  Or do you think it is agreeable to
feel that little children consider you a hard and cruel man?  When I
grew up and served in the army myself, and had people below me in
age and position under my command, I came to understand the troubles
of our guard; so that now, after having gone through many
experiences, after I have passed, as they say, through fire and
water, I may confess that I bear no malice towards all those at
whose hands I suffered.  There are many ex-Cantonists who cannot
forget the birch-rod, for instance.  Well, so much is true: for
every misstep, for every sign of disobedience a whipping was due.
If one of us refused to kneel in prayer before the crucifix; if one
of us refused to eat pork; if one of us was caught mumbling a Hebrew
prayer or speaking Yiddish, he was sure to get a flogging.  Twenty,
thirty, forty, or even full fifty lashes were the punishment.  But,
then, is it conceivable that they could have treated us any other
way?  Why, hundreds of Jewish children that did not understand a
word of Russian had been delivered into the hands of a Russian
official that did not understand a word of Yiddish.  He would say,
Take off my boots, and the boy would wash his hands.  He would say,
Sit down, and the boy would stand up.  Were we not like dumb cattle?
 It was only the rod that we understood well.  And the rod taught us
to understand our master's orders by the mere expression of his

Then many of the ex-Cantonists still remember with horror the
steam-bath they were compelled to take.  "The chamber of hell," they
called the bath.  At first blush, it would really seem to have been
an awful thing.  They would pick out all the Cantonists that had so
much as a scratch on their bodies or the smallest sign of an
eruption, paint the wounds with tar, and put the boys, stripped, on
the highest shelf in the steam-bath.  And below was a row of
attendants armed with birch-rods.  The kettle was boiling fiercely,
the stones were red-hot, and the attendants emptied jars of boiling
water ceaselessly upon the stones.  The steam would rise, penetrate
every pore of the skin, and--sting! sting!--enter into the very
flesh.  The pain was horrible; it pricked, and pricked, and there
was no air to breathe.  It was simply choking.  If the boy happened
to roll down, those below stood ready to meet him with the rods.

All this is true.  At the same time, was it mere cruelty?  It is
very simple: we were a lot of Jewish lads snatched from the arms of
our mothers.  On the eve of every Sabbath our mothers would take us
in hand, wash us, comb our hair, change our underwear, and dress us
in our Sabbath clothes.  All at once we were taken into exile.
Days, weeks, nay, months, we passed in the dust of the roads, in
perspiration and dirt, and sleeping on the ground.  Our underwear
had not been changed.  No water had touched our bodies.  So we
became afflicted with all kinds of eruptions.  That is why we had to
pass through what we called "the chamber of hell."  And this will
give you an idea of the rest.

To make a long story short: there were many of us, and we were
distributed in various places.  Many of the boys had taken ill; many
died on the road.  The survivors were distributed among peasants, to
be brought up by them till they reached the age of entering the
army.  I was among the latter.  Many months, maybe even years, I
passed in knocking about from village to village, from town to town,
till, at last, I came into the joint possession of a certain Peter
Semionovich Khlopov and his wife Anna Petrovna.  My master was
neither old nor young; he was neither a plain peasant nor a
nobleman.  He was the clerk of the village.  In those days that was
considered a genteel occupation, honorable and well-paid.  He had no
sons, but he and one daughter, Marusya by name.  She was then about
fourteen years old, very good-looking, gay, and rather wild.

According to the regulations, all the Cantonists in the village had
to report daily for military drill and exercise on the drill grounds
before the house of the sergeant.  He lived in the same village.  At
the request of my patron Khlopov I was excused from the daily drill,
and had to report but once a week.  You see, Peter expected to
derive some benefit from me by employing me about the house and in
the field.

Now it was surely through the merits of my ancestors that I happened
to be placed in the household of Peter Khlopov.  Peter himself spent
but little of his time at home.  Most of the time he was at the
office, and his free moments he liked to spend at the tavern, which
was owned by the only Jew in the village, "our Moshko" the Klopovs
used to call him.  But whenever he happened to be at home, Peter was
very kind to me, especially when he was just a little tipsy.
Perhaps he dreamt of adopting me as his son: he had no sons of his
own.  And he tried to make me like military service.  "When you grow
up," he sued to say, "you will become an officer, and wear a sword.
Soldiers will stand at attention before you, and salute you.  You
will win distinction in battle, and be found worthy of being
presented to the Czar."  He also told me stories of Russian military
life.  By that time I had learned some Russian.  They were really
nice stories, as far as I could understand them; but they were made
nicer yet by what I could not understand of them.  For then I was
free to add something to the stories myself, or change them
according to my own fancy.  If you are a lover of stories, take the
advice of a plain old man like myself.  Never pay any attention to
stories in which everything has been prepared from the very start,
and you can tell the end as soon as you begin to read them or listen
to them.  Such stories make one yawn and fall asleep.  Stories of
this kind my daughter reads to me once in a while, and I always fall
asleep over them.  Stories are good only when told the way Khlopov
used to tell them to me.

But that is all irrelevant.  In short, Khlopov was kind to me.

As to Anna, she was entirely different.  She was close-mouthed,
ill-tempered, and a great stay-at-home.  She never visited her
neighbors, and they, in turn, called on her very rarely.  In the
village she was spoken of as a snob and a hypocrite.  Peter was
afraid of her as of the plague, especially in his sober hours.  All
her power lay in her eyes.  When that strong man--he who had the
whole village in the palm of his hand--felt her eye fixed on him,
his strength left him.  It seemed as if some devil were ready to
jump out of that eye and turn the house topsyturvy.  You fellows are
mere youngsters, you have seen nothing of the world yet; but take it
from me, there are eyes that seem quite harmless when you first look
into them, but just try to arouse their temper: you will see a
hellish fire spring up in them.  Have you ever looked into my
Rebekah's eyes?  Well, beware of the eyes.

The look Anna gave me when I first entered her house promised me
nothing good.  She hated me heartily.  She never called me by my own
name.  She called me "Zhid" all the time, in a tone of deep hatred
and contempt.

Among the orders the Cantonists had to obey were the following: to
speak no Yiddish; to say no Jewish prayer; to recite daily a certain
prayer before the image of the Virgin and before the crucifix, and
not to abstain from non-kosher food.

With regard to all injunctions except the last, Anna was very strict
with me.  But she was not very particular as to the last injunction.
 Out of sheer stinginess she fed me on bread and vegetables, and
that in the kitchen.  Once she did offer me some meat, and I refused
to touch it.  Then she got very angry, flew into a temper, and
decided to complain to the sergeant.  But Peter did not let her be
so cruel.  "Let him grow up, he will know better," said Peter,
waving his hand at me.

Then Anna made up her mind to force me to eat forbidden meat.  But I
was obstinate.  And she decided once more to complain to the
sergeant.  Just at that time another Cantonist had been found guilty
of some offense.  He belonged to the same village; his name was
Jacob.  I did not know him at that time.  His patron complained that
Jacob had persisted in reciting Hebrew prayers, and that he
abstained from meat.  Jacob was condemned to twenty lashes with
rods.  An order was issued that all Cantonists should assemble to
witness the flogging of the offender.

In the course of time we got used to such sights; but the first time
we were terribly shocked.  Just imagine: a lad of about fifteen is
stripped, put on the ground face downwards; one man sits on his
head, and another on his feet.  Two men are put on either side of
him, each with a bundle of birch-rods in his hand.  Ten times each
of them has to strike him with the rods, to make up the twenty
lashes.  I looked at the face of the culprit; it was as white as
chalk.  His lips were moving.  I thought he was reciting the prayer:
"And He, the Merciful, will forgive sin, and will not destroy.
. . ."  Up went the rods, down they went: a piercing cry . . . .
blood . . . . flaps of loose skin . . . . cries . . . . "one, two,
three" . . . . again cries . . . . sudden silence . . . . more cries
. . . . again silence . . . . "four, five" . . . . "stop!"

Because the culprit fainted, the sergeant in the goodness of his
heart divided the punishment into two parts.  Jacob was carried off
to the hospital, and it was put down in the book that he was to get
ten more lashes after his recover.

I went home.

Had Anna given me a piece of pork to eat that evening, I do not know
what I should have done.

That night I saw the old rabbi in my dream.  He was standing before
me, with bowed head and tears dropping from his eyes. . . . .

I do not remember the way Marusya treated me at first.  But I do
remember the look she gave me when I first entered her father's
house.  There are trifling matters that one remembers forever.  Hers
was a telltale look, wild and merry.  It is hard to describe it in
words--as if she wanted to say, "Welcome, friend!  You did well in
coming here.  I need just you to pass my leisure hours with me!"
And she really needed someone like myself, for she never associated
with the children of the village.  The beautiful lively girl used to
have her fits of the blues.  Then it was impossible to look at her
face without pitying her.  At such times her mother could not get a
word out of her, and the whole expression of her face was changed to
such an extent that she seemed to have aged suddenly.  She would
look the very image of her mother then.  And a peculiar expression
would steal over her face, which estranged her from other people,
and perhaps brought her nearer to me.  During those fits of
despondency she was sure to follow me if I happened to leave the
room and go outside.  She would join me and spend hour after hour in
childish prattle with me, and her merriment and wildness knew no
limits.  Little by little I got used to her, and fell, in turn, a
longing for her company during my own fits of lonesomeness.

The day after I had witnessed Jacob's punishment I felt miserable.
I was restless and excitable, and did not know what to do with
myself.  I thought my heart would burst within me.  I asked myself
all kinds of questions:  What am I doing here?  What did I come here
for?  What are all those people to me?  As if I had come there only
the day before, and of my own free will. . . .

Marusya looked sharply at me.  Very likely she recognized that
something was worrying me.  I felt a desire to share my feelings
with her.  I got up and walked out into the garden behind the house.
 In a moment she followed me.  I made a clean breast of it, and told
her all I had to witness the day before.

She listened, shivering, and asked in a tremulous voice:

"And what did they beat him for?"

"He said a Hebrew prayer, and refused to eat meat."

"And why did he refuse to eat meat?"

"It is forbidden."

"Forbidden?  Why?"

I was silent.

She also became silent; then she laid her hand on me, and said with
her usual merriment:

"They will not beat you."

"How do you know?"

"The sergeant is a good friend of ours."

"But if your mother should complain about me?"

"Then I shall go in your stead, if they should decide to switch

She laughed heartily at her own suggestion.  Her laughter made me
laugh too; we both laughed, and laughed without knowing why.  And in
a mood completely changed I returned to the house.  After that I
felt very near to the girl.

Well, time passed, months and years: I lost track of them.  But I do
remember that the time had come when I knew enough Russian to make
myself understood, and fit for any kind of work about the house and
in the field, and could give my patron entire satisfaction.

One day, I remember, I tried very hard to have my work well and
promptly done, so as to earn, for once, the good-will of Anna
herself.  I felt a longing for the friendly smile of a mother.  But
Anna kept going in and out, and did not pay the least attention to
me.  I was sitting on the bench outside the house alone.  My dog was
lying at my feet, looking at me very intently.  His eyes seemed to
be full of tears.  And let me tell you by the way, his lot in the
house was entirely different from mine.  When he first entered
Peter's courtyard, the dogs met him with howls.  He tried to find
shelter in the kitchen, but was chased out with sticks.  "Where did
that tramp come from?" wondered the people.  Then my Barker saw that
he could expect no charity from the people, and he put his trust in
his own teeth.  He stood up bravely, and fought all the dogs of the
household till blood flowed.  Then only did the masters of the house
appreciate his doggish virtues and accomplishments.  They befriended
him, and allowed him his rations.  So my Barker saved his skin.  Yet
his lot did not seem to please him.  He recognized, by some peculiar
dog-sense, that I, his fellow in exile, was unhappy myself and sorry
for him too.  He felt that somehow his own days of prosperity would
not last long.  Whenever I sat about lonely and moping, he would
stretch himself at my feet, and look straight into my eyes, with an
expression of earnestness and wonderment, as if he wanted to ask me,
How is that, why don't you fight for your rights the way I did?

Presently Anna came out, shot a glance at me, and said:

"Well, now, there is the lazy Zhid sitting idle, and I have to work
and prepare meals for him, so that he may find everything ready!"  I
got up, and began to look around for something to do.

"Go, catch the little pig and bring it over here," ordered Anna.

The day before I had overheard her say that it was time to kill the
little pig.  I did not relish the job by any means.  I felt sorry
for the porkling: mere pig though it was, it had after all grown up
in our house.  And it was hard on me to have a hand in the affair.
But one angry word of Anna's set me a-going.  In a moment my hand
was on the animal, which trusted me and believed in me implicitly.
Then Anna handed me a rope to bind it.  I did as she wanted; the pig
started to squeal and squeak horribly.  To me it sounded like "Zhid,
Zhid, is that the way to treat _me?"_

Then Anna handed me a knife, and showed me where to make the cut.
. . .  The pig began to bleed fearfully, gurgling, and choking with
his own blood.  Forthwith Anna ordered wood to be brought, a fire to
be kindled, and the pig to be put upon it.  I did all as I had been
ordered.  My dog was watching me intently, greatly bewildered; the
pig groaned and groaned; the flames licked his body and embraced
it--and my dog was barking and yelping away up into the sky.

That night I dreamt that my brother the Shohet and I were on trial
in Heaven before the seat of judgment, with various animals
complaining against us.  Only clean fowl, such as geese, pigeons,
and the like were complaining against my brother, and they all
pleaded in clear, good Hebrew, saying, "Was it for your own
consumption that you killed us all?" . . . .  But it was only the
pig that complained against me, and it pleaded in screeches and
grunts that nobody could understand. . . .

The next morning Anna got up early, and made me stand before the
ikon of the Virgin and recite a certain prayer.  At dinner she
seated me alongside of Peter, gave me some roast pork, and looked
sharply at me.  I guess, while making all those preparations, Anna
had only one thing in mind: to put Peter up against me while he was
drunk.  I took fright, and began to chew away at the pork.  But then
the screeches and the grunts of the pig rang in my ears, and I
thought they came right from within my insides; I wondered how they
could listen to all that, and yet eat the pork in perfect comfort.
Suddenly a lump in my throat began to choke me. . . . Nausea,
retching . . . . and something happened to me: I vomited everything
out, right on the table.  Everybody jumped away from the table in
disgust and anger.  I met Marusya's eye, and was ashamed to look
into it.  Anna got up, boiling with rage, and took me by the ear,
and pulled me outside: "Get out of here, you dirty Zhid; and don't
you dare enter my house any more!"

