A man's worst enemy, I tell you, will never do him the harm he does

himself, especially when a woman interferes, that is, a wife. Whom do

you think I have in mind when I say that? My own self! Look at me and

think. What would you take me for? Just an ordinary Jew. It doesn't say

on my nose whether I have money, or not, or whether I am very low

indeed, does it?

It may be that I once had money, and not only
that--money in itself is

nothing--but I can tell you, I earned a living, and that respectably and

quietly, without worry and flurry, not like some people who like to live

in a whirl.

No, my motto is, "More haste, less speed."

I traded quietly, went bankrupt a time or two quietly, and quietly went

to work again. But there is a God in the world, and He blessed me with a

wife--as she isn't here, we can speak openly--a wife like any other,

that is, at first glance she isn't so bad--not at all! In person, (no

evil eye!) twice my height; not an ugly woman, quite a beauty, you may

say; an intelligent woman, quite a man--and that's the whole trouble!

Oi, it isn't good when the wife is a man! The Almighty knew what He was

about when, at the creation, he formed Adam first and then Eve. But

what's the use of telling her that, when she says, "If the Almighty

created Adam first and then Eve, that's His affair, but if he put

more sense into my heel than into your head, no more am I to blame for


"What is all this about?" say I.--"It's about that which should be first

and foremost with you," says she.--"But I have to be the one to think of

everything--even about sending the boy to the Gymnasiye!"--"Where," say

I, "is it 'written' that my boy should go to the Gymnasiye? Can I not

afford to have him taught Torah at home?"--"I've told you a hundred and

fifty times," says she, "that you won't persuade me to go against the

world! And the world," says she, "has decided that children should go to

the Gymnasiye."--"In my opinion," say I, "the world is mad!"--"And you,"

says she, "are the only sane person in it? A pretty thing it would be,"

says she, "if the world were to follow you!"--"Every man," say I,

"should decide on his own course."--"If my enemies," says she, "and my

friends' enemies, had as little in pocket and bag, in box and chest, as

you have in your head, the world would be a different place."--"Woe to

the man," say I, "who needs to be advised by his wife!"--"And woe to the

wife," says she, "who has that man to her husband!"--Now if you can

argue with a woman who, when you say one thing, maintains the contrary,

when you give her one word, treats you to a dozen, and who, if you bid

her shut up, cries, or even, I beg of you, faints--well, I envy you,

that's all! In short, up and down, this way and that way, she got the

best of it--she, not I, because the fact is, when she wants a thing, it

has to be!

Well, what next? Gymnasiye! The first thing was to prepare the boy for

the elementary class in the Junior Preparatory. I must say, I did not

see anything very alarming in that. It seemed to me that anyone of our

Cheder boys, an Alef-Bes scholar, could tuck it all into his belt,

especially a boy like mine, for whose equal you might search an empire,

and not find him. I am a father, not of you be it said! but that boy has

a memory that beats everything! To cut a long story short, he went up

for examination and--did not pass! You ask the reason? He only got a

two in arithmetic; they said he was weak at calculation, in the science

of mathematics. What do you think of that? He has a memory that beats

everything! I tell you, you might search an empire for his like--and

they come talking to me about mathematics! Well, he failed to pass, and

it vexed me very much. If he was to go up for examination, let him

succeed. However, being a man and not a woman, I made up my mind to

it--it's a misfortune, but a Jew is used to that. Only what was the use

of talking to her with that bee in her bonnet? Once for all,

Gymnasiye! I reason with her. "Tell me," say I, "(may you be well!) what

is the good of it? He's safe," say I, "from military service, being an

only son, and as for Parnosseh, devil I need it for Parnosseh! What do I

care if he does become a trader like his father, a merchant like the

rest of the Jews? If he is destined to become a rich man, a banker, I

don't see that I'm to be pitied."

Thus do I reason with her as with the wall. "So much the better," says

she, "if he has not been entered for the Junior Preparatory."--"What

now?" say I.

"Now," says she, "he can go direct to the Senior Preparatory."

Well, Senior Preparatory, there's nothing so terrible in that, for the

boy has a head, I tell you! You might search an empire.... And what was

the result? Well, what do you suppose? Another two instead of a five,

not in mathematics this time--a fresh calamity! His spelling is not what

it should be. That is, he can spell all right, but he gets a bit mixed

with the two Russian e's. That is, he puts them in right enough, why

shouldn't he? only not in their proper places. Well, there's a

misfortune for you! I guess I won't find the way to Poltava fair if the

child cannot put the e's where they belong! When they brought the good

news, she turned the town inside out; ran to the director, declared

that the boy could do it; to prove it, let him be had up again! They

paid her as much attention as if she were last year's snow, put a two,

and another sort of two, and a two with a dash! Call me nut-crackers,

but there was a commotion. "Failed again!" say I to her. "And if so,"

say I, "what is to be done? Are we to commit suicide? A Jew," say I, "is

used to that sort of thing," upon which she fired up and blazed away and

stormed and scolded as only she can. But I let you off! He, poor child,

was in a pitiable state. Talk of cruelty to animals! Just think: the

other boys in little white buttons, and not he! I reason with him: "You

little fool! What does it matter? Who ever heard of an examination at

which everyone passed? Somebody must stay at home, mustn't they? Then

why not you? There's really nothing to make such a fuss about." My wife,

overhearing, goes off into a fresh fury, and falls upon me. "A fine

comforter you are," says she, "who asked you to console him with that

sort of nonsense? You'd better see about getting him a proper teacher,"

says she, "a private teacher, a Russian, for grammar!"

