Avrohom The Orchard-keeper


When he first came to the place, as a boy, and went straight to the

house-of-study, and people, having greeted him, asked "Where do you come

from?" and he answered, not without pride, "From the Government of

Wilna"--from that day until the day he was married, they called him "the


In a few years' time, however, when the house-of-study had married him

to the daughter of the Psalm-reader, a coarse,
ndersized creature, and

when, after six months' "board" with his father-in-law, he became a

teacher, the town altered his name to "the Wilner teacher." Again, a few

years later, when he got a chest affection, and the doctor forbade him

to keep school, and he began to deal in fruit, the town learnt that his

name was Avrohom, to which they added "the orchard-keeper," and his name

is "Avrohom the orchard-keeper" to this day.

Avrohom was quite content with his new calling. He had always wished for

a business in which he need not have to do with a lot of people in whom

he had small confidence, and in whose society he felt ill at ease.

People have a queer way with them, he used to think, they want to be

always talking! They want to tell everything, find out everything,

answer everything!

When he was a student he always chose out a place in a corner somewhere,

where he could see nobody, and nobody could see him; and he used to

murmur the day's task to a low tune, and his murmured repetition made

him think of the ruin in which Rabbi Jose, praying there, heard the

Bas-Kol mourn, cooing like a dove, over the exile of Israel. And then he

longed to float away to that ruin somewhere in the wilderness, and

murmur there like a dove, with no one, no one, to interrupt him, not

even the Bas-Kol. But his vision would be destroyed by some hard

question which a fellow-student would put before him, describing circles

with his thumb and chanting to a shrill Gemoreh-tune.

In the orchard, at the end of the Gass, however, which Avrohom hired of

the Gentiles, he had no need to exchange empty words with anyone.

Avrohom had no large capital, and could not afford to hire an orchard

for more than thirty rubles. The orchard was consequently small, and

only grew about twenty apple-trees, a few pear-trees, and a cherry-tree.

Avrohom used to move to the garden directly after the Feast of Weeks,

although that was still very early, the fruit had not yet set, and there

was nothing to steal.

But Avrohom could not endure sitting at home any longer, where the wife

screamed, the children cried, and there was a continual "fair." What

should he want there? He only wished to be alone with his thoughts and

imaginings, and his quiet "tunes," which were always weaving themselves

inside him, and were nearly stifled.

It is early to go to the orchard directly after the Feast of Weeks, but

Avrohom does not mind, he is drawn back to the trees that can think and

hear so much, and keep so many things to themselves.

And Avrohom betakes himself to the orchard. He carries with him, besides

phylacteries and prayer-scarf, a prayer-book with the Psalms and the

"Stations," two volumes of the Gemoreh which he owns, a few works by the

later scholars, and the Tales of Jerusalem; he takes his wadded winter

garment and a cushion, makes them into a bundle, kisses the Mezuzeh,

mutters farewell, and is off to the orchard.

As he nears the orchard his heart begins to beat loudly for joy, but he

is hindered from going there at once. In the yard through which he must

pass lies a dog. Later on, when Avrohom has got to know the dog, he will

even take him into the orchard, but the first time there is a certain

risk--one has to know a dog, otherwise it barks, and Avrohom dreads a

bark worse than a bite--it goes through one's head! And Avrohom waits

till the owner comes out, and leads him through by the hand.

"Back already?" exclaims the owner, laughing and astonished.

"Why not?" murmurs Avrohom, shamefacedly, and feeling that it is,

indeed, early.

"What shall you do?" asks the owner, graver. "There is no hut there at

all--last year's fell to pieces."

"Never mind, never mind," begs Avrohom, "it will be all right."

"Well, if you want to come!" and the owner shrugs his shoulders, and

lets Avrohom into the orchard.

Avrohom immediately lays his bundle on the ground, stretches himself out

full length on the grass, and murmurs, "Good! good!"

At last he is silent, and listens to the quiet rustle of the trees. It

seems to him that the trees also wonder at his coming so soon, and he

looks at them beseechingly, as though he would say:

"Trees--you, too! I couldn't help it ... it drew me...."

And soon he fancies that the trees have understood everything, and

murmur, "Good, good!"

And Avrohom already feels at home in the orchard. He rises from the

ground, and goes to every tree in turn, as though to make its

acquaintance. Then he considers the hut that stands in the middle of the


It has fallen in a little certainly, but Avrohom is all the better

pleased with it. He is not particularly fond of new, strong things, a

building resembling a ruin is somehow much more to his liking. Such a

ruin is inwardly full of secrets, whispers, and melodies. There the

tears fall quietly, while the soul yearns after something that has no

name and no existence in time or space. And Avrohom creeps into the

fallen-in hut, where it is dark and where there are smells of another

world. He draws himself up into a ball, and remains hid from everyone.

* * * * *

But to remain hid from the world is not so easy. At first it can be

managed. So long as the fruit is ripening, he needs no one, and no one

needs him. When one of his children brings him food, he exchanges a few

words with it, asks what is going on at home, and how the mother is, and

he feels he has done his duty, if, when obliged to go home, he spends

there Friday night and Saturday morning. That over, and the hot stew

eaten, he returns to the orchard, lies down under a tree, opens the

Tales of Jerusalem, goes to sleep reading a fantastical legend, dreams

of the Western Wall, Mother Rachel's Grave, the Cave of Machpelah, and

other holy, quiet places--places where the air is full of old stories

such as are given, in such easy Hebrew, in the Tales of Jerusalem.

But when the fruit is ripe, and the trees begin to bend under the burden

of it, Avrohom must perforce leave his peaceful world, and become a


When the first wind begins to blow in the orchard, and covers the ground

thereof with apples and pears, Avrohom collects them, makes them into

heaps, sorts them, and awaits the market-women with their loud tongues,

who destroy all the peace and quiet of his Garden of Eden.

On Sabbath he would like to rest, but of a Sabbath the trade in

apples--on tick of course--is very lively in the orchards. There is a

custom in the town to that effect, and Avrohom cannot do away with it.

Young gentlemen and young ladies come into the orchard, and hold a sort

of revel; they sing and laugh, they walk and they chatter, and Avrohom

must listen to it all, and bear it, and wait for the night, when he can

creep back into his hut, and need look at no one but the trees, and hear

nothing but the wind, and sometimes the rain and the thunder.

But it is worse in the autumn, when the fruit is getting over-ripe, and

he can no longer remain in the orchard. With a bursting heart he bids

farewell to the trees, to the hut in which he has spent so many quiet,

peaceful moments. He conveys the apples to a shed belonging to the farm,

which he has hired, ever since he had the orchard, for ten gulden a

month, and goes back to the Gass.

In the Gass, at that time, there is mud and rain. Town Jews drag

themselves along sick and disheartened. They cough and groan. Avrohom

stares round him, and fails to recognize the world.

"Bad!" he mutters. "Fe!" and he spits. "Where is one to get to?"

And Avrohom recalls the beautiful legends in the Tales of Jerusalem, he

recalls the land of Israel.

There he knows it is always summer, always warm and fine. And every

autumn the vision draws him.

But there is no possibility of his being able to go there--he must sell

the apples which he has brought from the orchard, and feed the wife and

the children he has "outside the land." And all through the autumn and

part of the winter, Avrohom drags himself about with a basket of apples

on his arm and a yearning in his heart. He waits for the dear summer,

when he will be able to go back and hide himself in the orchard, in the

hut, and be alone, where the town mud and the town Jews with dulled

senses shall be out of sight, and the week-day noise, out of hearing.