Well, she chased me out.  Peter and Marusya kept quiet.  Thoroughly
miserable, I dropped down on the bench behind the house; my dog
stretched himself out on the ground at my feet and looked into my
eyes.  Then I began to talk to my fellow in misfortune:  "Do you
hear, doggie, we have been chased out. . . .  What does that mean?
did we come here of our own free will?  It is by force that we were
brought here; so what sense is there in chasing us out?"

And I thought my dog understood me; a sound came from the depths of
his throat, and died away there.  Then a thought began to haunt me:
Maybe it is really time to run away.  If they run after me and
overtake me, I shall simply say that my patron chased me out of his
house.  And the thought, Home! to your parents! took possession of
me, and tortured me ceaselessly.  Said I to myself: "If they chase
me out, I am certainly free!"  But then, just see the power of the
birch-rod:  I knew well that much time would pass before my patron
would notice my absence; and before the sergeant was informed, and
people were dispatched to pursue me, more time would pass.  Then I
should be far away from the place.  By that time I was quite
hardened;  I was not afraid to hide in the woods; devils and evil
spirits I did not fear any more.  I had learned well enough that no
devil will ever trouble a man as much as one human being can trouble
another.  And yet, when I remembered the swish of the rods over the
naked flesh, the spurting blood, the loose flaps of skin, and the
futile outcries, I was paralyzed with fear.  No, it was not really
fear: it was a sort of submissive adoration.  Had a birch-rod been
lying near me, I should have kissed it with fear and respect.  It is
hard for me to explain to you.  You youngsters are not capable of

And as I was sitting there, full of gloomy thoughts, I did not
notice that the sun had set, and night had come.  It got so dark
that I could not see my dog lying at my feet.  Suddenly I felt
something touch me and pass lightly over my hair.  I thought it was
an ant or a night moth, and I raised my hand to chase it away.  Then
it changed its place, and I felt it at the nape of my neck.  I tried
to catch the thing that was making my neck itch, and caught a hand,
soft and warm.  I shuddered and started back: before me was Marusya,
bending over me.  I wanted to get up, but she put her hands on me
heavily, sat down at my side, all the while pressing my hand between

"Why are you sitting here?" she asked.

"Didn't your mother chase me out?"

"That is nothing.  Don't you know her temper?  That is her way."

"She keeps nagging at me all the time, and calls me nothing but
Zhid, Zhid."

"And what of it?  Aren't you a Jew?  Should I feel insulted if some
one were to call me Christian?!"

I had nothing to say.  And it dawned upon me at that moment that I
was really insulting myself by objecting to being called Zhid.
True, Anna meant to jeer at me and insult me; but did it depend on
her alone?

"And what are you going to do now?" asked Marusya.

"I want to run away."

"Without telling me?"

She peered into my face, and I felt as if two streams of warmth had
emptied themselves into me.  My eyes had become somewhat accustomed
to the darkness, and I could discern every movement of her body.  A
delicate smile was playing around her mouth, and my feeling of
despondency was giving way before it.  I felt that after all I had a
friend in the house, a good, loving, and beautiful friend.

I shuddered and broke out into tears.  Then she began to play
caressingly with my hair and pat me on my neck and face.  She did
well to let me have my cry out.  By and by I felt relieved.  She
wanted to withdraw her hand, but then I held it fast.

"So you were going to run away, and that without my knowledge?" said

"No," I said with a deep sigh.

"And if I should ever call you Zhid, will you be angry with me?"

"No," answered I, thoroughly vanquished.

"Well, then you are a dear boy, and I like you!"

I felt the touch of soft, warm lips on my neck . . . .  I closed my
eyes, that the dark night sky and the shining stars might not see
me.  And when I recognized what had happened to me, I felt ashamed.
Marusya disappeared, and soon returned with a bag in her hand.

"Papa said you should go out with the horses for the night.  Here is
some food in the bag.  Take it and go out."

This she shot out quickly, and in a tone of authority, as befits the
daughter of the patron, and as if what had passed between us were
nothing but a dream.

"Going out for the night" was a peculiar custom.  You can have no
idea of what it meant.  The logic of it was this:  The cattle that
had been worked the whole of the day were, to be sure, earning their
fodder for the day.  And the owners felt under obligation and
necessity to feed them during their working hours.  But how about
the night, when the animals rested, and did no work?  Where should
the fodder for the night time come from?  So the custom developed of
letting the animals browse in some neighbor's meadow during the
night.  That was cheaper.  But that neighbor also had cattle; he,
too, had horses that did not earn their feed during the night.  Do
you know what the neighbor did?  He did the same.  He, too, sent out
his horses stealthily, into his neighbor's meadow.  So, in the long
run, every one had his cattle browse secretly in some neighbor's
meadow, and all were happy.  But when the trespassing shepherd
happened to be caught poaching, he got a whipping.  And yet,
strictly speaking, it was not stealing; it was a mere usage.  The
land-owners seemed to have agreed beforehand:  "If you happen to
catch my shepherd poaching, you may whip him, provided you do not
object if I give a whipping to your shepherd on a similar occasion."
 In spite of all this I rather liked "going out for the night."  I
loved those nights in the open field.  When the moon gave but little
light, and one could see but a few steps away, I forgot my immediate
surroundings, and my imagination was free!  I would peer into the
open sky, would bring before my mind's eye father and mother and all
who were dear to me, and would feel near to them; for the sky that
spread over all of us was the very same.  I could imagine my father
celebrating the new moon with a prayer.  I could imagine my mother
watching for the same star I was looking at; I could imagine that we
were really looking at the same spot. . . .  Then tears would come
into my eyes.  My mother, I would think, was crying, too.  And the
night listened to me, and the stars listened to me. . . .  The
crickets chirped, and if I chose, I could believe they shared my
sorrows with me, and were sighing over my fate. . . .

Idle fancy, nonsense, you think; but when one has nothing real to
look up to, dreams are very sweet.  A light breeze would steal over
me, refresh me, and bring me new hope; and I trusted I should not be
a prisoner always, the day of my release would surely come.  At such
happy moments I would fall asleep gazing at the stars.  And if the
sudden whip of the landowner did not put an end to my dreams, I
would dream away, and see things no language could describe.

Well, I took the bag and led the horses out into the open field.
But that time, out of sheer spite or for some other reason, I did
not go into our neighbor's field, but descended right into the
valley that my patron had left lying fallow, and stretched myself
upon the soft grass of the hospitable turf.

That night I longed to bring father and mother before my mind's eye
and have an imaginary talk with them.  But I did not succeed.
Instead, the figure of the old rabbi hovered before my eyes.  It
seemed to me that he was looking at me angrily, and telling me the
story of Joseph the righteous: how he lived in the house of
Potiphar, and ate nothing but vegetables.

But when I reminded myself of Joseph the righteous, I felt my heart
sink at the thought of what Marusya had done to me.  I could not
deny that the good looks of the Gentile girl were endearing her to
me, that out of her hands I would eat pork ten times a day, and that
in fact I myself was trying to put up a defense of her.  I took all
the responsibility on myself.  I was ready to believe that she did
not seek my company, but that it was I who called her to myself.  I
was a sinner in my own estimation, and I could not even cry.  Then
it seemed to me that the sky was much darker than usual, and the
stars did not shine at all.  With such thought in my mind I fell

I awoke at the sound of voices.  Some one is crying, I thought.  The
sound seemed near enough.  It rose and rose and filled the valley.
It made me shudder.  The soft, plaintive chant swelled and grew
louder, as if addressed to me.  It gripped my very heart.  I stood
up all in a shiver, and started to walk in the direction of the
sound.  But around me, up and down, on every side, was total
darkness.  The moon had set long ago.  I moved away only a few steps
from the horses, and could not make them out any more.  By and by I
could distinguish some words, and I recognized the heart-gripping
chant of a Hebrew Psalm. . . .

  "For the Lord knoweth the path of the righteous,
   And the path of the wicked shall perish." . . .

My fears vanished, and gave place to a feeling of surprise.

"Where can that chanting come from," thought I, "and here in exile,

Then I began to doubt it all, thinking it was but a dream.

   "Why do the nations rage,
    And the peoples imagine a vain thing?"

The voices were drawing me forward irresistibly, and I decided to
join the chorus, come what might.  And I continued the Psalm in a
loud voice:

   "The kings of the earth stood up . . . ."

The chanting ceased; I heard steps approaching me.

"Who is there?" asked a voice in Yiddish.

"It is I," answered I, "and who are you?"

"It is we!" shouted many voices in chorus.


"A Cantonist, too?"

Thus exchanging questions, we met.  They turned out to be three
Cantonists, who lived in a village at some distance from Peter's
house.  I had never met them before.  They, too, had "gone out for
the night," and we had happened to use the same valley.

I love to mention their names.  The oldest of them was Jacob, whom
you remember from the punishment he underwent.  The others were
Simeon and Reuben.  But there in the valley they introduced
themselves to me with the names they were called by at home: Yekil,
Shimele, and Ruvek.  I found out later that the valley was their
meeting-place.  It was a sort of Klaus, "Rabbi Yekil's Klaus" the
boys called it.  Yekil was a boy of about fifteen, who was
well-equipped with knowledge of the Torah when he was taken away
from his home.

In the long years of our exile we had forgotten the Jewish calendar
completely.  But Yekil prided himself on being able to distinguish
the days "by their color and smell," especially Fridays; and his
friends confirmed his statements.  He used to boast that he could
keep track of every day of the year, and never miss a single day of
the Jewish holidays.  Every Jewish holiday they met in the valley on
Peter's estate.  According to Yekil's calendar, the eve of the Fast
of the Ninth of Av fell on that very day.  That is why they had
gathered in the valley that night.  "If so," said I, "what is the
use of reciting that Psalm?  Were it not more proper to recite

"We do not know Lamentations by heart," explained Yekil, with the
authority of a rabbi, "but we do know some Psalms, and these we
recite on every holiday.  For, at bottom, are mere words the main
thing?  Your real prayer is not what you say with your lips, but
what you feel with the whole of your heart.  As long as the words
are in the holy tongue, it all depends on the feelings you wish to
put into them.  As my father, may he rest in peace, used to instruct
me, the second Psalm is the same as the festival hymn, 'Thou hast
chosen us from among the nations,' if you feel that way; or it may
be the same as Lamentations.  It all depends on the feelings in our
heart, and on the meaning we wish to put into the words!"

Yekil's talk and the sounds of Yiddish speech, which I had not heard
since I left home, impressed me in a wonderful way.  Here I found
myself all at once in the company of Jews like father and mother.
But I felt very much below that wonderful boy who could decide
questions of Jewish law like some great rabbi.  Indeed, he seemed to
me little short of a rabbi in our small congregation.  Then I began
to feel more despondent than ever.  I considered myself the sinner
of our little community.  I knew I was guilty of eating pork and of
other grave trespasses, and I felt quite unworthy of being a member
of the pious congregation.

Meanwhile little Reuben discovered the contents of my bag.

"Boys, grub!" exclaimed he, excitedly.  At the word "grub" the
congregation was thrown into a flutter.  That was the way of the
Cantonists.  They could not help getting excited at the sight of any
article of food, even when they were not hungry at all.  In the long
run our patrons fed us well enough, and on the whole we could not
complain of lack of food.  But we were fed according to the
calculations of our patrons, and not according to our own appetites.
 So it became our habit to eat whenever victuals were put before us,
even on a full stomach.  "Eat whenever you have something to eat, so
as not to go hungry when there may be no rations."  That was a
standing rule among the Cantonists.  They began fumbling in my bag,
and I was dying with shame at the thought that soon they would
discover the piece of pork, and that my sin would become known to
the pious congregation.  Then I broke down, and with tears began to
confess my sins.

"I have sinned," said I, sobbing, "it is pork.  I could not
withstand the temptation."

At that moment it seemed to me that Yekil was the judge, and the
boys who had found the pork were the witnesses against me.  Yekil
listened to my partial confession, and the two "witnesses" hung
their heads, and hid their faces in shame, as if they were the
accused.  But I sobbed and cried bitterly.

"Now, listen, little one," Yekil turned to me.  "I do not know
whether you have suffered the horrors of hell that we have suffered.
 Did they paint your body with tar, and put you up on the highest
shelf in the steam-bath, and choke you with burning steam?  Did they
flog you with birch-rods for having been caught mumbling a Hebrew
prayer?  Did they make you kneel for hours on sharp stones for
having refused to kiss the ikon and the crucifix?  Did they discover
you secretly kissing the Arba-Kanfos, and give you as many lashes as
there are treads in the Tzitzis?  If you have not passed through all
that, uncover our backs, and count the welts that still mark them!
And to this you must add the number of blows I have still to get,
simply because my little body could not take in at once all it was
expected to take in.  And yet, not a day passed without our having
recited our Modeh-Ani.  As to eating pork, we abstained from it in
spite of the rods.  Then they gave up flogging us; but, instead of
that punishment, they gave us nothing but pork to eat.  Two days we
held out; we did not touch any food.  We did not get even a drink of
water.  Do you see little Simeon?  Well, he tried to eat the grass
in the courtyard. . . .  On the third day of our fast I saw my
father in my dream.  He was dressed in his holiday clothes, and
holding the Bible in his hands he quoted the passage, 'Be ye mindful
of your lives.'  Suddenly, the earth burst open, and the Angel of
Death appeared.  He had rods in one hand and a piece of swine's
flesh in the other.  He put the piece of pork into my mouth.  I
looked up, terror-stricken, to my father, but he smiled.  His smile
filled the place with light.  He said to me, 'Eatest thou this of
thy own free will?'  Then he began to soar upwards, and called out
to me from afar:  'Tell all thy comrades, the Cantonists:  Your
reward is great.  Every sigh of yours is a prayer, every good
thought of yours is a good action!  Only beware, lest you die of
hunger; then surely you will merit eternal punishment!'

"I awoke.  Since then we eat all kinds of forbidden food.  The main
thing is that we have remained Jews, and that as Jews we shall
return home to our parents.  It is clear to me now that the Holy
One, blessed by He, will not consider all that a sin on our part!"

I felt as if a heavy load had been taken off my shoulders.  My eyes
began to flow with tears of gladness.  Then, having once started my
confession, I decided to confess to my second sin also.  Meanwhile
Simeon had pulled the bread and the meat out of my bag.

"Glutton!" exclaimed Yekil, angrily.  "Have you forgotten that it is
the night of the Fast of the Ninth of Av?"

The boy, ashamed, returned the things to the bag, and moved away a
few steps.  Then I told Yekil all that had passed between me and
Marusya, and tried unconsciously to defend her in every way.  I
think I exaggerated a good deal when I tried to show that Marusya
liked the Jews very much, indeed.

"And what was the end of it?" asked Yekil, with some fear.  "Did she
really kiss you?"  The other boys echoed the question.  I looked
down, and said nothing.

