"The Big Windfall," by Sholom Aleichem, translated by me, part four (end)
I did this translation for Scott Davis, proprietor of JewishStoryTeller.com and author of "Souls are Flying," with the sage counsel of Musia Lakin.
In part one, part two, and part three, Tevye barely supports his wife and daughters by dragging logs to town and selling them. He's making his weary way home one evening when he comes upon two rich ladies lost in the woods. They nag him into turning his wagon back towards Boyberik (it's like a fancy gated community) and taking them to their dacha (fancy country home). When they arrive, the family is delighted to have "auntie" and "mama" home again, and the head of the household asks Tevye how much money he wants for his kind act. Meanwhile, they offer him brandy and food.
I say thank you. "A little brandy," I say, "for example. Except, I'm sitting here and feasting while there, at home, my wife and children - they should be healthy - if you could see your way clear to..."
Briefly, they were able to decipher what I meant, and packages were put in the wagon, each one separate, bread and fish, roasted meat, quarters of chickens, tea and sugar, a bowl of shmaltz, a jar of preserves. "This," they say, "you can take home as a present for your wife and kids. And now," they say, "how much shall we pay you for your efforts, since you have gone out of your way?"
"It all depends," I say, "what's fitting? As much as your good will deems proper," I say, "that's how much you should pay. We'll come to an understanding, as they say, 'one coin more or less.' A guy who scratches for a living won't be any the worse off for more scratching."
"No," they say, "we'll hear from you yourself, Reb Tevye! Don't be afraid, nobody's going to knock your head off, God forbid."
"What should I do?" I muse to myself. "It's terrible - if I ask one ruble, well maybe I could have gotten two. But if I say two, maybe they'll think I'm a madman, asking 'why so much'?"
"THREE!" came out of my mouth, and the crowd was laughing so hard, I practically buried myself in the ground from embarrassment. "Don't be offended," I say, "maybe I've blundered here. A horse," I say, "stumbles on his four feet, so why not a man with his one tongue?"
There was louder laughter. They were holding their sides laughing. "That's enough laughing, already," calls the rich man, and he takes a big purse from his pocket. "How much do you think is customary? Go on, guess! A tenner, red as fire! Will that please you?" Then he says: "This much, children, he's gotten from me, now you all give from your pockets the amount you think is right."
In short, what do you know? Threes and ones began to fly onto the table - my hands and feet were shaking. I thought I'd fall in a faint.
"Nu, why are you just standing there?" the rich man said to me. "Pick up the coins from the table and take them back safely to your wife and kids."
"God should give you," I say, " 'twice as much' - you should possess ten times, a hundred times as much. May every good come to you, with great enjoyment!" I gathered up the money with both hands. Who counts it? I stuffed it in all my pockets. "Good night," I say, "and be healthy, and you should have," I say, "great joy, you and your children and grandchildren, and your whole family!" And I head for the wagon.
The rich lady, the one with the silk kerchief, calls out to me: "Stay a little longer, Reb Tevye, you're going to get a wonderful present from me if God wills. Come back in the morning - I have," she says, "a brown cow, it was once a wonderful cow, she used to give twenty-four glasses of milk a day. Now she isn't milked, that is to say, you can milk her but you won't get any milk."
"Live long!" I say. "You shouldn't have any misfortunes. Your cow will get milked and give milk at my place, my old lady is (no evil eye) such a housewife as can make noodles from nothing. From a finger she can make grated farfel! With miracles she makes Shabbos! With a game she can put the children to sleep! Don't be offended," I say, "perhaps I've blurted out more than I should ... good night, everything good now and always, and be healthy!" I say, and I get ready to go.
I look around the courtyard for the wagon, I look for the horse - oy vey, a misfortune, an evil blow! I look all around, 'the child is not there' - no horse!
"Nu, Tevye," I think to myself, "now you've got a problem."
A fine story comes to me, one I read once in some little book, how a gang got hold of a certain Jew far from home, a Chasid, lured him to a palace outside of town, gave him food and drink, and then, suddenly, all at once, they disappeared! Leaving him alone with a female, who quickly became a wild beast, the beast turned into a cat, the cat to a dragon... "See now, Tevye," I say to myself, "haven't you gotten yourself into hot water?"
"Why are you scratching about like a beaver, Tevye, why are you grumbling?" they asked me. "Why am I scratching about?" I answer, "Because, oy vey iz mir, why do I live on this earth, I have a disaster, my horse..."
"Your horse," they tell me, "is in the stable, be so kind as to go back there and see him."
I go to the stable and take a look: yes, as I'm a Jew! There's my lad, standing happily among the rich man's horses, thoroughly engrossed in chewing, grating away at those tasty oats, as if they were the whole world.
"Listen, my wise fellow" I tell him, "it's time for home! Pull yourself away right now, 'more is forbidden.' Eating too much, they say, can be harmful."
So, briefly - I just barely managed to pry him away. I hitched him to the wagon and we left for home, happy and lively, singing a hymn, completely intoxicated. Also, my horse was completely different from before - a new hide was growing on him! I didn't need to use the whip, he went like a song.
When we got home, it was already late at night. I woke my wife with elation: "A good holiday greeting!" I say to her, "Congratulations, Goldie!"
"A dark, bleak mazl tov to you," she says, "what's with the holiday cheer, my dear breadwinner? You coming back from a wedding or a bris, my goldspinner?"
"It was a wedding AND a bris!" I say. "Wait, my wife, soon you'll see a treasure! First," I say, "wake up the children - let them, poor things, also take pleasure in the delights from Yehupetz!"
"Are you crazy, have you lost your mind, are you deranged, are you out of your senses? You're talking kind of like a crazy man (it should happen to our enemies)" my wife said to me, and she cursed, in fact she read me the Chapter of Curses, as wives generally do.
