Translated and edited by Joachim Neugroschel


Freydel put down her foot and got her way: She married Stempeniu according to the law of Moses and Israel, and once she got her hands on him, she really took him in hand. She got a little help from her Mama, who was finally seeing the proud and joyful day when she became a mother-in-law, and Stempeniu had a taste of hell and he was not disappointed. The newlyweds moved to Mazepevke, and Stempeniu settled down there with his band, a resident, in one place.
"It's over, Stempeniu, no more wandering around! Your traveling days are done, Stempeniu, done!" said Freydel to her husband, who was all hers now, and she did whatever she wanted to with him - or else!
After the wedding, another life began for Stempeniu, a brand-new life. He had been a spirited bachelor, but no sooner was he married and in Freydel's hands than he lost all his strength, all his courage, all his brilliance. At home, Stempeniu had no say whatsoever.
"Just remember, your business is the band and weddings. What do you need money for, silly?" That's what Freydel would say, taking every last kopek he ever earned.
Freydel was the picture of avarice. She had grown up in a very poor family and had almost never set eyes on a kopek. As a girl, she hardly ever got a ribbon or a comb, and then only with bitter tears. She went barefoot till the age of fifteen, acted as nanny to the younger children, and got more than her share of slaps from her mother as well as her father, Shaike the Fiddler, who was a drinking man. She ate next to nothing, she dressed to match her bare feet and it was only on Purim that a few kopeks came her way, for delivering Purim presents to other people's homes. She would stash those kopeks deep in her bosom, so that her Mama wouldn't trick her out of them, and she slept with her hoard until Passover, when she bought herself a ribbon or a comb. And that was Freydel's life until she reached eighteen, when she suddenly grew into a tall, a lovely, a healthy girl - ready for marriage! When Freydel got engaged to Stempeniu, she herself didn't realize how lucky she was. Only her mother, who did realize it, argued away at her, setting her straight: She ought to know that her. fiancé was making a mint, but that he was a rather frivolous sort, and he spent money like it grew on trees, she shouldn't let him get away with murder, she had to keep him under her thumb, the way her mama did with her papa, Shaike the Fiddler ....
When Freydel married Stempeniu, she didn't forget her mother's advice; little by little, and cleverly, she taught her husband the meaning of the word "wife," she explained that a husband can have no secrets from his wife, a wife is not an outsider, she's not a mistress, no, she's his flesh and blood, she is him and he is her. In a word, he had to know, he had to feel that he had a wife ....
When Freydel began running her own household and kept seeing new rubles that Stempeniu earned so often, she pounced
on them like a starving man spotting food. But she didn't enjoy the money. Freydel was worried that they might be penniless from one day to the next, her husband might not earn money later on, God forbid. So she made herself a little pouch and began saving kopek after kopek.
"What are you hidin'?" asked Stempeniu, noticing her movements.
"Curiosity killed the cat. Don't get any gray hairs over it, Stempeniu!" Freydel answered with a smile, and kept doing what she had to, skimping, scrimping, scanting at the market, the store, the butcher's, serving just barely enough for lunch, often not eating or drinking enough, scraping together ruble after ruble. Gradually, when she had gotten together a tidy little sum, she started lending money on security and charging interest. The first time, it just happened, it was an accident, a neighbor had asked to borrow some money, and Freydel did her the favor. Why not? And then, when she saw that the money was growing, and that one ruble became two in the course of time, she began doing business with her small capital, until she simply became a "usurer" with all the trimmings and all the stuffings of this profession, which a lot of our rich people indulge in (this is just between you and me) and don't really dislike at all ....
How peculiar! Where did Freydel get her lust for hoarding money? Not from her papa, Shaike the Fiddler, nor? could she have seen the like among any of the renowned musicians. Where will you find anyone comparable to musicians, who never turn over a kopek and who spend money like water. ,Jewish musicians - especially in those days - were like Gypsies, a special tribe, with a special jargon, and with special ways of their own. They always had a good time, it was always Purim for them, life was merry, lively, they fiddled, frolicked, fooled around, worked, carried on, played wild pranks, talked about cheery things .... When they came home to their wives, they joked, gobbled up beans and dumplings or else tightened their belts, but they were always romping, dancing, frisking, going to bed hungry, borrowing money the next day, pawning their pillows, redeeming them and then pawning them all over again. The daughters of musicians were usually joyous and frivolous creatures themselves, there were no veils on their hair or their lives .... In a word, the musicians lived in paradise, with all the virtues and faults of paradise .... And in such an eden, who would ever dream of worrying about tomorrow?
