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9

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

“WHATS THE ORE MIKLET where you want to take me?” asked Eizerman with a smile.

“You’ll find out when we get there!” replied Uler in a conspiratorial tone of voice. “You see, it’s an apartment where any of us can stay,” he began to explain immediately. “That’s why we call it an Ore Miklet. Three people are living there now. You’ll see what sort of group it is, what fine people they are!

“You just mentioned robbers and criminals,” he recalled. “You should see Sonya Beryasheva’s father, the one Mirkin was just talking about—and then you’d understand what a robber and a criminal really is!”

“What are you talking about? Who is he?”

“You see,” Uler began heatedly, “this Sonya Beryasheva’s a young woman who’s just out of this world! Believe me when I say it. She’s not a young woman at all, but a real human being. You can talk to her about anything. She’s read absolutely everything! Mirkin gave lessons to her younger brother for half a year. He made her acquaintance, lent her books on the sly, and turned her into a free thinker. Now she’s no less than we are.”

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10

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

THE SYNAGOGUE SEEMED to Eizerman to be brighter, larger, and more dazzling than those in Miloslavka. When he and Uler walked in, evening prayers were already under way. Uler headed off somewhere and disappeared; Eizerman began to look around at the congregation and noticed several men among them wearing short jackets, dickeys, and trimmed side curls. No one paid them any special attention. . . . Turning around, Eizerman suddenly found himself looking right at Sheinburg. . . . He was standing by the east wall,1 next to an old Jew in a yarmulke2 wearing a long satin frock coat, and he was coldly, haughtily staring at Eizerman.

He was embarrassed and dropped his eyes, afraid to give away his terrible secret. But he couldn’t restrain himself from glancing again in Sheinburg’s direction. He was now engaged in conversation with his neighbor. He was talking rather loudly, with a note of indignation in his voice and with vigorous gestures. From the individual words that reached him, Eizerman concluded that Sheinburg was complaining about the head of the synagogue.

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21

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

A YESHIVA STUDENT, ONE of Mirkin’s synagogue pupils, entered the room; he looked askance at Geverman, handed Mirkin a note, whispered mysteriously, “From Hillel,” and then beat a hasty retreat.

The note consisted of only a few words: “Agreed. She’ll be where she’s supposed to be tomorrow after dinner. Take action.”

After reading the note, Mirkin described in detail to Geverman the plan for Beryasheva’s “betrothal.”

“Splendid!” Geverman blurted out, without even thinking. “That’s just the way to do it! I’ll take it upon myself to carry it out. I’ll get engaged to her.”

“What are you saying? Old man Beryashev knows you, and as soon as you enter his shop, he’ll guess that something’s amiss. . . . Esther Geverman’s son has suddenly come all by himself to buy himself a scarf or some socks. . . .”

“So let him guess! Before he manages to figure it out, I’ll get it all done.”

“No! And don’t insist! You’ll ruin the whole thing!” Mirkin declared. “If need be, you’ll help in some other way. . . . I’m going to the Ore Miklet now. This evening I’ll drop in on Kapluner. When you finish work, you come over there, too.”

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27

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

SHIFRIN CAME INTO the room, a tall, poised gymnasium student dressed somewhat pretentiously like a dandy. Upon seeing Mirkin he began speaking in an affected manner, with a barely detectable note of sarcasm in his voice: “B-bon soir-r, Monsieur Mirkin,”1 and he shook his hand.

Then he went up to Yegorova, bowed to her elegantly and respectfully, and said, “Olga Andreevna!”2

He inclined his head a bit to one side and wanted to add something, but refrained.

Yegorova nodded her head coolly, and a shadow crossed her face.

“What were you talking about, ladies and gentlemen?” Shifrin asked nonchalantly, sensing he was superfluous in the room.

“The weather!” Liza replied nimbly.

“I don’t believe that!” he exclaimed sarcastically. “Even more so in the presence of . . .”

He wanted to say “Mirkin” and even looked at him, but felt that it might be rude, so he changed his mind: “In the presence of Moleschott’s book!”

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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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