"Is she good-looking?"

I still gave no answer.

"I have forgotten your name.  What is it?"


"Now listen, Samuel, this is a very serious affair.  It is much
worse than what is told of Joseph the righteous.  Do you understand?
 I do not really know how to make it clear to you.  It is very
dangerous to find good and true friends right here in exile, in the
very ranks of our enemies."

"Why?" wondered I.

"I cannot tell you, but this is how I feel.  Insulted and outraged
we have been brought here; insulted and outraged we should depart
from here.  Ours is the right of the oppressed; and that right we
must cherish till we return home."

"I do not understand!"

Jacob looked at me sharply, and said: "Well, I have warned you; keep
away from her."

His words entered into the depths of my heart.  I bowed my head
before Yekil, and submitted to his authority.  That was the way we
all felt:  Yekil had only to look at us to subject us to his will.
It was hard to resist him.

I felt a great change in myself:  I had been relieved of the weight
of two sins.  Of one I had been absolved completely, and the other I
had confessed in public and repented of.  I gladly joined the little
congregation, and we returned to our Psalms, which we recited
instead of Lamentations.  At the conclusion I proposed that we chant
the Psalm "By the rivers of Babylon," which we all knew by heart.

And we, a congregation of four little Jews, stood up in the valley
on the estate of Peter Khlopov, concealed by steep hills and by the
darkness of the night: thieves for the benefit of our masters, and
mourners of Zion on our own account. . . .  And we chanted out of
the depths of our hearts:

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept, remembering Zion."
. . .

We chanted the whole of it, sat down and wept, remembering at the
same time all we had gone through ourselves, and also the position
we were in at that time.--

Here old Samuel shuddered and stopped abruptly.  The sun had set,
and he reminded himself that he had forgotten to say his afternoon
prayer.  He jumped down hastily, washed his hands in a near-by pool,
returned to his seat, and became absorbed in his devotion.


By and by the streaks of light disappeared in the twilight sky, and
the wintry night threw the mantle of thick and misty blackness over

Presently I heard the old man conclude his prayer: "When the world
will be reclaimed through the kingship of the Almighty; when all
mortals will acknowledge Thy name. . . . on that day the Lord will
be One, and His name will be One!"

Out of the darkness came the devout words; they seemed to take wing,
as though to pierce the shrouding mist and scatter it; but they
themselves were finally dissolved in the triumph and blackness.
. . .

I did not have to urge the old man to continue his tale.  His
prayers over, he picked up the thread of his narrative, as if
something were driving him to give a full account of what he had
passed through.--

The day I became acquainted with Jacob--continued the old man--I
consider the beginning of a new period in my life.  I became
accustomed to consider him my superior, whose behavior had to be
taken as an example.  Jacob spoke as an authority whenever he did
speak, and he never wavered in his decisions.  Whenever he happened
to be in doubt, his father would "instruct" him in his dreams.  Thus
we lived according to Jacob's decisions and dreams.  I got used to
eating forbidden food, to breaking the Sabbath, and trespassing
against all the ordinances of the ritual without compunction.  And
yet Jacob used to preach to us, to bear floggings and all kinds of
punishments rather than turn traitor to our faith.  So I got the
notion that our faith is neither prayers, nor a collection of
ordinances of varying importance, but something I could not name,
nor point to with my finger.  Jacob, I thought, certainly knows all
about it; but I do not.  All I could was to _feel_ it; so could
Anna.  Otherwise she would not have called me Zhid, and would not
have hated me so much, in spite of seeing me break all the
ordinances of the Jewish ritual.

At times I thought that I and my comrades were captains in God's
army, that all His ordinances were not meant for us, but for the
plain soldiers of the line.  They, the rank and file, must be
subjected to discipline, must know how to submit to authority; all
of which does not apply to the commanding officers.  It seemed to me
that this was what the Holy One, blessed be He, had deigned to
reveal to us through the dreams of Jacob: there is another religion
for you, the elect.  _You_ will surely know what is forbidden, and
what is permitted. . . .

Sometimes, again, I imagined that I might best prove true to my
faith if I set my heart against the temptation that Satan had put
before me in the person of Marusya.  If I turned away from her, I
thought, I might at once gain my share in the future world.  So I
armed myself against Marusya's influence in every possible way.  I
firmly resolved to throw back at her any food she might offer me.
If she laid her hand on me, I would push it away from me, and tell
her plainly that I was a Jew, and she--a nobody.

So I fought with her shadow, and, indeed, got the best of it as long
as she herself was away.  But the moment she appeared, all my
weapons became useless.  She made me feel like one drunk.  I could
not withstand the wild-fire of her eye, nor the charm of her merry
talk, nor the wonderful attraction of her whole person.  At the same
time there was not a trace of deviltry about her: it was simply an
attraction which I could not resist.  And when she laid her soft
hand on me, I bent under it, and gave myself up entirely.  And she
did what she wanted: where buttons were missing, she sewed them on;
and where a patch was needed, she put it in.  She was a little
mother to me.  She used to bring me all kinds of delicacies and
order me to eat them; and I could not disobey her.  In short, she
made me forget Jacob and his teachings.  But the moment I met Jacob
I forgot Marusya's charms, and reminded myself that it was sinful to
accept favors in exile.  Then I would repent of my past actions from
the very depths of my heart--till I again was face to face with
Marusya.  I was between the hammer and the anvil.

My meetings with Jacob were regular and frequent.  After what
according to Jacob's calendar was the Ninth of Av, we met nightly in
the valley on Peter's estate, till a disagreement broke out among
us.  I would not permit the cattle of the whole neighborhood to
browse on the estate of my patron, and Simeon and Reuben would not
agree to let my patron's horses be brought to the meadows of their
patrons.  Our congregation nearly broke up.  But here Jacob
intervened with his expert decision.

"Boys," said he, "you must know that 'going out for the night' is
really a form of stealing.  True, we do not steal for our own
benefit.  Yet, as long as we have a hand in it, we must manage it in
a fair way.  So let us figure out how many horses every one of our
patrons possesses.  And let us arrange the nights according to the
number of horses each of the patrons has.  According to this
calculation we shall change places.  We shall spend more nights in
the meadows of those who have more horses.  That will make 'fair

The plan of Jacob was accepted, not as a proposition, but as an
order.  Since that time we began to "steal with justice."  And our
patrons slept peacefully, delighted with their unpunished thievery,
till a Gentile boy, one Serge Ivanovich, joined us on one of his own
"nights."  He was the son of the village elder, and a cousin of
Peter Khlopov.  He was compelled to obey Jacob, but the next morning
he blabbed about it all over the village.

Of course, our patrons were angry.  Jacob took the whole blame on
himself, and suffered punishment for all of us.  Then "Jacob's
Klaus" was closed, because our patrons gave up sending us out "for
the night."

Well, if you please, their dissatisfaction was not entirely
groundless: they found themselves fooled by us, and cheated in a
way.  For every one of them had been thinking that his horse would
bring him some profit every night, equal to the value of the horse's
browsing.  Seven nights, seven times that profit; thirty nights,
thirty times that profit. . . .  All at once these "profits" had
vanished: it turned out that every horse had been browsing at the
expense of his own master; so the expected profits became a total
loss.  Of course, stealing is stealing.  But then, they argued, had
the Zhid youngsters any right to meddle with their affairs?  Was it
their property that was being stolen?  As one of my Gentile
acquaintances told me once: "The trouble with the Jews is that they
are always pushing themselves in where they are not wanted at all."

Indeed, it was this fault of ours that Serge kept pointing out to me
and berating us for.  Well, Jacob's Klaus had been closed.  But we
managed to get together in different places.  Once in a while we
came to see one another at our patron's houses, and they did not

I do not know who told Marusya what kind of a chap Jacob was, and
what he thought of her; but she hated him from the moment she first
saw him, when he came to visit me.

"He is a real savage," she would say.  "I never saw such a Jew.  I
am simply afraid of him.  I am afraid of those wild eyes of his.  I
detest him, anyway."  That is what she used to tell me.

Whenever Jacob came to see me, and Marusya happened to be in the
room, she would walk out immediately, and would not return before he
was out of the house.  I rather liked it.  I could not be giving in
to both of them at the same time.

Such were the surroundings that shaped my life during those days.
Peter befriended me; but Anna kept on worrying me and making me
miserable.  Marusya loved me as a sister loves a brother, and the
fire of her eyes ate into my heart.  Jacob kept preaching to me that
it was wrong to accept favors from Gentiles, and that we had to
fight for our faith.  Serge became my bitter enemy from the time he
betrayed our scheme of "honest stealing."

To top it all, my sergeant tried to put me through the paces of the
military drill, and succeeded.

But my own self seemed to have been totally forgotten and left out
of the account.

By and by the summer passed, and most of the following winter; and
in the Khlopov household preparations were made for some holiday, I
forget which.  Those days of preparation were our most miserable
days in exile.  When Anna was busy on the eve of a holiday, I could
not help remembering our own Sabbath eves at home, the Sabbath days
in the Klaus, as well as the other holidays, and all the things that
are so dear to the heart of the Jewish boy.  That was the time when
I felt especially lonely and homesick; it was as though a fever were
burning within me.  Then neither tears nor even Marusya's company
did me any good.  I felt as if red-hot coals had been packed up
right here in my breast.  Did you ever feel that way?  I felt like
rolling on the ground and pressing my chest against something hard.
I felt I was going mad.  I felt like jumping, crying, singing, and
fighting all at once.  I felt as if even lashes would be welcome,
simply to get rid of that horrible heartache.

On that particular day Khlopov was late in coming home.  Marusya
remarked that she had seen her father enter the tavern.  Then Anna
began to curse "our Moshko," the tavern keeper.  Marusya objected:

"Tut, tut, mother, is it any of Moshko's fault?  Does he compel papa
to go there?  Does he compel him to drink?"

Then Anna few into a temper, and poured out a torrent of curses and
insults on Marusya.  I don't know what happened to me then.  My
blood was up; my fists tightened.  It was a dangerous moment; I was
ready to pounce upon Anna.  I did not know that Marusya had been
watching me all the while from behind, and understood all that was
passing within me.  Presently the door opened, and Khlopov entered,
rather tipsy, hopping and jigging.  That was his way when in his
cups.  When he was under the influence of liquor, his soul seemed to
spread beyond its usual limits and light up his face with smiles.
At such moments he would be ready to hug, to kiss, or to cry; or
else to curse, to fight, and to laugh at the same time.

Right here you can see the difference between the Jew and the
Gentile.  The finer soul of the Jew may contract and settle on the
very point of his nose.  But the grosser soul of the Gentile needs,
as it were, more space to spread over.  This, I believe, is why
Khlopov never failed to get a clean shave on the eve of every

As soon as Khlopov had entered the room, he began to play with me
and Marusya.  He gave us candy, and insisted on dancing a jig with

Anna met him with a frown:  "Drunk again?"  But this time her eyes
seemed to have no power over Khlopov.  He could not stand it any
longer, and gave tit for tat.  "Zhidovka!" he shouted.  I looked at
Anna: she turned red.  Marusya blushed.  Khlopov sobered up, and his
soul shrank to its usual size.  Anna went to her room.  The spell
was broken.

The word "Zhidovka" hurled at Anna made me start back.  What could
it mean, I wondered.  I felt sorry for Khlopov, for Marusya, for
Anna, and for the holiday mood that had been spoilt by a single
word.  And it seemed to me it was my fault to some extent.  Who, I
thought, had anything in common with Zhidovka if not myself?  Or was
it Khlopov?--

Here the old man was interrupted by the neighing of the horses.

The forward horse seemed to be getting proud of the comparative
freedom he enjoyed, and bit his neighbor, only to remind him of it.
The latter, unable to turn around in the harness, resented the
insult by kicking.  But then the driver plied the whip, and there
was peace again.

"Would you take the trouble to dismount?  Just walk up that hill: it
will do you good to warm yourselves up a little after sitting so
long in one place."

That was the driver's suggestion; and as no one refuses obedience to
drivers on the road, we dismounted.


The next day--resumed the old man--the situation became a little
clearer to me.  Marusya told me that according to the gossip of the
village her mother was a converted Jewess.  She, Marusya, was not so
sure of it.  Her father would call her mother a Jewess once in a
while, but that happened only when he was drunk.  So she did not
know whether he merely repeated the village gossip, or had his own
information in the matter.  And when she asked her mother, the
latter would fly into a temper.

"Papa himself," said Marusya, "likes Jews; but mother hates them.  I
like papa more than mamma; I also like Jews; I often play with
Moshko's girls when mother is not around.  I do not understand why
mother dislikes Jews so much."

Then Marusya insisted I should tell her the real truth about the
Jews, as they are at home: were they like myself, or like Jacob, the
wild one?  But I stopped listening to her chatter, and began to
think of what she had told me about her mother.  For in case it was
true that Anna was a convert, then--why, then Marusya herself was
half a Jewess.  I decided to solve the mystery.

Now let me tell you that as a result of our Cantonist training we
were not only as bold as eagles, as courageous as lions, as swift as
the deer in doing the will of our patrons, but also as sly as foxes
in finding a way out of a difficulty.  And, by the way, that was
also the opinion of our late commander, Colonel Pavel Akimovich.  A
keen-eyed commander and a kind-hearted master was he, may his lot be
in Paradise among the godly men of the Gentile tribes.  Yes, if he
was an eagle, we were his chicks; if he was a lion, we were his
whelps!  This is what he used to say:  "In time of need, you have no
better soldier than the Jew.  But then you must know how to use him.
 Do not give him too many instructions, and do not try to explain it
all to him from beginning to end.  If you instruct him too much, he
will be afraid to do any scheming on his own hook, and you will be
the loser.  Just give him your order, and tell him what the order is
for.  Then you may be sure he will get it for you, even if he should
have to go to hell for it!"  This is what Colonel Pavel Akimovich
used to say of us.

Now, once I decided to find out Anna's secret, I thought it all out
beforehand, as a Cantonist should; and I hit upon a plan.

That was at the beginning of spring.  One day Khlopov left on a
journey to the neighboring villages to collect the taxes.  He had to
stay away some time.  The whole of that day Anna kept worrying me as
usual.  She sent me on unnecessary errands, she wanted me to be in
two places at the same time.  She yelled, she cursed, she shook me,
and mauled me, she pulled me by the ears.  She knew well how to make
one miserable.  When night came, I went to sleep in the anteroom;
that was my bedroom.  Anna was abed, but not asleep.  Marusya had
long been asleep.  Then Anna remembered that she had forgotten to
close the door leading to the anteroom, and she ordered me to get up
and close it.  I made believe I was sleeping soundly, and began to
snore loudly.  She kept on calling me, but I kept on snoring.
Suddenly I began to cry, as if from the sleep:  "O mother, leave
Anna alone.  She too is a mother!  Pity her family!"

