Translated and edited by Joachim Neugroschel


And as for Sternpeniu, no sooner was it night than he sent his band out to the zmires, the traditional pre-wedding party, where the girls get together with the bride and dance. Then he took the violin under his arm so that Freydel would think he was going to the wedding. But once he left the house, he handed the instrument to Mekhtshi and then he sped to Monastery Street, and he paced up and down in the shade of the trees, stopping every minute to see if Rachel was coming, beautiful Rachel. He never doubted for an instant that she would come. His heart told him she would. He had seen it in her eyes when they had met that day, the day she was trying on the coral necklace.
And Stempeniu was not mistaken. Scarcely had fifteen minutes gone by when he caught sight of a woman across the street, floating towards him with a white shawl on her head. She was walking quickly, glancing around on all sides. The white shawl was pulled down almost over her eyes, and her hands were trembling, her teeth chattering, her heart pounding - her entire body shaking. She took a hard look, she halted, she spotted Stempeniu and moved towards him, saying:
"How dare you, sir - let me ask you - "
"Don't use the polite form with me, Rachel, use the familiar form," replied Stempeniu, taking hold of both her hands and staring deep into her eyes. In his eyes, Rachel saw the same glow as in the stars that were gazing down from the dark-blue sky of that beautiful summer night.... All the Jews in Mazepevke were concluding the Sabbath, chanting the praises of the prophet Elijah, as was customary, sighing and brooding, worrying about work and business, wishing they could have the luck of the pious man who had met Elijah and greeted him and been greeted by him. The women of Mazepevke removed the veils from their heads, took off their Sabbath garments, their jewelry, and set about their everyday work. In a word, Mazepevke was busy ushering out the dear and holy Sabbath - and it never occurred to anyone that at this very moment, Rachel, the daughter-in-law of Dvosse-Malke, was standing with Stempeniu the Musician on Monastery Street, and that the two of them were talking about things that were anything but Jewish....
Only the blue heavens, the bright stars, which were peering down with their brilliance, only the high poplars in the monastery, only the nocturnal birds in the huge garden, calling to one another in their language - only they could hear and see what was happening; only they knew that on this lovely, magical night, under the monastery trees, in the Christian street Rachel was standing right next to Stempeniu, in such a different state that she completely forgot who she was and what she was. Here, amid the lovely splendors of nature, Rachel felt as she had never felt in her life. The fear, which had stalked her all the way here, suddenly left her, and she felt as if she'd grown wings and were as free as a bird and could fly, fly.... Stempeniu moved closer to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. Rachel shuddered. She wanted to step away but, instead, she looked at Stempeniu, and tears rolled down from her radiant blue eyes.
"Why are you crying, Rachel?" asked Stempeniu, wiping her tears away with his hands.
"Ah, Stempeniu, I feel so good here, next to... you..." (she shifted to the familiar form) "next to you, Stempeniu! Why am I... ? Why can't I be...?"
"Mine? Is that what you want to say? You are mine, Rachel, you are mine!"
"What do you mean I'm yours, Stempeniu? How can that be?"
"You're mine, my beloved, do you understand, because I'm yours forever, for all time, until the dark grave, I'm yours till death, my darling, my life!"
"Benjamin said the same thing, he swore - and then in the end...."
"Who's Benjamin?" asked Stempeniu, amazed, peering into Rachel's eyes the way you look at a child when it says something utterly silly. "Who are you talking about, my darling?"
"Benjamin, Haia-Etel's cousin. My friend Haia-Etel was an orphan and she had a cousin named Benjamin, and when they were very young, they swore they would get married, he promised her, he swore an oath on his holy word of honor - and in the end, oh, it was so ugly for her, poor Haia-Etel, she died a long time ago, God rest her soul, may she forgive me.... But she was crazy about Benjamin, she worshiped the ground he walked on. She told me so herself.... I can see her now, I can see her by the window, with me singing songs to her, and she's crying and she keeps saying: 'Oh, don't believe them, you mustn't believe what men tell you!...' "
Rachel told about her friend Haia-Etel the orphan, and Stempeniu kissed Rachel's hands, caressed her, looked into her eyes - and Rachel kept talking about Haia-Etel and how she passed away, how she went out like a candle, out of love for her dear Benjamin ....
Haia-Etel had been dead for several years, but Rachel remembered her well. She often dreamt about her. Now she felt as if Haia-Etel were standing on the other side of the wall, wearing a shroud and gazing over at Rachel and beckoning to her, pointing at Stempeniu and shaking her head as though to say: "What are you doing?..."
"What's the use, Rachel my darling, what's the use of talking and remembering such things, especially at night? Just look at me with your bright, lovely eyes, oh the way they shine and glow like two beautiful diamo - "
Stempeniu hadn't even uttered the last word when Rachel wrested herself loose from his hands with such force that Stempeniu was terrified of her.
"For God's sake, Rachel, what's wrong?"
He tried to take hold of her again, but she wouldn't let him. She trembled and whispered: "Do you see her? She's over there! She's standing there!... She's looking at us, at us......
"Who's standing there? Who's looking at us? What are you talking about, Rachel? My darling, come to me, take my hand...."
"Oh! Leave me alone, Stempeniu, leave me alone." She was using the polite form again. "Can't you see, something white is standing there? Oh, it's her, it's Haia-Etel! Haia-Etel!... Oh, leave me alone, leave me alone!... How dare you, how dare you!... Good night to you! Good night!...."
And Rachel vanished in the shade of the trees. Stempeniu saw only the ends of the white shawl fluttering in the wind, looking like two white pinions. That is how a good angel flees, that is how a good dream disappears....
Oh, you Jewish woman, you showed your virtue there and all your purity. Oh, Jewish wife! You showed all your fidelity there, all your devotion!

