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16

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

KORNBLAT FOLLOWED THE conversation attentively, without letting go of his textbook. After some hesitation, he put the book aside and approached the table.

“Here’s what I have to say,” he began in a business-like manner. “There’s only one sure means to rescue her! It’s a difficult step, but if she agrees to it, she’ll immediately avoid this fellow, as well as any others. . . .”

“How?” his comrades inquired with interest.

“The simplest way of all. One has only to say a few words. . . .”

Harey-at!” blurted out Uler, guessing the answer.1

“Precisely!” confirmed Kornblat in a tone indicating that he was surprised his comrades hadn’t come up with such an easy solution before. “One of us will drop into Beryashev’s shop with two comrades as witnesses when Sonya is present (this will have to be arranged with her in advance), purchase something from her, slip a silver coin into her hand, and say aloud ‘Harey-at,’ and it’s all done! Not even a Tatar could help!”2

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11

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

THE APARTMENT THAT was referred to as the Ore Miklet was located at the edge of town, in an old half-derelict building that had long stood empty. No one knew exactly who owned the building, and even less by whose permission Elka Rasseyer had settled there. Her reputation in the neighborhood was of the worst sort. By profession, she and her husband, whom the neighbors hardly ever saw, were rag-pickers. But rumors circulated in the neighborhood that Elka’s husband was engaged in “dark affairs,” thievery, if not even robbery.

The house consisted of four rooms; the “landlady” occupied two of them; one was uninhabited because the ceiling had caved in and a large beam was resting on the floor. A former yeshiva student, Tsiporin, rented the fourth and largest room from Elka for one ruble a month. From his very first day there he made his apartment available to any freethinker who was in need of a place to stay. The room was soon turned into a communal apartment with an enormous number of constantly changing residents, and as a result, it acquired the name of the Ore Miklet.

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2

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

A SHOP WITH A sign in Hebrew letters drew Eizerman’s attention: “Bookstore.” Through the window, covered with dust and cobwebs, he could make out large piles of books tied tightly with string, stacked up, leaning against the glass.

Eizerman approached the open door and peeked in. Books, both in bundles and separately, lay in disorder on the shelves, the floor, and the counter. Behind the counter stood a Jew with a long black beard and a stern, business-like look. Titles of the usual uninteresting prayer books and other religious texts flashed before Eizerman’s eyes: Siddur, Makhzer, Slikhes, Tkhines, Mishnayes, and so on. The young man’s sharp eyes automatically surveyed these titles, looking for something else—and immediately came to rest on several small books lying on one remote shelf. Even before Eizerman had time to read their titles, he guessed, by their format and print, that these books were not religious, but “that kind.” His heart began to beat faster. He walked right up to the open door and began to examine those books very closely. Now he could clearly decipher the titles: Maslul, Talmud Loshon ’Ivri, Moshal uMelitza . . .1 All of a sudden the title of one book, half-hidden by another volume, flashed before his eyes: Hattot Ne’u. . . .

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24

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

WITH MEEROVS UNEXPECTED departure, the debate came to an end. Only Mirkin and the gymnasium student in glasses sitting on the side continued their conversation in a whisper, comparing the talents of Dostoevsky and Mikhailov. After some hesitation, Mirkin observed in a low voice, “If you want to know the whole truth, I confess that I consider both Mikhailov and Dostoevsky immeasurably lower than Lilienblum or Peretz Smolenskin. . . . What’s to discuss? These two are giants! They’ve grasped the entire world, turned life itself upside down—while those other two? Even Mikhailov! There’s no comparison!”

“Hey, you!” Tsivershtein spoke up suddenly, still lying on the bed. “You’re still talking about Pisarev and Mikhailov—you have no idea about anything else. But if you could see the book I’ve just laid my hands on—you’d sing a different song!”

“What book is that?” the comrades grew interested.

“It’s the sort of book,” Tsivershtein began enigmatically, “that if you put all Russian literature on one side of the scale, including Pushkin, and Pisarev, and Mikhailov, and Dostoevsky—all of them—and this one book on the other side—it would outweigh them!”

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23

S. A. An-sky Indiana University Press ePub

MIRKIN SET OFF to see Kapluner. Upset by his meeting with Geverman’s mother, he walked hurriedly, his head bowed, considering how best to convey to Geverman the conversation he’d had with his mother. However much Esther had won his sympathy, he still didn’t take her side in the matter; he repeated to himself that mothers, with their concessions, tears, and solicitude, could be more dangerous than the strictest, most threatening fathers. He decided to convey to Geverman his mother’s proposition in the most objective form and to allow him to decide for himself whether or not to return home.

“Gre-e-etings, Mirkin!” Coming from behind he suddenly heard a joyful exclamation uttered in a woman’s extended singsong.

Turning around, he saw his former pupil, a young woman with a broad face, a pitiful expression, and very kind eyes. She was dressed poorly, like a worker. This meeting with Mirkin, apparently, cheered her up significantly.

“Ah, Genesina! How are you?” Mirkin greeted her warmly.

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