Anna became silent.  I half opened my eyes and looked at her through
the open door.  A candle was burning on the table near her bed, and
I could see that she was frightened, and was listening intently.
then I continued, somewhat differently:  "I beg of you, mother, is
it her fault?  Doesn't she feed me?  Isn't she a mother too?"

Then I began to cry as if in my sleep.  "What?"  I asked suddenly,
"Anna?!  Anna--a Jewess too?!"

Then I noticed that Anna was watching Marusya's bed.  I saw she was
afraid Marusya might overhear what was not intended for her ears.
She put on her night robe, came to my bed, and began in a whisper:
"Are you sleeping?  Get up, my boy, wake up!"

I did "wake up," and put on a frightened appearance.  "What did you
cry about?" she asked.  "I dreamt something terrible."  "What did
you dream about"  I kept silent.  "Tell me, tell me!" she insisted.
"I saw my mother in a dream."  "Is she alive yet?"  I told a lie.  I
said my mother was long dead.  "And what did she tell you?"  "She
said that . . . ."  "Tell me, tell me!"  "I cannot repeat that in
Russian."  "Then say it in Yiddish."  I looked with make-believe
surprise at Anna.  "She said: 'I shall come to Anna at night and
choke her, if she doesn't give up abusing you.'"  At this Anna
turned red.  I continued:  "And she said also, 'Anna ought to have
pity on Jewish children, because she is a Jewess herself.'" . . . .

My scheme worked well.  Anna began to treat me in an entirely
different way, and my position in the house not only improved, but
became the opposite of what it had been.  At times, when no one was
around, she even spoke Yiddish to me.  Apparently she liked to
remain alone in the house with me and chat with me.  You must know,
her position in the village was all but agreeable.  She had very few
acquaintances; and she would have been better off without any.  When
she happened to have visitors, a mutual suspicion at once became
apparent, in their behavior and their talk.  There was much more
flattery, much more sweetness of speech than is common among people.
 One could see that each spoke only to hide her innermost thoughts.
Every conversation ended as it began: with gossip about women who
were not zealous enough in matters of church attendance.  And when
it came to that, Anna invariably blushed, simply because she was
afraid she might blush.  Then, feeling the blood coming to her face,
she would try to hide her confusion, and would chatter away
ceaselessly, to show how punctual she was herself in church matters.
 On taking leave, Anna's friends would exchange significant glances,
and Anna would have been either too stupid or else too wise not to
notice the sting of those sly looks.

As to Peter, he treated Anna fairly well; and when they happened to
quarrel, it was mostly her own fault.  One night--it was long after
I had found out Anna's secret--I happened to be sleepless, and I
overheard Anna talking angrily to Peter.  She was scolding him for
having forgotten to prepare oil for the lamp before the ikon of some
saint.  It was that saint's day, and Khlopov had either forgotten or
neglected it.  He was very careless in church matters, and Anna
never got tired of taking him to task for it.  This time she didn't
leave off nagging him, till he lost patience, and said:  "Were I
really as religious as you want me to be, I should have taken to
wife a woman who--well, who is a real Christian herself."  Perhaps
Peter never meant to insult Anna by reminding her of that which she
wished to forget.  Or perhaps Peter thought he had offered a valid
excuse.  But Anna was offended and turned around crying.

The trouble with Anna was that she was very sensitive.  That was a
trait of hers.  When she heard something said about herself, she
never was satisfied with the plain meaning of what was said, but
tried to give the words every other possible meaning.  Every chance
remark she happened to overhear she took to be meant for herself.
Well, this same sensitiveness one may find in most of the
Cantonists.  For instance, in the regiment of General Luders, in
which I served once, we had many Tatars, some Karaites, and a goodly
number of Jews.  To all appearances there was no trouble; but let
one soldier call another "Antichrist," and every Jew in the regiment
would get excited.  The Tatars and the Karaites rather liked to call
their comrades Antichrist, even if they happened to be Christians.
But it was only the Jews whom the word set a-shivering.  It is as I
tell you--the Jew is painfully sensitive.  Well, to cut my story
short, Anna did not have a happy time of it.  She was all alone,
surrounded though she was by many people.  She became taciturn in
spite of herself.  And this is a great misfortune when it happens
with womenfolk.  Women are naturally great talkers, and you may do
them much harm, if you do not give them a chance to talk.  So I
became her crony as soon as I discovered her secret.  Then she tried
to make up for the many years of silence by chattering incessantly.
In her long talks she often said things she had denied before.  Once
she told me that she felt a longing to see her relations and
townspeople.  But the next time she said that she hated them
mightily.  Very likely she did not hate them.  We all dislike that
which has caused us pain and harm.  So Anna disliked her relations
for having caused her remorse, homesickness, and perhaps shame.
Once her tongue was loosed, she did not stop until she had poured
out the proverbial nine measures given to woman as her share of the
ten measures of speech in the world.  She spoke Yiddish even in the
presence of Marusya and of Jacob, who used to visit me once in a
while.  By and by Anna began to treat him in a very friendly way.
Only Marusya avoided him, and never spoke a word to him.  She simply
hated him.

Thus in time the house of Anna became something like a Jewish
settlement, or rather like some sort of a Klaus, especially when
Pater was away from home.  We all used to gather there, and talk
Yiddish, just as in a Klaus.  For under Anna's roof we felt
perfectly free.  She became a mother to the homeless Cantonists.
Even marusya took to jabbering a little Yiddish.  Jacob began to
feel that the leadership of our little community was passing into
the hands of Anna, and he became jealous.  He did not see that the
very fact that he too was falling under her spell was influencing
our community greatly, and that thus he was stamping it with his own

Anna liked him more than she did any one of us.  Moreover, she
respected him.  At times it looked as if she were somewhat afraid of

Now you must know that at bottom Anna had never deserted her
religion.  Instead, she carried the burdens of both religions; to
the fear of the Jewish hell she seemed to have added the fear of the
Christian hell.  I suspect that she was still in the habit of
reciting her Hebrew prayer before going to sleep.  She also believed
in dreams.  In this respect all women are the same.  Of course, she
had her dreams, and Jacob thought himself able to interpret them; he
used to seek her company for that purpose.

So we all began to feel very much at home in Anna's house.

Once it happened that Peter entered the house at a moment when we
were all so much absorbed in our Yiddish conversation that we did
not notice his presence.  He sat down quietly among us and took part
in our talk, smiling in his usual manner.  He asked us some
questions, and we answered him.  Then we asked him something, and he
answered us in pure, good Yiddish, as if there were nothing new or
surprising about it.  At last Marusya awoke, and exclaimed with glad
surprise:  "Papa, can you speak Yiddish too?"  We all shuddered, as
if caught stealing.  Peter's smile broadened, covering the whole of
his face.

"Did you imagine that I do not know it?  I wish you could speak it
as well as I do."

That made me suspect that Peter might have been himself a convert
from Judaism, and I decided to ask Anna bout it.  She cleared up my
doubts very soon.  She told me that Peter had been brought up in an
exclusively Jewish town; he had been employed there as a clerk in
the Town Hall.  As he always had to deal with jews, he finally
learned their language.  She told me at the same time that Peter
rather liked Jews, and that he was a man of more than ordinary
ability; otherwise, she said, it would have been very foolish on her
part to leave the religion of her father for the sake of Peter.

"What did you say was the name of your native town?" I asked out of
sheer curiosity.  She named my native town.  I felt a shiver go
through me.  "And what was your father's name?" I asked again,


"Was he a wine-dealer?"

"Yes; and how do you know it?  Are you of the same town?"

I told her my father's name, and we clasped hands in surprise.--

While the old man was telling his tale, the clouds dispersed.  I
looked upwards: the dark sky spread vaultlike above us studded with
stars, some in groups, some far apart.  Then I remembered what the
Lord had promised to our father Abraham:  "And I shall multiply thy
seed as the stars in heaven."  And I thought I saw in the sky naught
but so many groups of Jews: some kept in exile, some confined within
the nebulae of the Milky Way. . . .  But even then, it seemed to me,
there was a strong attraction, a deep sympathy between them all, far
apart and scattered though they were.  Even so they formed
aggregations of shining stars--far apart, yet near. . . .


The wind began to grow cold; we pressed close to one another to keep
warm.  The old man drew his old coat tightly about him, and
continued his story:--

Well, we of our little community threw off the yoke of the old
Torah, yet refused to accept the yoke of the new Torah.
Nevertheless our lives were far from being barren.  Our longing for
the things we were forbidden to practise prompted us to invent a
good many new usages.  For instance, long before we had the freedom
of Anna's house, we managed to meet every Saturday to exchange a few
words in Yiddish; two or three words were sufficient to satisfy our
sense of duty.  Those meetings were among the things for the sake of
which we were ready to run any risk of discovery.  Of course, we
dared not recite our Modeh-Ani: our patrons might have overheard us,
and that meant a sure flogging.  But we practised repeating the
prayer mentally, and we always managed to do it with our faces
turned in the direction from which we thought we had come, and where
our native towns were situated.  Jacob had a little piece of cloth,
a remnant of an Arba-Kanfos.  The Tzitzis had long been torn away,
to prevent discovery and avoid punishment; but what was left of it
we kept secretly, and we used to kiss it at opportune moments, as if
it were a scroll of the Torah.

Then we made a point of abstaining from work at least one hour every
Saturday and on the days that were the Jewish holidays according to
Jacob's calendar.  On the other hand, work was considered obligatory
on Sundays and on Christian holidays.  Tearing up some papers or
starting a fire was thought sufficient.

These and many other usages we invented, slowly, one after another.
In time we got into the habit of observing them very punctiliously,
even after we had made ourselves at home in Anna's house.  But over
and above all Jacob never gave up preaching to me that it was wrong
on the part of an oppressed Jew to accept favors from a non-Jew.
And this he preached without ever noticing that he was himself
giving in to temptation when he accepted favors and kindnesses from
Anna.  As to Marusya, he always found a pretext to separate us
whenever he met me in her company.  I was very angry with him for
that, but I could not tell him so openly.  At last it came to such a
pass that Marusya lost all patience, and made me the scapegoat.  She
stopped having anything to do with me.

Now that was a real misfortune as far as I was concerned.  For only
then did I come to realize how much I was attached to the girl.  I
felt an utter emptiness in my heart; I began to feel myself a total
stranger in the house.  When everybody was talking merrily, I kept
quiet, as if I were a mourner.  I was always looking for Marusya, I
was always trying to catch her eye.  I hoped that our eyes would
meet, that she would at least look at me.  But she kept on avoiding
me.  No, she did not avoid me: she simply did not seem to know that
I was in the house.  I was exasperated; and when once I came face to
face with Jacob, I lost my temper, and berated him roundly,
attacking him on his weakest side:

"Is it on me that you are spying?  How many favors, if you please,
have you accepted yourself from Anna?  Perhaps your father gave you
a special dispensation in your dreams?"

To all of this Jacob replied very calmly: "First of all, your
analogy does not hold, for you and Marusya are both youngsters.
And, second, even supposing I were sinning, it is your fault then,
too; for it is clearly your duty to warn me.  At the same time, you
can imagine how much the whole thing grieves me."

Well, after all, I was ready to forgive him his sins, provided he
overlooked mine. . . . .

Yes, that happened on a Saturday.  We were all standing in line on
the drill grounds.  I was in the first line, and Jacob was directly
behind me in the second line.  We were going through the paces of
the so-called three-step exercise.  It was this way: the soldier had
to stretch his left leg forward on a somewhat oblique line, so that
the sole of his foot touched the ground without resting on it.  That
was the first pace, the hardest of all, as we had to stand on one
leg, with the other a dead weight.  In this position we had to keep
standing till the command was given for the second pace.  At that
moment we had to shift to our left leg, and quickly bend the right
leg at the knee-joint at a right angle.  Thus we had to stand till
the command was given for the third pace, when we had to unbend the
right leg and bring it forward.  On that day we were kept at the
first pace unusually long.  My muscles began to twitch, and I felt
as if needles were pricking me from under the skin.  Suddenly I felt
as if I had lost my footing, and was suspended in the air.  Then I
fell.  This was my first mishap on that day.  The sergeant made
believe that he did not notice it, and I congratulated myself,
hoping it would pass unremarked.

The sergeant was busy with the last of our line: somehow he did not
like the way he was standing.  Just then, in a crazy fit of
contrariness, I felt a sudden desire to fulfil my duty of talking a
few words of Yiddish on Saturday.  I turned my head and whispered to
Jacob in Yiddish:  "He is going to keep us here the whole day!  When
shall we have our hour's rest?"  At that moment the sergeant passed
between the lines, and overheard me speaking Yiddish.  O yes, they
have sharp ears, those drill-masters.  As you know, speaking Yiddish
was considered a great breach of discipline, which never passed
unpunished.  It always meant a whipping.  So I had made myself
guilty of two offenses.  On that day I did not go home empty-handed:
 I got an order to report the next morning to receive my twenty
lashes.  I received my order like a soldier, saluted, and seemed
cool about it--for the time being.  That pleased the sergeant
greatly; he was a thorough soldier himself, and heartily hated
tenderfeet and cowards.  He looked at me approvingly, and said:
"Because you have always been a good soldier, I shall make the
punishment easier for you.  You have the privilege of dividing the
number of lashes in two: ten you get to-morrow, and ten you may put
off for some other time."  That was the customary way of making the
punishment easier in the cases when the Cantonist was either too
weak to take in the whole number of lashes at once, or was thought
to deserve consideration otherwise.  A temporary relief it certainly
was; but in the end the relief was worse than the punishment itself.
 Between the first half of the punishment and the other half, life
was a burden to the culprit: he could neither eat, nor drink, nor
sleep in peace.  Every moment he felt as if his back were not his
own, that he merely had borrowed it for a while, and sooner or later
he would have to stretch himself on the ground, to bear the weight
of a rider on his neck and of another on his feet, and have the rods
fall on him with a swish: one, two, three. . . .

And the pain was awful.  It felt as if the skin were being torn away
in strips.  A new lash on the fresh cut, and another strip was torn
out; then another strip across the two.  One felt like yelling, but
the throat was dry.  One felt like scratching the ground, but the
finger nails had long become soft.  One felt like biting one's own
flesh, but one had no power over himself so long as a man was
sitting on his neck and pinning it tight to the ground.  It was hard
enough to stand the ordeal itself, as hard as hell.  But it was
still harder to bear in mind that such a punishment was coming.  It
felt as if one was being flogged every moment.  So, in the stress of
the moment, I found my speech.  "Sir," said I, saluting, "I would
rather stand twenty-five lashes at once than have the twenty lashes
divided in two parts."

