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33

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

MIRKIN CONTINUED TO stare fixedly at Beryasheva. Suddenly he stood up, took a few paces around the room, stopped, and announced steadfastly and decisively, “You must run away from home. That’s your only salvation!”

Zvulovina jumped up from her seat and stared at Mirkin, her big round eyes wide open, and an expression of fear and incomprehension on her face. Beryasheva regarded him with an attentive, inquiring look.

“You say, ‘Run away,’ ” she repeated in astonishment.

“Yes! Run away!” Mirkin repeated insistently. “Just think. Let’s suppose that a miracle occurred, and the cripple whom they want to marry you off to suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth. Let’s even suppose they don’t foist other suitors on you and stop tyrannizing you. What would you gain? The best you could expect is that you might read several books on the sly. Then what? It’s impossible to keep struggling; in the last analysis, your father will prevail and force you to marry—you’ll be destroyed and perish once and for all. . . . In the meantime, you could actually become someone capable of real thought! Yes!” he concluded energetically. “You must run away from this darkness! Run away!”

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18

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

EIZERMAN LEFT KAPLUNERS home completely disheartened. He’d expected so much from the first lesson—and had gotten so little from it! He’d hoped the teacher would immediately reveal to him the source of “secular wisdom”; instead, he’d been handed a children’s story to read, had lingered on the pronunciation of individual letters as if that were important, and had been compelled to write out numbers for no purpose. . . . In addition, he’d been forbidden to utter one word of Yiddish.

In the gloomiest mood, his eyes downcast, Eizerman made his way back to the Ore Miklet. He walked along the same streets that he’d traversed earlier that day when he was feeling so inspired by bright hopes and dreams—but these streets now seemed entirely different to him, foreign and gloomy. . . .

When Eizerman returned to the Ore Miklet, the “conspirators” had managed to finish debating their plan for the “betrothal.” It was decided to make all the arrangements for the next day and to involve one more of their comrades in this affair, Geverman, who was considered a steadfast fellow. For some reason, Eizerman’s return cheered everyone up.

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40

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

IT HAD BEGUN to grow dark when Tsiporin suddenly appeared. His boots were covered with mud right up to the top, his face was tired, his hair dripping with sweat, but his eyes shone with euphoric excitement.

The jubilant crowd was especially glad to see him and greeted him with cries and questions as to why he had come so late.

“I was sitting in the synagogue reading the Psalms!” he replied, smiling slyly.

Faevich exchanged a significant glance with him, winked at Mirkin, and all three of them, one after another, slipped into the next room.

“Did you really go to the station?” asked Faevich.

“And why not? Of course I did!” Tsiporin replied proudly. After suddenly collecting himself, he assumed a serious look and added, “I had to find out if she left. . . . If someone else had come. . . .”

“Well, what happened? Tell us! Did she leave?” Mirkin interrupted him hastily.

“Of course she did!”

“Tell us in detail!” demanded Faevich. “So help me God, you’re a fine fellow!” he added, slapping his shoulder in approval.

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5

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

“WELL, I SEE what sort of an odd fellow you are!” Uler said. “Sit down and tell me about yourself. . . .”

“What’s there to tell? You see for yourself. . . .”

“Did you run away from the yeshiva?”

“No, from home.”

“You’ve never been to yeshiva?”

“No. . . .”

“Hey, too bad!” said Uler with disappointment. “A yeshiva student’s an entirely different creature! The yeshiva lends a person a special spirit, a special kind of understanding; it burnishes a person, polishes him. . . . He who’s never been to yeshiva is only half a person!”

“Of course, you’ve been to yeshiva?”

“Ha, ha, ha! Me? I’ve been to five!”

“I can see you’re a lamed-vovnik!” Eizerman joked.

“Yes, all alone I’m worth all thirty-six of those righteous men!” exclaimed Uler boastfully. “I’m convinced that a new hell is being built just for me.”

“For what sort of great deeds?”

“Don’t worry! I’ve performed many great deeds. Sometime I’ll tell you about them—your hair will stand on end! Do you know that I’ve destroyed two yeshivas with my own hands?” he cried with pride.

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20

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

THE NEXT MORNING Eizerman awoke late and found Mirkin next to the samovar with a book.

“What a pleasure to wake up in the morning and not be compelled to lay tefillin first of all!” cried Eizerman joyfully. “This is the first time in my life that I feel as good and free as I do now!”

Mirkin replied with a silent smile.

Uler arrived and set off with Eizerman to take a look at his room. It was a small closet with a little window located just below the ceiling, but it had several important advantages. The landlady, a childless old woman, was away from home all day long, and that freed the tenant from any supervision regarding his behavior. The other advantage of the room was that it was already furnished: a small table, a stool, and a long wide bench that could serve as a bed. In addition, the landlady provided a pillow and a blanket.

Eizerman was ecstatic about the room. He rented it without any negotiation for sixty kopecks a month and moved in immediately. Left there alone, he stood for some time in the middle of the room, trying to convince himself that he was in his own apartment. Next, without hurrying, he unpacked and arranged his books, paper, inkwell, pen, and pencil in symmetrical order on the table and for several minutes admired all his work from a distance. Then he went to the table, took out Hattot Ne’urim, and said in a loud and triumphant voice, “Today I begin a new life! I swear by everything I hold dear that I shall devote my entire life to study and won’t rest until I reach the highest stages of wisdom! I swear to wage the divine struggle for the holy Haskalah! Amen!”

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