Upon coming home, Rachel wanted to tell everyone, shout to everyone, where she had been and whom she had met. But she found the entire household sitting around a table with several guests, in front of a huge samovar, and they were all engrossed in talking shop, as Jews usually do, gathering somewhere on Saturday night when the Sabbath is over. After resting for twenty-four hours, you chat a little about business, about the next day's fair, and about various political matters.
"I'm not going to have a booth at the fair," said a fat little man with a dry-goods store. "The fairs can go to hell! I'm fed up with them! Troubles and headaches - that's all you can get out of a fair!"
"Why do you say that?" exclaimed Dvosse-Malke, her hands folded on her chest. "I don't understand why you're so down on fairs, Yudel. Just last week, Lord preserve us, you made a bundle - may it happen to all Jews. Why, you were raking in money all day long!"
"All you talk about is raking in money!" cried Isaak-Naphtali, not looking at his wife as he worked the beads on an abacus.
"And I wouldn't want a worse fair than last Sunday," cried Moyshe-Mendel, checking the accounts. "How can you deny it? I don't understand."
"That's the point," said Yudel, "you just don't want to believe anyone else. When you see ten peasants crowding in and practically carrying away my booth, you call that 'raking in money' and you start resenting it."
"You know what, Yudel?" exclaimed a cross-eyed young man. "Why don't we forget about the county fair. Tomorrow is another day, and we'll have our fill of it then. Let's talk about something else."
And they began talking about important matters: citrons for the Feast of Tabernacles, synagogue problems, and of course war. Everyone talked, everyone smoked, the samovar boiled and steamed and the house was filled with fumes. The oven was hot: borsht and goose breasts were cooking for the last Sabbath meal.
"Where've you been, Rachel?" Dvosse-Malke asked her daughter-in-law.
"Right there... on Monastery Street."
"What's it like outside? Nice weather? God preserve the weather for all fairs.... What's wrong, dear, you're so pale, do you have a headache? Maybe you should lie down a bit."
At these words, everyone turned around and looked at Rachel's wan face, and it was unanimously decided that she was groggy from the samovar's fumes. Rachel went to her room to lie down, and now the company began talking about fumes and how fumes were no laughing matter, they might seem like nothing, why, they were only smoke - but they could kill a person just like that. And one man related that once, in his grandfather's home - may he rest in peace - the entire household was practically wiped out by fumes. And someone else told a lovely story about how his uncle's entire family was practically poisoned by a kind of fish known as a "sea eel," and they were just barely saved from death. Another man told a very lovely story about a demon, a poltergeist, a wandering ghost, and so on and on... until they began talking about death.
"Whatever people talk about, in the end they talk about death!" someone exclaimed.
" 'Elijah the Prophet' - we ought to have a look - 'Elijah of Tishbi' - what's my wife doing?- 'Elijah of Gilead.'. . ." Moyshe-Mendel suddenly murmured, while singing the "Elijahs" of the Sabbath night. He got up from the table and went to look in on Rachel.

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