"Why?" asked the sergeant.

"Because a Russian soldier has no time to keep accounts that concern
only his own back.  He has no right to forget his military duties
even for a single moment."

Here the sergeant gave me an approving smile, and reduced the twenty
lashes to ten.  Then Jacob stepped forward, stood at attention,
saluted, and said:

"Sir, it is not his fault, but mine.  It was I who spoke to him.  He
was silent.  As to his falling during the drill, that was also my
fault:  I made him stumble.  I am ready to stand the punishment,
because I am the guilty one."

The sergeant threw a quick, admiring glance at Jacob, and said:

"Your intentions are certainly good, because you wish to sacrifice
yourself for your friend.  You might serve as a model for all the
young soldiers.  Boys, do you hear?  Love one another as Jacob loves
his guilty friend!  But you must know that your sergeant is not to
be fooled; his eyes are everywhere, and he certainly knows the
guilty one!"

When I went home, I felt neither glad nor despondent; I felt as if I
did not exist at all--as if my very body did not belong to me, but
had been borrowed for a few hours.  That night I woke up many times;
I felt as if snakes were crawling over my flesh.  I got up early the
next morning.  Marusya was yet in bed, half awake.

"Where are you going?" asked Anna, standing in my way.  I kept
silent for a while, then I made a clean breast of it all.  Anna
shook her head at me, and said with tears glistening in her eyes:
"Poor fellow, and where are you going to?"

"I am going to the sergeant's; if it has been decreed, let it be
done quickly."

"Why should you go hungry?"

"That does not matter."  I waved my hand, and walked away slowly.
One the way I met some people, but I did not greet them; some people
overtook me, but I did not even notice them pass.  I had nothing in
my mind except my own shoulders and the stinging rods.  And for a
moment I really lost heart; I acted like a tenderfoot instead of a
Cantonist.  I was ready to cry; my tears were choking me, as if I
were mamma's only darling.  It was about a two hours' walk to the
sergeant's.  When I arrived there, I stood outside and waited for
him.  Then I thought I heard the sound of some not unfamiliar voice:
arguments, expostulations, again arguments.  Somebody was talking
earnestly behind the closed door.  I could not make out what was
said.  Neither did I have any desire to know what it was all about.
I was very impatient.  I longed for the sergeant to come out and do
the thing he had to do to me.  I wished for all to be over and done
with--that I had already been carried to the hospital and been
bandaged; that the days in the hospital had gone; that I had
recovered and had been dismissed.  But at the same time I hoped the
sergeant might be a little slow in coming out, and that my pain
might be postponed for a little while.  In short, I was divided
against myself: I had two wishes, one excluding the other.  Suddenly
the door opened, and on the threshold was standing--do you know who?
 Marusya!  Yes, dear God, it was Marusya.  She was standing at the
right of the sergeant.  With one hand he was playing with her locks,
and in the other he was holding both her hands.  Then he turned to

"Hourvitz, this young lady has interceded in your favor.  And a
soldier is in honor bound to respect the request of such a nice
girl.  So, for her sake, all is forgiven this time.  Go home!"

At that moment I was ready to take forty lashes, if only I might
remove the sergeant's hands from off Marusya.  I went home at a very
slow pace, so that Marusya might overtake me on the road.  I thought
she might talk to me then.  I meant to ask her how she had gotten
ahead of me without my noticing her.  The minutes seemed hours; I
thought she would never come out of the house.  Then a crazy idea
struck me--to return to the sergeant's house and see what had
happened to Marusya.  After all, I thought, what can the sergeant do
to me more than have me whipped?  At that moment I thought little of
the rods; it seemed to me just then that the rods did not hurt so
much after all, and the pain they caused was only temporary; it was
hardly worth while giving the matter much thought.  And, I am sure,
for the moment I had lost all sense of pain.  Had they flogged me
then, I should not have felt any pain.  I turned back.  Luckily I
did not have to go as far as the sergeant's house; I met Marusya on
the way.  She passed me, looking right and left, as if I were a mere
stone lying on the roadside.

"Marusya!" I called after her.  But she kept on walking ahead, as if
she had not heard me.  "Marusya," I cried again, "is that the way
you are going to treat me?!  Why, then, did you save me from the

She stopped for a moment, as though thinking of something.  Her
handkerchief fell from her hand.  She sighed deeply, picked up the
handkerchief, and resumed her walk.  I returned to the village
alone.  Anna met me with tears of joy in her eyes.  I broke out into
tears myself, without really knowing why.  I caught Marusya's eye,
but her look was a puzzle to me.--

Presently our horses began to trot at a lively pace; they felt the
road sloping downhill.  The driver, who had long been nodding in his
seat, was suddenly shaken out of his slumbers.  He woke up with a
start, and flourished his whip; which is a habit acquired in his
trade.  Uphill or downhill, your coach-drive is bound to work with
his whip.  Let him be disturbed, no matter when,--even when he drops
into a doze in his Klaus on a Yom-Kippur night--he will invariably
shake his hand at the intruder as if swinging his whip.

As the horses increased their speed, the baying of dogs became
audible; a village was not far off.  Cheering and inviting as the
distant chorus sounded, it resolved itself by and by into single
barks, and every bark seemed to say, "Away with you,"  "Stand back,"
 "No strangers admitted," and the like.  A gust of wind brought to
our nostrils warmish air laden with all kinds of smells: smells of
smouldering dung, of garbage, and of humanity in general.  Soon
lights began to twinkle from huddled shanties and from broad-faced
houses, as if welcoming our arrival.  It looked as if the village
were priding itself on its lights, and boasting before Heaven:  "See
how much stronger I am: sunk in the deep slush of a dirty valley, I
have my own lights, and my own stars within myself."

The village seemed to have shrunk within the limits of its own nest,
glad that it need not know the ills and the hardships of travel.

The driver ordered an hour's rest.


After we had warmed ourselves a little in the village inn, we
returned to our seats in the coach, and the drive continued his
"talk" with the horses.  The old man resumed his story:--

Well, I had fallen into debt; and my two creditors were very hard to
satisfy.  Jacob had offered, though vainly, to sacrifice his skin
for mine and suffer the lashes intended for me.  Marusya took the
trouble to walk all the way to the sergeant's house and talk with
him, to save me from punishment.  Thus I was indebted to both of
them, but with a difference.  While trying to belittle the good
intentions of jacob, I tried at the same time to belittle my
obligation to him, whose authority was fast becoming irksome.
Marusya, on the other hand, refused to accept my thanks. . . . .

Well, by that time I had long considered myself a good young
soldier.  I knew I was growing in the favor of my superiors.  The
sergeant had praised me repeatedly, in my presence and in my
absence.  I began to feel my own worth, to cherish military
aspirations, and to burn with the ambition of a soldier.  Many a
time I dreamt I was promoted from the ranks, had become a colonel,
and was promoted to a higher rank still. . . .  I fought in battles,
performed wonderful feats. . . .

About that time they began to talk in the army about the Turks.
Jacob and I had our differences with respect to them.  He tried to
prove to me that the Turks, being the sons of Ishmael, were our
cousins.  But I did not believe it.  I did not wish to believe it,
in spite of everything.  He claimed that the children of Ishmael
were heroes, brave as lions.  But I used to say, "Just give me ten
Turks, and I shall put them out of business with one shot!"

On account of these talks Jacob and I began to avoid one another's
company.  He was too hard on me, with his endless contradictions,
admonitions, and warnings.

One day we went out target shooting.  Jacob fired twelve shots in
succession, at long range, and every shot was a bull's eye.  He
outdid all his comrades on that day.  Then the sergeant put his hand
on Jacob's shoulder, and said:  "Bravo, Jacob!  I see a coming
officer in you!  Have you a petition to make of me for something I
can grant?"  Then Jacob saluted, and asked to be permitted to recite
his Hebrew prayers daily and rest on Saturdays.  The sergeant
smiled, and granted Jacob's request.

I may just as well tell you now that long before this incident the
authorities had lost all hope of getting us converted to the ruling
faith.  They became convinced that we did not budge so much as an
inch, in spite of all the pressure and tortures we had to stand.
they realized at last that only compulsion could make us say certain
prayers before the crucifix every morning.  So by and by they gave
it up.  And Jacob's request was not so hard to grant after all.

From that moment Jacob became a bitter enemy of the Turks.  He
pictured them as midgets, and named his patron's dog "Turk."  Aside
from all this there was a general change in Jacob's disposition; it
was something that one could only feel, but not exactly see.

We had a very hard winter that year, quite different from what we
have now.  Nowadays the very seasons of the year seem to have
softened: new generations--new people; new times--new winters.  Why,
only last mid-winter I saw the rabbi's daughter-in-law pass through
the streets bareheaded.  In the mid-summer she drank hot tea, and
caught a cold in her teeth.  It is all the way I am telling you: the
word is turned topsyturvy.  In olden times a married woman would not
dare uncover her hair even in the presence of her husband; it was
also thought dangerous even for a man to go out bareheaded in winter
time; and nobody ever caught a cold in midsummer.  Nowadays things
are different: only last winter I saw soldiers shiver with cold,
while in our time a soldier was ashamed to show he was afraid of the
cold.  Yes, new generations, new soldiers; new times, new seasons.
. . .

In short, that winter was a very hard one: heavy snowfalls,
snow-storms, and no roads.  The peasants could not go outside of the
village; they had to stay home, and being idle and lonesome, they
celebrated their weddings at that convenient season.  Many people
used to go to their weddings merely as sight-seers, I among them,
for my sergeant gave me plenty of freedom.  I had been excused from
a large part of the drill; it was really superfluous as far as I was
concerned.  I had long learned all there was to learn.  So I had
much leisure to knock about in.  Well, my sergeant rather liked us
grown-up Cantonists.  We were, with hardly an exception, very good
soldiers indeed.  And, after all, what was the hope of the sergeant,
if not the praise of his superior, "Bravo, sergeant!"  He liked to
hear it, just as we ourselves liked to hear his "Bravo, boys, well

One of the weddings of that season happened to take place in the
house of the richest peasant of the village, one of those peasants
who try to rise above their class.  It goes without saying that
among the invited guests was the very cream of the village society:
the few Government officials, the village elder, the clerk of the
village, our sergeant, etc.  Yes, as to our sergeant, he was a jolly
sort of fellow.  He enjoyed a good laugh himself, and liked to hear
others laugh.  He liked to pass jokes with his soldiers, too.  But
then he was always the first to laugh at his own jokes; it seemed as
if he might laugh himself to death.  Of course, his hearty laughter
made one laugh with him, joke or no joke.  Yes, he was a good
fellow; may he, too, have his place among the righteous in Paradise.
 True, he had us switched once in a while; but that was the way of
the world in those days.  For he, too, grew up and had been promoted
from under the birch-rods.  You know what all this reminds me of?
take this driver, for instance: he is used to belabor his horses
with the whip; and yet he likes them, you may be sure.  Of course,
our sergeant would scold us once in a while, too.  But then his
scolding seemed to hurt him more than us: he looked as if he had
gotten the scolding himself.  The jokers of our company used to say
of him, that he stood up every morning before his own uniform, and
saluted it as it hung on the wall. . . .

In short, he liked to mingle with people and to make merry; then he
was always the happiest of all.

Of course, he also had been invited to that wedding.

Marusya, too, was there, and that was against her habit.  She kept
away from all kinds of public gatherings and festivities.  And right
she was, too, in staying away.  For it was in the company of other
girls that her brooding, melancholy disposition showed itself most
clearly.  Did I say melancholy?  No it was not exactly melancholy.
It was rather the feeling of total isolation, which one could not
help reading on her face.  And a total stranger she certainly was in
that throng.  When she kept quiet, her very silence betrayed her
presence among the chattering girls.  One could almost hear her
silence.  And when she did take part in the conversation, her voice
somehow sounded strange and far away in the chorus of voices.  Her
very dress seemed different, though she was dressed just like any
other of the village girls.  It was in her gait, her deportment, in
her very being that she differed from the rest of the girls.  From
the moment she entered the house she had to run the gauntlet of
inquisitive looks, which seemed to pierce her very body and made her
look like a sieve, as it were.  I looked at Marusya, and it seemed
to me that her face had become longer and her lips more compressed;
her eyes seemed wider open and lying deeper in her sockets.  She
looked shrunken and contracted, very much like my mother on the eve
of the Ninth of Av, when she read aloud the Lamentations for the
benefit of her illiterate women-friends.

Well, that evening the sergeant danced with Marusya, neglecting the
other girls entirely.  They kept on refusing the invitations of the
cavaliers, in the hope that they might yet have a chance to dance
with the sergeant.  The result was that the cavaliers were angry
with the girls; the girls, with Marusya; and I, with the sergeant.

And when a recess was called, something happened: one of the
bachelors, Serge Ivanovich, my old enemy, stood up behind Marusya,
and shouted with all his might, "Zhidovka!"  Then the envious girls
broke out into a malicious giggle.

Marusya turned crimson.  She looked first at the sergeant: he was
curling his mustache, and tried to look angry.  Then Marusya turned
away from him, and I caught her eye.  Well, that was too much for
me.  I could not stand it any longer.  I sprang at Serge and dragged
him to Marusya.  I struck him once and twice, got him by the neck,
and belabored him with the hilt of my sword.

"Apologize!" said I.

Now, no one is obedient as your Gentile once you have him down.  And
Serge Ivanovich did not balk.  He apologized in the very words that
I dictated to him.  Then I let him go.  The sergeant looked at me
approvingly, as if wishing to say, "Well done!"  This prevented the
young men from attacking me.

Marusya left the house, and I followed her.  Once outside, she broke
into tears.  She said something between sobs, but I could not make
out what she meant.  I thought she was complaining of someone,
probably her mother.  I wished very much to comfort her, but I did
not know how.  So we walked on in silence.  The hard, crisp snow was
squeaking rhythmically under our feet, as if we were trying to play
a tune.  And from the house snatches of music reached us, mixed with
sounds of quarreling and merry-making.  It seemed as if all those
sounds were pursuing us:  "Zhid!  Zhid!"  Suddenly a sense of
resentment overtook me, as if I had been called upon to defend the
Jews.  And I blurted out:

"If it is so hard to be insulted once by a youngster who cannot
count his own years yet, how much harder is it to hear insults day
in and day out, year in and year out?"

Marusya looked at me with sparkling eyes.  She thought I was angry
with her and meant her.  Then she wanted to soothe my feelings, and
she said wonderingly:

"Years?  What, pray, did I do to you?  I only wanted you not to
listen to Jacob.  He is a bad man.  He hates me.  He is forever on
the lookout to separate us!"

