STEMPENIU: A JEWISH ROMANCE
- SHOLOM ALEICHEM
RACHEL RECEIVES THE GOOD LETTER
We left Rachel in the middle of the veiling lunch,
standing by the door and staring at the huge marketplace of the town of
Mazepevke. She was deep in her thoughts, which we spoke about earlier.
However, her thoughts were quickly interrupted by our bold friend Stempeniu.
This fine fellow, who had an eye on Rachel, noticed
her leaving the table. He waited a bit and then went out after her. Stopping
by the door, he started a conversation about his town, Mazepevke, and her
town, Skvirre. He knew her town very well, all its little bridges, all
its fine sights, like the palm of his hand, as they say. And he also talked
to her about the city of Yehupets, he had heard she'd been there once.
Rachel only replied to every tenth word.
"How come," Stempeniu asked her, "how come nobody
ever sees you takin' a walk, not even on Shabbes or holidays? You've
been livin' here for almost a year, more 'n a year, and no one ever sees
you on Berditchev Street. You live so far away, at the end of town, I didn't
even know you were here .... I only found out yesterday when I saw you
. . . . I wanted to rap with you a little yesterday, but I couldn't . .
. . You know what these Jewish towns are like. You start to talk, and soon
everyone else is talkin' about you .... Listen, just go for a walk on Saturday
afternoon on Berditchev Street .... The whole town's out there.... Positively,
you hear? Positively, Saturday afternoon, on Berditchev Street!"
Rachel didn't have time to answer, because her
devoted mother-in-law Dvosse-Malke had noticed she wasn't at the table.
She went to look for her, and when she found her standing outside by the
door with Stempeniu, she was a bit surprised at first: "Why is she suddenly
standing there with him?" However, Stempeniu, who was generally rather
cunning and knew what to do in such cases, instantly turned to Dvosse-Malke:
"We're talking about the wedding, the rebbe's
wedding in Skvirre.... Your daughter-in-law was still a child back then,
when I played at the rebbe's wedding. She doesn't remember it at all...."
"Of course not. How is she supposed to remember?"
Dvosse-Malke replied. "But I remember it very well. I was there with my
husband, and we spent the night outdoors because the town was so jammed."
"Jammed?" Stempeniu went on. "I can tell you
a lot more." And he launched into a lengthy conversation with Dvosse-Malke
about different things, smooth-talking his way out of the predicament.
And meanwhile, Rachel excused herself and went back indoors to the bride.
We've already said that Stempeniu had a way with words, and we have to
tell you about another quality of his: He could talk with elderly women,
chatter glibly, wind them around his little finger - he had a tongue in
his head, and he spoke like an angel. There's an old saying: "An educated
witch is worse than a born witch." When it came to glibness, Stempeniu
was a sage. He had been to a good school, as we shall see.
"He's got his nerve," Rachel thought to herself
"Ordering me to be on Berditchev Street on Saturday afternoon - positively!
Positively? He won't have it any other way? What an idea! Only a musician
could talk like that!"
These were the dark thoughts with which Rachel
came back in to the wedding. And when the dear Holy Sabbath came, and her
in-laws and also Moyshe-Mendel lay down for their naps to take a bit of
Sabbath pleasure from their sweet sleep - which Jews have thought the world
of since time immemorial - Rachel, as usual, sat down alone at the window
and stared out into the street, humming a song to herself. There, on the
street, as on every Sabbath, she saw girls with freshly washed hair, with
blue ribbons in their braids, with red, yellow, green dresses, with gloves,
and with shiny - new, squeaky shoes. They were going out for their "promenade"
on Berditchev Street. They wanted to show off their red or blue ribbons,
their red, yellow, green dresses. They wanted to have a far look, in passing,
as is our custom, at the boys, at the handsome boys in cloth coats, long
trousers, and with shiny vizors on their Sabbath caps. The girls would
then modestly lower their eyes, and their cheeks would turn crimson with
embarrassment, and their hearts .... In short, they were going to live
Rachel knew all about it. Why shouldn't she?
After all, she herself had once been a girl with red and blue ribbons in
her braids, and she herself once went strolling down the promenade with
a bunch of girls on a Sabbath afternoon. But now?
Rachel looked around. Everybody was fast asleep
and snoring heartily. Everybody! She was the only one sitting there, as
though among dead people, as though among real corpses. She leaned her
head on her hands, deep in thought, and remembered an old song she used
to sing when she was a girl:
As lonesome as a stone,
No one to talk to,
Only myself alone,
As lonesome as a stone,
No one to talk to -
Rachel lifted her head and saw - Stempeniu.
"I said: Good Shabbes!"
"What's this? What's he doing here?" Rachel was
about to ask and move away from the window.
"A good Sabbath to you too!" she replied, turning
as red as a beet.
"You didn't listen to me, you didn't go out to
Berditchev Street...? I kept lookin' for you for nothin'.... Well, I....
that is to say.... Well, just read this!"
And Stempeniu handed Rachel a folded leaf of
paper and quickly vanished from sight.
Rachel held the sheet of paper for a long, long
time, not knowing what to do with it, not understanding what it was, what
it meant.... Once her initial surprise was gone, she unfolded what turned
out to be a large sheet of music paper, she saw huge letters, plain Yiddish
words with a lot of mistakes:
My deerest angel in the sky, wen I saw
your raydiant shape, both my eyes felt raydiant in a raydiant fire with
my hart, burning with grate love for you my sole wich your hevenly eyes
have with your raydiant shape drawn to you from the verry first, you are
my life, the life of my hart my soul I cannot sleep I dream for you are
the lite in the darkness in eyes I love you like my verry owne life for
ever I wership the groun you wawk on I kiss your lovely eyes from farr