Naturally, Freydel's papa was no tearful sort. Shaike the Fiddler was as poor as a synagogue mouse, but a jolly and jovial mouse, and whenever he earned a ruble he caroused it away in the twinkling of an eye, as they say. And Freydel's mama liked to live well, that is to say, eat well. They hardly had a shirt to their names, but as long as there was a pillow to be pawned they always ate. "All our good luck goes straight to our bellies .... How does the old proverb go? 'It's better to deal with the baker than the doctor.' Eat, drink and be merry!" That's what she'd say, Freydel's mama, who was a spendthrift even for a musician's wife.
So how did Freydel get to be the way she was? Where did she get her stinginess? Perhaps it came from want, from always being penniless in her parents' home. Or maybe it was natural with her. Maybe a stingy soul had gone astray into the musician's family and been reincarnated as Freydel.
Whatever it was, Freydel made weird grimaces, sweated, and frothed even if she only talked about money.
All the musicians' wives were jealous of her. "What luck!" they said in chorus.
But there was one way in which God neglected Freydel: He gave her no children. And who knows, perhaps that too was why she was utterly devoted, body and soul, to money - because the finest pleasure, the joy of children, was denied her. Generally, we see that the wives whom God has not blessed with children are nasty women, they lack the goodness, the softness of their sex. Such women can love only themselves.
And that's the sort of woman Freydel was. But it can't be said that she hated Stempeniu. Why should she? A handsome man, a paragon, a rare violinist - one in a million, and - this was the nitty-gritty - a good provider, a gold mine!
"My Stempeniu," Freydel boasted to her friends, "my Stempeniu - when he plays a note on the strings, out comes a ruble, two notes and it's two rubles, three notes  - and it's three rubles. You understand?"
As far as rubles went, Stempeniu was the very opposite: money meant nothing to him. He'd play at a wedding, stuff his pockets with cash, and - before you knew it, not a kopek was left. If he had something, he gave, he shared, he lent. If he had nothing, he borrowed. In this way, Stempeniu was an artist. All he cared about was the band - present something new, perform an operatic piece, contract for a wedding, do the wedding, playing as God commanded, so that Jews licked their fingers - it was no mere scraping.
There were two things that Stempeniu loved more than anything in the world: himself and the violin. He was busy with himself all the time: bedecking and bedizening himself, curling his hair - in a word, making himself a "bachelor," as Freydel so cuttingly put it, and he would then forget all about the violin.
But when he picked up his violin, he forgot all about himself and the rest of the world. If ever he was overcome with melancholy, he would take his violin, chain the door, and then play his own fantasies for three or four hours at a time, he fiddled anything that drifted into his mind. Now he would pour himself out in a lament, so dolefully, so dismally, and softer and softer. And then he would suddenly lose his temper and play louder and louder, until all at once, something like a sigh. tore from the depths of his heart, and the blaze went down - a bit, and his anger died out, and soft melodies, dear, sweet songs, growing sadder and sadder, came pouring out endlessly, and then he would become a little cheerier, livelier .... Of course, that didn't happen often, the mood didn't sweep him up all the time, but once he was lost in his violin, there was no possibility of yanking him away. Stempeniu's imagination seethed and settled like a source - the more, the fresher.
A person with feeling, with a soul, could not possibly have heard enough of this free music, which cannot be committed to paper. It sounded like an entreaty to the Lord of the Universe from a bitter heart, a prayer to God for mercy, for compassion, the sort of prayer that has to be, that must be accepted up there, at God's Throne .... It is said that the Rebbe of Rizhin had his own orchestra, which played while he intoned the praises of Him Who Lives Eternally. That was truly a thought from a great man, an idea from a lofty poetic soul.
"Oh that bitch, Fat Kaile, may she drop dead, the dirty slob. She's paid me the interest for last week, and for this week she says she can't pay me till after Sabbath!"
That was the type of conversation with which Freydel welcomed Stempeniu when he came out of his room after playing, he was still ablaze, his black eyes were shining. That was the fire in his eyes that was so attractive. The fire would flare seldom, and when his eyes met Freydel's, the fire vanished.
When Stempeniu came home after playing a wedding, Freydel would greet him with a smile, fawning on him like a kitten:
"What do you need money for, Stempeniu?" Freydel would say, shaking out all his pockets. "What good is it? What don't you have? You've got everything you need, you're not hungry, God forbid, and you don't go naked, and when you need a couple of kopeks, don't I give them to you? Why don't you let me have the money? It'll be safe with me. Just give it to me, give it to me!"
And Stempeniu stood there like a child being punished, and Freydel twisted him around her little finger, he was like putty in her hands. Ah! What's happened to you, Stempeniu? How can such a nobody like Freydel dance on your head, and you let her lead you around by the nose, like Samson putting his head into his beloved Delilah's lap? . . . Ugh! Stempeniu, what a shame, what a terrible shame!

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