"He is afraid," said I, "I might yet get converted."

At this Marusya gave me an irresistible look, the look of a mother,
of a loving sister.

"No," she said decidedly, "I shall not let you do that.  You and
your daughters will be unhappy forever.  You know what I have
decided?  I have decided never to get married.  For I know that my
own daughters will always be called Zhidovka."  At this point I
became sorry for the turn our conversation had taken, and I cared no
more for the defense of the Jews.  After a brief silence Marusya
turned to me:

"Why does mother dislike Jews so much?  She surely knows them better
than papa does."

"Very likely she fears being called Zhidovka, as they called you."

"But, then, why did she get herself into that trouble?"

"Ask yourself; she may tell you." . . . .

Never mind what passed between us afterwards.  It does not suit a
man of my age to go into particulars, the way the story-writers do.
Suffice it to tell you that our relations became very much
complicated.  Marusya attached herself to me; she became a sister to

So, after all, Jacob's fears had been well founded from the very
beginning.  I felt I had gotten myself into a tangle, but I did
nothing to escape from it; on the contrary, I was getting myself
deeper and deeper into it.--

Here the old man's eyes flashed with a fire that fairly penetrated
the darkness, and for a moment I thought it was but a youth of
eighteen who was sitting opposite me.  I was glad that the dark hid
the whiteness of the old man's beard from my view.  The white beard
was entirely out of harmony with the youthful ardor of its owner's

There was a silence of a few minutes, and the old man continued his


Hard as Anna's lot was, Peter himself was not very happy either.  I
do not know how things are managed nowadays.  As I told you before,
new times bring new people with new ways.  It never happened in our
day that a Jewish maiden, no matter what class she belonged to,
should throw herself at a young Gentile, and tell him, "Now, I am
ready to leave my faith and my people, if you will marry me."  In
our day there never was a case of apostasy except after a good deal
of courting.  No Jewish girl ever left her faith, unless there was a
proposal of marriage accompanied by much coaxing.  It required a
great deal of coaxing and enticing on the part of the man.  Only
extravagant promises and assurances, which never could be made good,
could prompt a Jewish maiden to leave her faith.  And such had been
the case with Khlopov, as Anna told me afterwards.

Anna, or, as she had been called as a Jewess, Hannah, had spent her
girlhood under the rule of a stepmother.  Peter was a young man
earning a fair salary as a clerk at the Town Hall.  He was a
frequent visitor at Bendet's wine-shop.  And Peter was an expert
judge of the comeliness of Jewish maidens in general and of Anna's
beauty in particular.  So, when Pater did come, he came as a
veritable angel-protector.  He came to save her from the yoke of a
stepmother and make her his wife.  He promised her "golden castles"
and a "paradise on earth."  All that would be hers but for one
obstacle: she had to renounce her faith.  At first Anna was
unwilling.  But the stepmother made Anna as miserable as only human
beings know how.  Then Bendet's business began to go from bad to
worse, so that Anna had very slim prospects of ever exchanging the
yoke of a stepmother for that of a husband.  At the same time Peter
urged his suit, coaxing her more and more.  Anna warned Peter, that
in her new life she might find misery instead of happiness.  She was
sure she would be a stranger to the people with whom she would have
to come in contact.  Should she happen to be below the other women,
they would despise her.  Should she happen to be above them, they
would envy and hate her.  Here she certainly spoke like a
prophetess.  But Peter kept on assuring her that she was the very
best of all women, and that he would be her protector in all
possible troubles.  Then she argued that he might not be happy
himself; that he would have to fight many a battle.  His parents
would surely not agree with him.  His relations would shun him.  In
short, he would be isolated.  Peter laughed at her, and told her
that all her fears were nothing but the imagination of an unhappy
maiden who did not believe in the possibility of ever being happy.
He told her also that not all the women in the world were as bad as
her stepmother.  Still Hannah was unwilling.  Then Peter attacked
her with a new weapon.  He made believe he was ill, and let her know
that if he should die, it would be her fault; and if he did not die,
he would commit suicide, and his last thought would be that the Jews
are cruel, and rejoice in the misfortune of a Christian.  Then Hanna
gave in, did as she was urged, and was renamed Anna.

Now what Anna found in actual life far exceeded what Hannah had
prophesied.  The women of the village kept aloof from her, and for
many reasons.  The first reason was that she never visited the
village tavern.  She never drank any liquor herself, nor treated her
visitors with it.  And nothing in the world brings such people
together as liquor does.  Then the men hated her for the purity and
chastity which she brought from her father's house.  Besides, men
and women alike envied the prosperity of Khlopov's household, which
was due only to Anna's thrift.  All those reasons, as well as many
others, were included in the one word "Zhidovka."  So that word may
stand for anything you choose.  As to Peter's brothers and
relatives, they not only kept away from him but also became his open
or secret enemies.

By and by Peter recognized that Hannah's fears were not the result
of mere imagination, but the true prophecy of a mature young woman,
who had foreseen her own future, and he could not help feeling hurt.
 That bitter thought was possibly the only reason why he frequented
the establishment of "our Moshko."  He wanted to get rid of the
accursed thought; but he did not succeed.  He pined for the time
when he lived among Jews; but Anna could not possibly return to live
among them.  In the meantime Peter sickened, and took to bed.  Anna
knew there was still some litigation pending between Khlopov and his
relations, and his title to the property he held by inheritance was
disputed.  And she always feared the worst: should she survive
Peter, his relations would start proceedings against her, dispossess
her and Marusya, and let them shift for themselves.  Many a time did
Anna mention the matter to Peter in a casual, off-hand way; but he
merely smiled his usual smile, listened, and forgot all about it the
next morning.

Well, that was a weakness of Peter's.  Writing official papers had
been his lifework, and when he had to do writing in his own behalf,
he felt disgusted.  He could not touch the pen when his own affairs
were involved.  Even the writing of a simple letter he used to put
off from day to day.  And when it came to clear up the title to his
holding, he would have had to write papers and fill out documents
enough to load two pack-donkeys.  Small wonder, then, that he kept
putting it off.

But the time came when it was necessary that Anna should speak to
him about the matter; and yet she could not muster up enough courage
to do it.  For at times she thought herself nothing but a stranger
in the place.  Who was she anyway, to inherit the property left by
old Simeon Khlopov, deceased?  On one occasion she asked me to call
Peter's attention to the matter of his title to the property.  I
entered the sick-room and began to discuss the matter cautiously, in
a roundabout way, so as not to excite the patient by implying that
his end might be near.  But my precautions were unnecessary.  He
spoke very cooly of the possibility of his end coming at any moment,
but at the same time he insisted that there was really no need to
hurry, a proper time to settle the matter would be found.

Now here you see one more difference between Jews and Gentiles.  To
look at the Gentiles, would you ever think them all fools?  Why, you
may find many a shrewd man among them, many a man who could get me
and you into his net, as the spider the fly.  But when it comes to
taking care of the next day, the future, they are rather foolish.
They do not foresee things as clearly as the Jew does.  For
instance, do I not work hard to save up money for my daughter's
dowry, even though I hardly expect her to get married for two years
at least?  Do I not try hard to pay off the mortgage on my house, so
as to leave it to my children free and clear?  Say what you will, I
hold to my opinion, that Gentile-folk do not feel the "to-morrow" as
keenly as we do.  If you like, the whole life of a Jew is nothing
but an anticipation of "to-morrow."  Many a time I went without a
meal simply because I forgot to eat, or thought I had eaten already.
 But I never forget anything that concerns the coming day.  I can
hardly explain it to you, but many a time I thought, dull as my
brains were made by my soldier's grub, that the Jew is altogether a
creature of "to-morrow."

Well, Peter listened to me; he saw there was reason in what I told
him; and yet he did not feel that way.  He did not feel the
necessity of acting immediately, and he put it off.

Now, it seems to me that when things come to such a pass between a
Gentile husband and his Jewish wife, the results are bound to be
strange, unusual, and anything but agreeable.  It is all something
like--let me see--something like what is written in the Bible about
the confusion of tongues, when one could not understand the speech
of his fellow.  Indeed, had Peter known that it was Anna who sent me
to him, he would have resented it surely, and would have thought
that she cared more for his inheritance than she cared for him.

And Peter died, after a long illness.

Then Anna had to go through an ordeal she had not yet experienced in
her life of apostasy: she had to go through the ceremony of mourning
according to the prescribed rules.  And her fears regarding the
house turned out to have been but too well founded.  The village
elder, in the name of the rest of the relatives, disputed Peter's
title to the property.  Anna was given a small sum of money, and the
whole piece of property was deeded over to Serge Ivanovich.  As to
Anna and Marusya, they had to be satisfied with the little money
they received.

In the end it turned out that there was a deeper purpose at the
bottom of the whole affair.  That scamp, Serge Ivanovich, understood
very well that in every respect Marusya was above the rest of the
village girls, and he made up his mind to marry her.  To be sure, he
hated the Jews: they always managed to intrude where they were least
wanted; and he never missed an opportunity of insulting Anna and her
daughter.  But that is just the way they all are: they will spit
to-day, to lick it off to-morrow.  At the same time he knew well
enough that Marusya would not be willing to have him.  Yet, in spite
of it all, he sent some friends with the formal message of a
proposal.  As an inducement he promised to deed the whole property
to Anna and Marusya.  Anna seemed willing enough to accept the
offer.  Then Marusya turned to me.  I began to side with Anna.

"You are a liar!" shouted Marusya, turning to me.  And she was
right.  Indeed, I did not wish at all to see Marusya marry Serve.
But I cannot tell why I had said the opposite.  Then Marusya curtly
dismissed the representatives of the suitor.

I decided not to part from the two unhappy women just then and leave
them alone with their misfortune.  But Heaven willed otherwise.  The
Crimean War had been decided upon, and our regiment was the first to
be sent to the front.  So I was taken from my dear friends just when
they needed me most.--


A mixture of light and darkness appeared in a corner of the eastern
sky, something like the reflection of a distant conflagration.  The
light spread farther and farther, and swallowed many a star.  It
looked as if some half-extinguished firebrand of a world had blazed
up again, and was burning brightly once more.  But no! that was
neither a world-catastrophe nor a conflagration: some mysterious new
creation was struggling into existence.  And after the noiseless
storm and battle of lights, the moon appeared, angry-looking, and
ragged-edged.  In the light of the moon the speaker too looked
strange and fantastic, like a relic of a world that is no more.

The old man continued:--

Well, on that day we turned a new leaf in our lives.  Till then we
had been like people who live against their own will, without aim or
object.  We had to get up in the morning, because we had gone to bed
the night before.  We ate, because we were hungry.  We went to our
drills, because we were ordered to go.  And we went to sleep at
night, because we felt tired.  All our existence seemed to be only
for the sake of discipline; and that discipline, again, seemed a
thing in itself.  But the moment they told us of mobilization and
war, our riddle was solved.  It suddenly became clear to us why we
had been caught and brought to where we were, and why we had been
suffering all the time.  It looked as if year in, year out, we had
been walking in the darkness of some cave, and all of a sudden our
path became light.  And we were happy.

I saw Jacob: he, too, looked happy, which had not been his way for
the last few years.  From the moment he had received permission to
pray in Hebrew and observe the Sabbath, his mood had changed for the
worse: he looked as if he were "possessed."  He complained that his
prayers were not so sweet to him any more as they had been before;
and the Sabbath rest was a real burden upon him.  Then, his father
did not appear in his dreams any more.  Besides, he confessed that
he forgot his prayers many a time, and was not very strict as to the
Sabbath.  He feared his prayers were no longer acceptable in Heaven.
 No, said he, that was not his destiny: the Jewishness of a
Cantonist lay only in suffering martyrdom.  But with the news of the
coming war, a change came over him.  He became gay as a child.

One morning, when we were assembled on the drill grounds before the
house of the sergeant, I was called into the house.  "Hourvitz,"
said my good sergeant, turning to me, "three beautiful creatures ask
me not to send you to the fighting line but to appoint you to some
auxiliary company.  Ask, and I shall do so."

"Sir," said I, "if this be your order, I have but to obey; but if my
wish counts for anything, I should prefer to stay with the colors
and go to the fighting line.  Otherwise what was our preparation for
and our training of many years?"

A smile of satisfaction appeared on the face of the sergeant.

"And if you fall in battle?"

"I shall not fall, sir, before I make others fall."

"What makes you feel so sure of it?"

"I cannot tell, sir; but it is enough if I am sure of it."

"Well, I agree with you.  Now let us hear what your fair advocates
have to say."

He opened the door of an adjoining room, and Anna, Marusya, and the
sergeant's wife appeared.  Then a dispute began.  They insisted on
their opinion, and I on mine.

"Let us count votes," said the sergeant.  "I grant you two votes;
together with my own vote it makes three against tree."

Then I looked at Marusya.  She thought a little, and added her vote
to mine.  So the majority prevailed.  When I went outside, Marusya
followed me, and handed me a small parcel.  What I found there,
among other things, was a small Hebrew prayer book, which Marusya
must have gotten at Moshko's, and a small silver cross which she had
always worn around her neck.  We looked at each other and kept
silent: was there anything to be said?

After she had walked away a few steps, she turned around, as if she
had forgotten something.

"And if you return . . .?"

"Then to you I return," was my answer.  She went on, and I turned to
look back in her direction: she also looked back at me.  Later I
turned again to look at her, and she, too, kept looking back, until
we lost sight of each other.

Before Anna could be dispossessed, Heaven wrought a miracle:  Serge
Ivanovich was drafted into the army.  He was attached to our
regiment, and we served in the same company.  In the meantime Anna
remained in possession of the house.


So, after all, they had not been mere sport, those years of
drilling, of exercising, of training to "stand up," to "lie down,"
to "run," etc., etc. . . .

It had been all for the sake of war, and it was to war that we were
going.  My companion in exile, I mean my Barker, did not wish to
part from me.  Ashamed though I am, I must yet call him "my true
friend."  Human beings as a rule forget favors rendered.  This is
the way God has made them.  In very truth, it is only your soldier,
your fellow in exile, and your dog that are able to serve you and
love you at the risk of their own lives.  I chased Barker away, but
he kept on following me.  I struck him: he took the blows, and
licked my hands.  I struck him over the legs with the stock of my
gun.  He broke out in a whine, and ran after me, limping.  Marusya
caught him and locked him up in the stable.  I thought I had gotten
rid of him.  But some hours later I saw him limping after me.  Then
I realized that the dog was fated to share all the troubles of
campaign life with me.  And my Barker became a highly respectable
dog.  The first day he eyed everybody with a look of suspicion.  The
bright buttons and the blue uniforms scared him; possibly because
buttons and uniforms went with stocks of guns like the one that had
given him the lame leg.  By and by Barker picked me and Jacob out
from among the soldiers, and kept near us.  They used to say in our
company that Barker was a particular friend of jews, and he knew a
Jew when he saw one.  Very likely that was so.  But then they never
knew how many slices of bread and meat Barker had gotten from Jewish
hands before he knew the difference.