"A wife," I say, "is always a wife. Not for nothing did King Soloman say that among his thousand wives he couldn't find one good one. It's lucky, as I live, that it's gone out of fashion these days to have a lot of wives..." I go out to my wagon and drag in all the good things that had been packed for me, and I put everything out on the table.
My bunch saw rolls, smelled meat, they fell on the table like hungry wolves, poor things. There was a grab-fest. Their hands trembled. Their teeth went to work. This happened as in the book: 'and they ate.' As Rashi says, there was a crackling like locusts. I had tears in my eyes...
"Nu, tell already," my missus goes, "who is it that provided such a poor meal, or rather, such a feast? And why are you so proud?"
"I've got time," I say. "Goldie, you'll know everything. Fire up the samovar," I say, "and then we'll all sit around the table, drinking little glasses of tea, as it's customary to do. Such a man," I say, "lives just once in the world, not twice. In particular," I say, "as we're now going to have our own cow that gives twenty-four glasses of milk a day. In the morning, by the grace of God, I'm going to go get it.
"And so, Goldie," I say to her afterwards, whipping out the whole packet of banknotes, "and so, be a clever housewife and guess how much gold we have?"
I sneak a look at my wife. She's beside herself, dead as a wall, she can't speak a word.
"God be with you, Goldie my heart," I say, "what's frightened you so? Maybe you're afraid," I say, "that I've been embezzling, or that I've stolen it? Feh!" I say, "you should be ashamed of yourself! You've been Tevye's wife all this time and you can still suspect me of such a thing? Silly woman," I say, "this gold is kosher, earned by my own cleverness and my slaving away. I have," I say, "rescued two women from great peril. If not for me, God knows what would have happened to them!"
Briefly, I told her the whole story from A to Z. How God had taken me around and around. And we both counted the money again and again. There was exactly twice 36 and one more, 37 karbn! My wife started crying.
"Why are you crying, you silly thing?" I say.
"Why shouldn't I cry," she says, "it just happens, when the heart is full the eyes overflow. God help me," she says, "I swear my heart told me you'd be coming home with exciting news. I can't remember," she says, "the last time Grandma Tsaytl, God rest her soul, came to me in a dream. I'm sleeping, suddenly I dream of a milk pail, full as can be. Granny Tsaytl, rest in peace, carries the milk pail under her apron so nobody will give it the evil eye, and the children cry, "Mommy, mama..."
"Don't eat the noodles before Shabbos, my soul," I say, "Let Granny Tsaytl have a happy time in paradise." I say, "I don't yet know if we'll get any milk from the cow. Except, if God was able to make such a miracle as that we shall now have a cow, probably he'll see to it that the cow gives milk... it would be better if you'd give me advice, Goldie my heart. What shall we do with the gold?"
"I may as well ask you," she says to me, "What do you figure we can do - no evil eye - with such capital?"
And we both thought about this and that, each of us broke our heads. That night we imagined getting into - what you will - we bought a pair of horses, and soon sold them, making a profit. We opened an imported goods shop in Boyberik, sold out the stock, and then immediately opened a dry goods store. We took on a bit of forest land, made a bit on that, and then got out of it - we then tried buying the Anatevka tax office, made a percent on that, God willing, then turned the money over, started lending it out for more profit...
"My crazy enemies!" my wife says to me. "You let loose our few pennies until you're left with only your whip?"
"What then," I say, "get into the grain market and go bankrupt, is that better? The world's tough these days, utterly destitute, because of wheat. Go, just go see what's doing in Odessa!"
"What does Odessa matter to me? My grandfathers didn't go there and my children won't be there as long as I live and my feet carry me."
"What do you want?" I say.
"What do I want?" she says. "I want you not to be a dummy talking all this nonsense."
"Oh, sure," I say, "now you're a wise sage. As people say: aren't you suddenly so smart. It's always this way."
So to make a long story short, we started quarreling a few times and then quickly made up, and this is the plan we came up with: we'd buy another cow, one that actually gives milk, to go with the one we'd been given.
Perhaps you'll ask: "Why a cow? Why not a horse?" I'll answer you: why a horse, why not a cow? Boyberik is quite a place, the genteel wealthy people of Yuhupetz come out there to their dachas, and since the Yehupetzers are such genteel folk, used to the best, one should bring everything to them all prepared, right into their mouths: meat and eggs and chickens, onions, peppers, parsley - so why shouldn't there be someone similar who undertakes to bring cheese and butter and sour cream, etc. straight to their houses?
Especially seeing as how the Yehupetzers take their eating seriously, and they've got money, as it's said: a sharp guy can really make some pretty money there, he can earn really fat. Especially, above all, as long as the goods are the real thing. And stuff like I have, you can't find even in Yehupetz (I should share these blessings with you).
How many times have even the big shots begged me, I should bring fresh goods. "We've heard, dear Tevye," say the gentiles, "that you're an honest man, even though you're a Jew, a rat, a canker..." Do you think I'll ever hear such a compliment from a Jew? May my enemies live so long! One doesn't hear a single good word from our little Jews. They only know to come poking around, looking in every bowl. They see Tevye has his own cow, a new wagon, they begin to break their heads wondering: How'd he get this stuff? Is this said Tevye counterfeiting? Is he distilling moonshine on the sly?
Ha ha ha! Let them torment themselves, brothers! Good luck to them, they should break their heads in good health!
I don't know if you'll believe me - you're just about the first to hear the whole story, the how and what and when... only it seems to me, maybe I've spoken too long. Don't take offense. One should keep in mind, as the good book says, 'each to his own,' you to your little books, I to my pails and jugs.
I'll just ask you one thing, sir: that you don't write me into a book, and if you do, at least don't use my real name. Be healthy and may things always go well for you!
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