STEMPENIU: A JEWISH ROMANCE
- SHOLOM ALEICHEM
A CORAL NECKLACE FROM FREYDEL
"Listen, mother-in-law, if it's not too expensive, I'd really like to
have a necklace of coral beads. Good heavy coral."
"Well, how often have I told you: Just go over to Freydel and pick
out whatever your heart desires. If you like, we'll go right now. For my
sake, she won't charge you much."
Our dark-haired Freydel, who lent money on interest and took security,
mostly coral, had gradually, almost for fun, started dealing in the coral
itself, on the side, she bought it very cheap from her debtors and then
offered it much cheaper than any coral vendors, and leer moonlighting grew
and grew until she was actually doing business with all the dealers in
Berditchev and Brody. Everyone in Mazepevke knew that you could get it
decent string of coral from Freydel, Stempeniu's wife Freydel.
Miraculous! Where did Freydel get her sales talent, her way of dealing
with the customers, her ability to talk them into buying? When Dvosse-Malke
and her daughter-in-law stepped into her house, Freydel welcomed them with
"Hello, hello! How are you, Dvosse-Malke? You know, I've had my eye
on you for a long time?"
"On me? How come, Freydel?"
"How come, you ask? Why, a year ago, you brought a gem into your home
- and that was that! You should have come here with your daughter-in-law
at some point and picked out something for her. Why, I tell you, Dvosse-Malke,
it's a crying shame!"
"You're so right, Freydel darling, but it's not my fault. What can
I do if my daughter-in-law doesn't want coral, no matter how much I beg
"Now that's a new one on me! What do you mean she doesn't want coral?
With you, she doesn't want, but with me she will want, don't worry!"
And Freydel quickly opened a huge green chest, and began pulling out
one set of coral beads after another, placing them in front of the customers,
talking all the while and uttering all sorts of good wishes and compliments
like a true businesswoman.
"Just look, Dvosse-Malke, if you take my word for it, you'll have your
daughter-in-law buy this string of beads, may you and I be as pure as these
beads. Why they're pure Orleans beads! just try them on, if you please,
on your throat, that's right. Oh, I'm absolutely envious, they look so
beautiful on your white throat! Wear them in good health and may God grant
that your mother-in-law can buy five strings of such big pearls a year
from now. Oh, how wonderfully they dress your face! Tell me, Dvosse-Malke,
you're a jewelry mayven, what's your opinion? It should only happen to
me, by God!"
With these words, Freydel pulled a mirror out of the chest and held
it up in front of Rachel, Freydel's green eyes glittered with pride and
joy, and she had worked up a sweat with all her talking and swearing and
"And is your Stempeniu working hard?" Dvosse-Malke asked, pointing
to the room where rare and sweet sounds were coming from.
"Yes, he's playing," Freydel replied and began showing other strings
of coral, all kinds, and meanwhile she and Dvosse-Malke got into a long
conversation, which is what happens when two shopkeepers get together and
Rachel sat on the side, not listening to their conversation. Rachel
heard another conversation, another voice, other words, that could be heard
from Stempeniu's violin, words that went straight to her heart, and she
stood up only when the violin stopped playing and Stempeniu appeared in
the doorway. Their eyes met and both he and she turned a fiery red ....
Stempeniu halted at the door, unsure of what to do next. And as she looked
at him, Rachel told her mother-in-law that it was time to go home. Dvosse-Malke
gasped and wrung her hands:
"Oh, for goodness' sake! Just look at how long we've been talking!
Well, Freydel, what are you going to charge me for the beads. You can't
ask too much from me, Freydel. You've got to be straight with me!"
"As straight as a ramrod! Listen, Dvosse-Malke, let me choke on the
first food I eat if I tell you a lie! Sossi wanted to force eighteen rubles
on me for the beads, may the Good Lord preserve me and my husband! What
can I do? I hesitated - Sossi is Sossi, and you're Dvosse-Malke. I'll give
them to you for fifteen rubles, and believe me, I swear on my grandmother's
grave, I'm not earning a kopek on them, as God is my witness!"
"Well, fifteen is fifteen, I'll give you twelve, Freydel, twelve rubles
"Oh, the Lord preserve us, Dvosse-Malke, don't haggle!" shouted Freydel
heatedly, grabbing Dvosse-Malke's hands as if they were about to dance
In that moment, Rachel and Stempeniu could quickly exchange a few words.
"I want to tell you something, Stempeniu."
"I want to tell you something too, Rachel."
"You already did tell me something."
"In the letter."
"it wasn't much."
"It was too much."
"No, it wasn't even one one-hundredth."
"I swear by my life, I'm dying! Where can I meet you?"
"I don't know where we can meet."
"In the evening?"
"On Monastery Street."
"Saturday night. You can go out on the other side to Monastery Garden."
"I can't, I won't."
"You have to, Rachel. Please, just come out for one minute! Be there,
I'll wait for you, on Saturday night, for God's sake, Rachel...."
"I won't come."
"You will come, Rachel, you will come!..."
"Well, daughter," called Dvosse-Malke. "Come on, let's go home. We
barely got it for fourteen rubles. Why, I didn't realize you were such
an expert businesswoman, Freydel!"
"Oh, Dvosse-Malke, God preserve you, you're a hard bargainer, upon
my word! Good day to you and stay well! Wear the necklace in the best of
health! Use it in the best of health! May it last forever, and may you
live even longer!"
"She can go on crutches, the bitch, the way she haggled me to death!"
said Freydel to Stempeniu, closing the door behind them. "And that daughter-in-law,
the white heifer, she just sits there and keeps her mouth shut. She looks
about as good in that coral as a pig!..."