Just about that time we got other new companions.  One of them was a
certain Pole, Vassil Stefanovich Zagrubsky, blessed be his memory,
Jew-hater though he was.

The beginning of our acquaintance promised no good.  That particular
Pole was poor but proud--a poor fellow with many wants.  Then he was
a smoker, too.  I also enjoyed a smoke when I had an extra copper in
my pocket.  But Zagrubsky had a passion for smoking, and when he had
no tobacco of his own, he demanded it of others.  That was his way:
he could not beg; he could only demand.  Three of us shared one
tent: Zagrubsky, Serge, and myself.  Serge was a soldier in
comfortable circumstances.  He had taken some money with him from
home, and received a monthly allowance from his parents.  He always
had excellent tobacco.  Once, when he happened to open his tobacco
pouch to roll a cigarette, Zagrubsky took notice of it, and put
forth his hand to take some tobacco.  That was his way: whenever he
saw a tobacco pouch open, he would try to help himself to some of
its contents.  But Serge was one of those peasants whose ambition
extends beyond their class.  He was painfully proud, prouder than
any of the nobles.  Before entering the service he had made up his
mind to "rise."  He wanted to become an officer, so that the
villagers would have to stand at attention before him, when he
returned home.  Therefore he gave Zagrubsky a supercilious look of
contempt, and unceremoniously closed the pouch when the Pole wanted
to take some tobacco.  I was sorry for the Pole, and offered him
some of my own tobacco.  He did not fail to take it, but at the same
time I heard him sizzle out "Zhid" from between his tightly closed
lips.  I looked at him in amazement: how on earth could he guess I
was a Jew, when I spoke my Russian with the right accent and
inflection, while his was lame, broken, and half mixed with Polish?
That was a riddle to me.  But I had no time to puzzle it out, and I
forgot it on the spot.

We had long been occupying the same position, waiting for a merry
beginning.  All that time seemed to us something like a preparation
for a holiday; but the long tiresome wait was disgusting.  In the
meantime something extraordinary happened in our camp.  Our camp was
surrounded by a cordon of sentries.  At some distance from the
cordon was the camp of the purveyors, the merchants who supplied the
soldiers with all kinds of necessaries.  Without a special permit no
purveyor could pass the line of sentries and enter the camp.

It happened that one of those purveyors excited the suspicion of
Jacob.  Without really knowing why, Jacob came to consider him a
suspicious character.  Even Barker, timid dog that he was, once
viciously attacked that particular man, as if to tear him to pieces.
 And it was with great difficulty that Jacob saved him from Barker's
teeth.  But from that time on Jacob began to watch the man closely.
That very day we were told that General Luders was going to visit
our camp.  Jacob was doing sentry duty.  Just then the suspicious
purveyor appeared suddenly, as if he had sprung out of the ground.
Jacob had his eye on him.  Presently Jacob noticed that the fellow
was hiding behind a bank of earth; he saw him take out a pistol from
his pocket and aim it somewhere into space.  That very moment
General Luders appeared on the grounds.  Without thinking much,
Jacob aimed his gun at the purveyor and shot him dead.  On
investigation, it turned out that the purveyor was a Pole, who had
smuggled himself into the camp in order to assassinate the General.

Then they began to gossip in the regiment about Jacob's "rising."
General Luders patted him on the shoulder, and said, "Bravo,

A few days later I met Jacob: he looked pale and worn out.  His
smile was more like the frozen smile of the agony of death.  I told
him I had dreamt he was drowning in a river of oil.  Then he told me
confidentially that he had promised his superiors to renounce his

Well, in the long run, it appeared that there was much truth in
Jacob's idea, that a Jew in exile must not accept favors from
Gentiles.  And the temptation to which Jacob had been exposed was
certainly much harder to stand than a thousand lashes, or even, for
that matter, the whole bitter life of a Cantonist.  The pity of it!

A few days later Zagrubsky was appointed to serve Jacob.  But when
Zagrubsky reported for duty, Jacob dismissed him.  It was against
Jacob's nature to have others do for him what he could do himself.

Zagrubsky departed, hissing "Zhid" under his breath.  It was the way
he had treated me.  My patience was gone.  I put myself in his way,
stopped him and asked him: "Now listen, you Pollack, how do you come
to find out so quickly who is a Jew, and who is not?  As far as I
can see, you cannot speak Russian correctly yourself: why, then, do
you spy on others?  I have not yet forgotten that it was on account
of my tobacco that you recognized I was a Zhid, too."

"O, that is all very simple," said he.  "I never saw such
lickspittles as the Jews are.  They are always ready to oblige
others with their favors and refuse honors due to themselves.  That
is why the authorities favor them so much.  Do you wish to know what
a Jew is?  A Jew is a spendthrift, a liar, a whip-kisser, a sneak.
He likes to be trampled on much more than others like to trample on
him.  He makes a slave of himself in order to be able to enslave
everybody else.  I hate the Jews, especially those from whom I ever
get any favors."

Well, by this time I am ready almost to agree with many of the
Pole's assertions.  The Jew is very lavish in his dealings with
Gentiles.  He is subservient, and always ready to give up what is
his due.  All that is a puzzle to the Gentiles, and every Jew who
has been brought up and educated among them knows that as well as I
do.  Sometimes they have a queer explanation for it.  A gentile who
has ever tasted of Jewish kindness and unselfishness will say to
himself, "Very likely the Jew feels that he owes me much more."

To be brief: Zagrubsky and I became very much attached to each
other.  But we never tried to disguise our feelings.  I knew he was
my enemy, and he knew that I was repaying him in kind, with open
enmity.  That was just what Zagrubsky liked.  We loved our mutual
cordial hatred.  When one feels like giving vent to his feelings,
like hating, cursing, or detesting somebody or something, one's
enemy becomes dearer than a hundred friends.

Then there came a certain day, and that day brought us closer
together for a moment, closer than we should ever be again.  It
happened at night . . . . cursed be that night! swallowed up the
following day! . . . .

We soldiers had long become tired of our drill and our manoeuvres;
we got tired of "attacking" under the feint of a "retreat," and of
"retreating" under the feint of an "attack."  We were disgusted with
standing in line and discharging our guns into the air, without ever
seeing the enemy.  In our days a soldier hated feints and
make-believes.  "Get at your enemy and crush his head, or lie down
yourself a crushed 'cadaver'"--that was our way of fighting, and
that was the way we won victories.  As our general used to say: "The
bullet is a blind fool, but the bayonet is the real thing."

At last, at last, we heard the quick, nervous notes of the bugle,
and the hurried beats of the drum, the same we used to hear year in,
year out.  But till that moment it was all "make-believe" drill.  It
was like what we mean by the passage in the Passover Haggodah: "Any
one who is in need may come, and partake of the Passah-lamb. . . ."
Till that moment we used to attack the air with our bayonets and
pierce space right and left, "as if" the enemy had been before us,
ready for our steel.  We were accustomed to pierce and to vanquish
the air and spirits, and that is all.  At the same time there was
something wonderful, sweet, and terrible in those blasts of the
bugle, something that was the very secret of soldiery, something
that went right into our souls when we returned home from our drill.
. . .

But on that day it was not drill any more, and not make-believe any
more, no!  Before us was the real enemy, looking into our very eyes
and thirsting for our blood.

Then, just for a moment I thought of myself, of my own flesh, which
was not made proof against the sharp steel.  I remembered that I had
many an account to settle in this world; that I had started many a
thing and had not finished it; and that there was much more to
start.  I thought of my own enemies, whom I had not harmed as yet.
I thought of my friends, to whom I had so far done no good.  In
short, I thought I was just in the middle of my lifework, and that
the proper moment to die had not yet come.  But all that came as a
mere flash.  For in the line of battle my own self was dissolved, as
it were, and was lost, just like the selves of all who were there.
I became a new creature with new feelings and a new consciousness.
But the thing cannot be described: one has to be a soldier and stand
in the line of battle to feel it.  You may say, if you like, that I
believe that the angel-protectors of warring nations descend from on
high, and in the hour of battle enter as new souls into the soldiers
of the line.

Then and there an end came also to the vicissitudes of my Barker.  I
found him dead, stretched out at full length on a bank of earth,
which was the monument over the grave of the heroes of the first
day's fighting.  In the morning they all went to battle in the full
flowering of strength and thirsty for victory, only to be dragged
down at night into that hole, to be buried there.  Well, the earth
knows no distinction between one race and another; its worms feed
alike on Jew and Gentile.  But there, in Heaven, they surely know
the difference between one soul and another, and each one is sent to
its appointed place.

I was told that Jacob was among those buried in the common grave.
Quite likely.  I whispered a Kaddish over the grave, giving it the
benefit of the doubt.

Of course, I was not foolish enough to cry over the cadaver of a
dog; and yet it was a pity.  After all, it was a living creature,
too; it had shared all kinds of things with me: exile, hunger,
rations, blows.  And it had loved me, too. . . .

The next morning we were out again.  In a moment line faced line,
man faced man, enemy faced enemy.  It was a mutual murderous
attraction, a bloodthirsty love, a desire to embrace and to kill.

It was very much like the pull I felt towards Marusya.

. . . . Lightening. . . . shots. . . . thunder. . . .  The talk of
the angel-protectors it is. . . . Snakes of fire flying upward,
spreading out . . . . shrapnel . . . . bombs a-bursting . . . .
soldiers standing . . . . reeling . . . . falling . . . . crushed,
or lapping their own blood. . . .  Thinning lines . . . . breast to
breast. . . .  Hellish howls over the field. . . .

Crashing comes the Russian music, drowning all that hellish chorus,
pouring vigor, might, and hope into the hearts of men. . . .

Alas, the music breaks off. . . .  Where is the bugle? . . . .  The
trumpet is silenced. . . .  The trombone breaks off in the middle of
a note. . . .  Only one horn is left. . . .  Higher and higher rise
its ringing blasts, chanting, as it were, "Yea, thought I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for
Thou art with me!"

In mighty embrace men clasp one another. . . .  Stabbing, being
stabbed . . . . killing, being killed. . . . .

I work away right and left, I expect my death-blow at every moment,
but I seem to be charmed: swords and bayonets surround me, but never
touch me. . . .

Yes, it was a critical moment; it could not last much longer; one
side had to give way.

But the Russians could not retreat, because in their very midst the
priest was standing, the ikon of the Virgin in one hand and the
crucifix in the other.

The soldiers looked at the images, got up new courage, and did

Do you remember the Biblical story of the brazen serpent?  That was
just like it.

Well, a bullet came flying, whistling, through the air, and the
priest fell.  Then the ikon and the crucifix began to wobble this
way and that way, and fell down, too.  The soldiers saw it, lost
heart, and wanted to run.

At that moment I felt as if I were made of three different men.

Just imagine:  Samuel the individual, Samuel the soldier, and Samuel
the Jew.

Says Samuel the individual:  "You have done well enough, and it is
all over for now.  Run for dear life."

Says Samuel the soldier:  "Shame on you, where is your bravery?  The
regimental images are falling.  Try, perhaps they may be saved yet."

Says Samuel the Jew:  "Of course, save; for a Jew must ever do more
than is expected of him."

But Samuel the individual replies:  "Do you remember how many lashes
you have suffered on account of these very images?"

Says Samuel the Jew again:  "Do you know what these images are, and
to what race they belong?"

Many such thoughts flashed through my brain; but it was all in a
moment.  And in a moment I was at the side of the priest.  He was
alive; he was only wounded in his hand.  I raised him to his feet,
put the images into his hands, lifted them up, and supported them.

"This way, Russians!"

I do not know who shouted these words.  Perhaps I did; perhaps some
one else; perhaps it was from Heaven.

However, the victory was ours.

But I did not remain on my feet a long time; a bullet struck me, and
I fell. . . . .

What happened then, I cannot tell.  All I know is that I dreamt
something very agreeable:  I was a little boy again, hanging on to
my father's coat-tails, and standing beside him in the Klaus on a
Yom-Kippur even, during the most tearful prayers, and a mischievous
little boy began to play with me, pricking my leg with a needle
every now and then. . . .

When I came to my senses, I found myself in a sea of howls, groans,
and cries, which seemed to be issuing from the very depths of the
earth.  For a moment I thought I was in purgatory, among the sinners
who undergo punishment.  But pretty soon I recognized everything.  I
turned my head, and saw Zagrubsky lying near me, wounded and
groaning.  He looked at me, and there was love and hatred mixed in
that look.  "Zhid," said he, with his last breath, and gave up the

Rest in peace, thou beloved enemy of mine!

From behind I heard someone groaning and moaning; but the voice
sounded full and strong.  I turned my head in the direction of the
voice, and I saw that Serge Ivanovich was lying on his side and
moaning.  He looked around, stood up for a while, and lay down
again.  This manoeuvre he repeated several times in succession.  You
see, the rascal was scheming to his own advantage.  He knew very
well that in the end he would have to fall down and groan for good.
So he thought it was much cheaper and wiser to do it of his own free
will, than to wait for something to throw him down.  The scamp had
seen what I had done before I fell.  A thought came to him.  He
helped me to my feet, bandaged my wound, and said:

"Now listen, Samuel: you have certainly done a very great thing; but
it is worth nothing to you personally.  Nay, worse: they might again
try to make you renounce your faith.  So it is really a danger to
you.  But, if you wish, just say that I have done it, and I shall
repay you handsomely for it.  The priest will not know the

Well, it is this way:  I always hated get-rich-quick schemes.  I
never cared a rap for a penny I had not expected and was not ready
to earn.  Take, for instance, what I did with the priest:  Did I
ever expect any honors or profits out of it?  Such possible honors
and profits I certainly did not like, and did not look for.
Besides, who could assure me that they would not try again to coax
me into renouncing my faith?  Why, then, should I put myself into
such trouble?  And I said to Serge:

"You want it badly, Serge, do you?  You'd like to see yourself
promoted, to be an officer?  Is that so?  Very well, then.  Make out
a paper assigning the house to Marusya."

"I promise faithfully."

"I believe no promises."

"What shall I do?"

"You have paper and pencil in your pocket?"


I turned around, supported myself on both my arms and one knee, and
made a sort of a rickety table of myself.  And on my back Serge
wrote out his paper, and signed it.  But all that was really
unnecessary.  He would have kept his word anyway.  For he was always
afraid I might blurt out the whole story.  Not I, though.  May I
never have anything in common with those who profit by falsehoods!

