In Those Days - The Story of an Old Man
by Jehudah Steinberg
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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 me:

"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 rods?"

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 done!"

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 me.

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 speech.

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


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, officer!"

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 faith.

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 wonders.

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 ghost.

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 difference."

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 exclaimed:


"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 over."

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 breath.

"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! . . . . "


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

Arba-Kanfos. 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).

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

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

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

Cantonists. 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.

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

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

Haggodah. The ritual used at the Passover eve home service.

Hallah. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

Lamdan. A scholar learned in the Torah.

Mezuzah. 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.

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

Shaatnez. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

Tzitzis. See ARBA-KANFOS.

Yom-Kippur. 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

Zhidovka acute accent over the o, throughout the text

nebulae ae written as a ligature

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

manoeuvres oe written as a ligature


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