As to what happened later, I cannot tell you exactly.  For I was
taken away, first to a temporary hospital, and then to a permanent
one.  I fell into a fever and lost consciousness.  I do not know how
many days or weeks passed by:  I was in a different world all that
time.  How can I describe it to you?  Well, it was a world of chaos.
 It was all jumbled together: father, mother, military service,
ikons, lashes, lambs slaughtered, Peter, bullets, etc., etc.

It was all in a jumble, all topsyturvy.  And in the midst of that
chaos I felt as if I were a thing apart from myself.  My head ached,
and yet it felt as if it did not belong to me. . . .  Finally I
thought I felt mother bathing me; a delicious feeling of moisture
spread over my flesh, and my headache disappeared.  Then I felt a
warm, soft hand pass over my forehead, cheeks, and neck. . . .

I opened my eyes, the first time since I lost consciousness, and I


"Yes, yes," said she, with a smile, while her eyes brimmed with
tears, "it is I."  And behind her was another face:


"Rest, rest," said they, warningly.  "Thanks to God, the crisis is

I doubted, I thought it was all a dream.  But it was no dream.  It
was all very simple:  Anna and Marusya had enlisted and were serving
as volunteer nurses at the military hospital, and I had known
nothing of it.

"Marusya," said I, "please tell me how do I happen to be here?"

Then she began to tell me how they brought me there, and took me
down from the wagon as insensible as a log.  But she could not
finish her story; she began to choke with tears, and Anna finished
what Marusya wanted to tell me.

I turned to Marusya:

"Where are my clothes?"

"What do you want them for?"

"There is a paper there."

I insisted, and she brought the paper.

"Read the paper, Marusya," said I.  She read the document in which
Serge assigned the house to Marusya.  The two women looked at me
with glad surprise.

"How did you ever get it?"

But I had decided to keep the thing a secret from them, and I did.

When I was discharged from the hospital, the war was long over, and
a treaty of peace had been signed.  Had they asked me, I should not
have signed it.--


Here the old man stopped for a while.  Apparently he skipped many an
incident, and omitted many a thing that he did not care to mention.
I saw he was touching upon them mentally.  Her resumed:--

Just so, just so. . . .  Many, many a thing may take place within
us, without our ever knowing it.  I never suspected that I had been
longing to see my parents.  I never wrote to them, simply because I
had never learned to write my Jewish well enough.  Of course, had my
brother Solomon been taken, he would surely have written regularly,
for he was a great penman, may he rest in peace.  As to Russian, I
certainly might have written in that language; but then it would
have been very much like offering salt water to a thirsty person.
And that is why I did not write.  I thought I had forgotten my
parents.  But no!  Even that was merely a matter of habit.  I had
gotten so used to my feeling of longing that I was not aware of
having it.  That is the way I explain it to myself.  By and by there
opened in my heart a dark little corner that had been closed for
many a year.  That was the longing for my parents, for my home,
mixed with just a trace of anger and resentment.  I began to picture
to myself how my folks would meet me: there would be kisses,
embraces, tears, neighbors. . . .  For, like a silly child, I
imagined they were all alive and well yet, and that the Angel of
Death would wait till I came and repaid them for all the worry I had
caused them. . . .  And, indeed, would they not have been greatly
wronged, had they been allowed to die unconsoled, after they had
rent Heaven with their prayers and lamentations?

But the nearer I came to my native town, the less grew my desire to
see it.  A feeling of estrangement crept over me at the sight of the
neighborhood.  No, it was not exactly a feeling of estrangement, but
some other feeling, something akin to what we feel at the
recollection of the pain caused by long-forgotten troubles.  I can
hardly make it clear to you; it was not unlike what an old man feels
after a bad dream of the days of his youth.

It was about this time of the year.  The roads were just as bad as
now, the slush just as deep.  And it was as nauseating to sit in the
coach only to watch the glittering mud and count the slow steps of
the horses.  In a season like this it is certainly much more
agreeable to dismount and walk.  That was just what I did.  My
native town was not far away: only once uphill, once downhill, and
there was the inevitable cemetery, which must be passed when one
enters a Jewish village.  The horses could hardly move, and I
overtook them very soon, as I took a short cut, and struck into a
path across the peasants' fields.  I allowed myself that privilege,
because at that time I was still wearing my uniform with the brass
buttons shining brightly.  When I descended into the valley, I
decided to cross the cemetery, and so shorten my way.  The coach was
far behind, and I was walking very slowly, that it might reach me at
the other side of the cemetery.  My path lay among the gravestones,
some of them gray with age, dilapidated, bent forward, as if trying
to overhear the talk of the nether world: some clean and upright, as
if gazing proudly heavenwards.  It was a world of silence I was in;
and heavy indeed is the silence I was in; it is really a speaking
silence.  I think there is something real in the belief that the
dead talk in their graves.  To me it seemed as if the gravestones
were casting evil glances at me for my having disturbed the silent
place with the glitter of my buttons.  And it was with difficulty
that I could decipher the inscriptions on the stones.  I do not know
why it was so: either my Hebrew had got rusty, or else graveyard
inscriptions make hard reading in general.

"Here lieth . . . . the righteous man . . . . modest, pious . . . .
Rabbi Simhah . . . . Shohet. . . ."

I read it all, and shuddered: why, under that very stone lay the
remains of my own brother Simhah!

I wanted to shed tears, but my tears did not obey me.  I read it
again and again, and when I came to the words "modest," "pious," I
mumbled something to myself, something angry and envious.  Then I
thought I felt the tombstone move, the ground shake under me, as if
a shiver were passing through the air. . .

"Forgive me, forgive me!"

It was not my ears that caught those words; it was my heart.  I
understood that it was the soul of my brother apologizing to me for
the action of my parents.  Tears began to flow from my eyes.  I did
not care to read any further, from fear of finding something I did
not wish to find.  I was thinking of my parents.

And when I entered the house of my parents, I could hardly recognize
them.  Wrinkled, bent, with sunken cheeks, they had changed entirely
in appearance.

Father looked at my buttons, removed his cap, and stood bent before
me.  Mother was busying herself at the oven, and began to speak to
father in a mixture of Hebrew and Yiddish:  "Sure enough, some sort
of taxes again. . . .  Much do we need it now. . . ."  Then, in a
fit of spitefulness, I made believe I was a stranger.

"Old people," said I, "I have brought you news from your son
Samuel."  As soon as father heard me speak Yiddish, he ran to the
window, rubbed his hands against the moist pane, by way of washing
them, and shook hands with me.

"Peace be with you, young man," said he.  Mother left her corner and
stood up before me.  Father began fumbling for his glasses, and
asked me: "News from my son, you say?  Where did you see him last?"

"And when did you see him?" asked mother, shivering.

I mentioned some imaginary place and date.

"How does he feel?  Was he in the war?  Is he well?  Does he expect
to come home?"

Many such questions followed one another in quick succession.
Meanwhile father took me aside, and whispered into my ear: "How
about . . . . how about religion?"  Out of sheer spitefulness I
wanted to worry the poor old folks a little; may the Lord not
consider it a sin on my part.

I said:  "Had Rabbi Simhah the Shohet been in his place, he surely
would have withstood all temptations!" . . . .

"What, converted?!"

I kept silent, and the old people took it as a sign of affirmation.

They hung their heads despondently, and kept silent, too.  Then
father asked me once more:

"Married a Gentile?  Has children?"  I still kept silent.  My old
mother wept silently.  My heart melted within me, but I braced
myself up and kept silent.  I felt as if a lump in my throat was
choking me, but I swallowed it.  I heard mother talking to herself:
"O Master of the Universe, Father who art in Heaven, Thou Merciful
and Righteous!" . . . .  As she said it, she shook her head, as if
accepting God's verdict and complaining at the same time.

The old man stood up, his beard a-quiver.  His hand shook nervously,
and he said in a tone of dry, cold despair:

"Ett. . . .  Blessed be the righteous Judge!" as though I had told
him the news of his son's death.  With that he took out a pocket
knife, and wanted to make the "mourning cut."  At that moment my ear
caught the sound of the heartrending singsong of the Psalms.  The
voice was old and tremulous.  It was an old man, evidently a lodger,
who was reading his Psalter in an adjoining room:

"For the Lord knoweth the path of the righteous. . . ."

The memories of the long past overtook me, and I told my parents who
I was. . . . .

And yet--continued Samuel after some thought--and yet they were not
at peace, fearing I had deceived them.  And they never rested till
they got me married to my Rebekah, "according to the laws of Moses
and Israel."

Well, two years passed after my wedding, and troubles began; I got a
toothache, may you be spared the pain!  That is the way of the Jew:
no sooner does he wed a woman and beget children, than all kinds of
ills come upon him.

Some one told me, there was a nurse at the city hospital who knew
how to treat aching teeth and all kinds of ills better than a
full-fledged doctor.

I went to the hospital, and asked for the nurse.

A young woman came out. . . .



We were both taken aback.

"And where is your husband, Marusya?" asked I, after I had caught my

"And you, Samuel, are you married?"


"But I am single yet."

Yes, yes, she was a good soul!  She died long ago. . . .  May it
please the Lord to give her a goodly portion in Paradise!--

Here the old man broke off his story with a deep sigh escaping from
his breast.

We waved his hand at the son, who was dozing away unconcerned,
lurching from side to side.  The old man looked at his son, shook
his head, and said:

"Yes, yes, those were times, those were soldiers. . . .  It is all
different now: new times, new people, new soldiers. . . .

"It is all make-believe nowadays! . . . ."


    The month in the Jewish calendar corresponding to July-August.
    On the ninth day of Av the Temple was taken and destroyed by

    Literally "four corners."  A rectangular piece of cloth about
    one foot wide and three feet long, with an aperture in the
    middle large enough to pass it over the head.  The front part of
    the garment falls over the chest, the other part covers the
    shoulders. To its four corners "Tzitzis," or fringes, are
    attached in prescribed manner.  When made of wool, the
    Arba-Kanfos is usually called TALLIS-KOTON (which see).

    Literally "man of duty."  A Jewish boy who has passed his
    thirteenth birthday, and has thus attained his religious

    The functions of this officer in a Jewish community were
    somewhat similar to those of the constable in some American

    The Sabbath is ushered in by lighting the Sabbath candles,
    accompanied by a short prayer.

    A term applied to Jewish boys drafted into military service
    during the reign of Nicholas I of Russia (1825-1855).  Every
    Jewish community had to supply its quota; but as parents did not
    surrender their children willingly, they were secured by
    kidnappers specially appointed by the Community for the purpose.
    See CATCHER.  The same term was applied to the children of
    Russian soldiers who were educated for the army in the so-called
    District, or Canton, Schools. Hence the name.

    An agent of the Jewish community prior to the introduction, in
    1874, of general military duty in Russia.

    Ceremonial with wine, candles, and spices, accompanied by a
    prayer, at the end of the Sabbath.

    The ritual used at the Passover eve home service.

    In commemoration of the priest's tithe at the time of the
    Temple.  The ceremonial consists of taking a piece of the bread
    dough before it is baked and throwing it into the fire; a prayer
    is recited at the same time.

    Literally, "a room."  Specifically, a school in which Bible and
    Talmud are taught.

    Literally, "sanctification."  A prayer recited in commemoration
    of the dead.

    Members of a Jewish sect that does not recognize the authority
    of the Talmud.

    Literally, "right," "fit."  Specifically applied to food
    prepared in accordance with the Jewish dietary laws.

    A synagogue to which students of the Talmud resort for study and

    A scholar learned in the Torah.

    Literally, "door-post."  A piece of parchment, inscribed with
    the SHEMA (which see), together with Deut. 11:13-21, rolled up,
    and enclosed in an oblong box, which is attached in a prescribed
    way to the door-post of a dwelling.

    Literally "I affirm."  The opening words of a brief confession
    of faith.

    Cloth or a garment made of linen and wool woven together; or a
    wool garment sewed with linen thread; or a linen garment sewed
    with wool.

    Literally, "listen,"  The opening words of Deut. 6:4-9.

    Literally, "extermination."  Applied figuratively to
    renunciation of the Jewish faith, whether forced or voluntary.

    A slaughterer of cattle licensed by a rabbi.  He must examine
    the viscera of cattle according to the rules laid down in the

    Literally, "the little Tallis," or prayer shawl.  Worn by some
    Jews.  See ARBA-KANFOS.

    Literally, "doctrine."  A term applied to the Pentateuch, and to
    the Talmud with its commentaries.

Tzitzis.  See ARBA-KANFOS.

    Day of Atonement.

Zhid (fem. Zhidovka: zh sounded like z in azure).
    Literally, "Judean."  Russian equivalent of English "sheeny."


The book presents a softer side of Cantonist life than history
records.  The abducted children (as young as eight) were usually
raised in barracks ('Cantonments') under brutal conditions designed
to break their Jewishness.  Speaking Yiddish, or any sign of
Jewishness or religious practice, was punished by starvation,
beatings, and if that failed outright tortures, resulting in many
deaths, as well as suicides.  At age 18, the lads began a 25 year
term in the army.  Reversion to Judaism at any time thereafter was a
crime.  At its height, in 1854, official records show 7,515
Cantonists conscripted into the Russian army.  The Cantonist laws
were ended in 1856 by Tsar Alexander II, almost as soon as he came
to power.

Alexander II created a general draft in 1874, affecting all
Russians.  One message of the book is clear; whatever worries Jewish
parents may have regarding their drafted child's ability to maintain
their religion, this modern draft was vastly preferable to the
Cantonist system, and might even be welcomed for its fairness.

In retrospect, Steinberg was really using the Cantonist topic as a
backdrop for a cultural study.  He presents us with several
characters, each at a different place in the gray zone between
Jewish and Christian cultures: two Cantonists, one clinging to the
Jewish side (Jacob); one closer to the non-Jewish side (Samuel, the
narrator); as well as a Jewish convert unhappy with her lot (Anna,
whose abuse of Samuel we later understand as the 'self-disdain'
often seen among those who had left Judaism); her daughter Marusya,
who although fully Christian is ostracized as being a Jewess, and
struggles unsuccessfully to find her place in life; and Peter
Khlopov, a full Christian who finds Jewish culture agreeable.
Steinberg's portrayal of Samuel makes it clear, even in the first
few pages, that Samuel, although Jewish, thinks very much like a
Russian peasant; in a very real way he straddles that fringe zone
between the two distinct societies.



Serge Ivanovich
     acute accent over the a, throughout the text

At such moments he would be ready to hug
     "be" was erroneously "he" in source text

     acute accent over the o, throughout the text

     ae written as a ligature

Vassil Stefanovich Zagrubsky
     acute accent over the u, throughout the text

     oe written as a ligature

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