You hear that? Now I must have two teachers for him--one teacher and a

Rebbe are not enough. Up and down, this way and that way, she got the

best of it, as usual.

What next? We engaged a second teacher, a Russian this time, not a Jew,

preserve us, but a real Gentile, because grammar in the first class, let

me tell you, is no trifle, no shredded horseradish! Gra-ma-ti-ke,

indeed! The two e's! Well, I was telling about the teacher that God sent

us for our sins. It's enough to make one blush to remember the way he

treated us, as though we had been the mud under his feet. Laughed at us

to our face, he did, devil take him, and the one and only thing he could

teach him was: tshasnok, tshasnoka, tshasnoku, tshasnokom. If it hadn't

been for her, I should have had him by the throat, and out into the

street with his blessed grammar. But to her it was all right and as it

should be. Now the boy will know which e to put. If you'll believe me,

they tormented him through that whole winter, for he was not to be had

up for slaughter till about Pentecost. Pentecost over, he went up for

examination, and this time he brought home no more two's, but a four and

a five. There was great joy--we congratulate! we congratulate! Wait a

bit, don't be in such a hurry with your congratulations! We don't know

yet for certain whether he has got in or not. We shall not know till

August. Why not till August? Why not before? Go and ask them. What is

to be done? A Jew is used to that sort of thing.

August--and I gave a glance out of the corner of my eye. She was up and

doing! From the director to the inspector, from the inspector to the

director! "Why are you running from Shmunin to Bunin," say I, "like a

poisoned mouse?"

"You asking why?" says she. "Aren't you a native of this place? You

don't seem to know how it is nowadays with the Gymnasiyes and the

percentages?" And what came of it? He did not pass! You ask why?

Because he hadn't two fives. If he had had two fives, then, they say,

perhaps he would have got in. You hear--perhaps! How do you like that

perhaps? Well, I'll let you off what I had to bear from her. As for

him, the little boy, it was pitiful. Lay with his face in the cushion,

and never stopped crying till we promised him another teacher. And we

got him a student from the Gymnasiye itself, to prepare him for the

second class, but after quite another fashion, because the second class

is no joke. In the second, besides mathematics and grammar, they require

geography, penmanship, and I couldn't for the life of me say what else.

I should have thought a bit of the Maharsho was a more difficult thing

than all their studies put together, and very likely had more sense in

it, too. But what would you have? A Jew learns to put up with things.

In fine, there commenced a series of "lessons," of ourokki. We rose

early--the ourokki! Prayers and breakfast over--the ourokki. A whole

day--ourokki. One heard him late at night drumming it over and over:

Nominative--dative--instrumental--vocative! It grated so on my ears! I

could hardly bear it. Eat? Sleep? Not he! Taking a poor creature and

tormenting it like that, all for nothing, I call it cruelty to animals!

"The child," say I, "will be ill!" "Bite off your tongue," says she. I

was nowhere, and he went up a second time to the slaughter, and brought

home nothing but fives! And why not? I tell you, he has a head--there

isn't his like! And such a boy for study as never was, always at it, day

and night, and repeating to himself between whiles! That's all right

then, is it? Was it all right? When it came to the point, and they hung

out the names of all the children who were really entered, we

looked--mine wasn't there! Then there was a screaming and a commotion.

What a shame! And nothing but fives! Now look at her, now see her go,

see her run, see her do this and that! In short, she went and she ran

and she did this and that and the other--until at last they begged her

not to worry them any longer, that is, to tell you the truth, between

ourselves, they turned her out, yes! And after they had turned her out,

then it was she burst into the house, and showed for the first time, as

it were, what she was worth. "Pray," said she, "what sort of a father

are you? If you were a good father, an affectionate father, like other

fathers, you would have found favor with the director, patronage,

recommendations, this--that!" Like a woman, wasn't it? It's not enough,

apparently, for me to have my head full of terms and seasons and fairs

and notes and bills of exchange and "protests" and all the rest of it.

"Do you want me," say I, "to take over your Gymnasiye and your classes,

things I'm sick of already?" Do you suppose she listened to what I said?

She? Listen? She just kept at it, she sawed and filed and gnawed away

like a worm, day and night, day and night! "If your wife," says she,

"were a wife, and your child, a child--if I were only of so much

account in this house!"--"Well," say I, "what would happen?"--"You would

lie," says she, "nine ells deep in the earth. I," says she, "would bury

you three times a day, so that you should never rise again!"

How do you like that? Kind, wasn't it? That (how goes the saying?) was

pouring a pailful of water over a husband for the sake of peace. Of

course, you'll understand that I was not silent, either, because, after

all, I'm no more than a man, and every man has his feelings. I assure

you, you needn't envy me, and in the end she carried the day, as


Well, what next? I began currying favor, getting up an acquaintance,

trying this and that; I had to lower myself in people's eyes and swallow

slights, for every one asked questions, and they had every right to do

so. "You, no evil eye, Reb Aaron," say they, "are a householder, and

inherited a little something from your father. What good year is taking

you about to places where a Jew had better not be seen?" Was I to go and

tell them I had a wife (may she live one hundred and twenty years!) with

this on the brain: Gymnasiye, Gymnasiye, and Gym-na-si-ye? I (much good

may it do you!) am, as you see me, no more unlucky than most people, and

with God's help I made my way, and got where I wanted, right up to the

nobleman, into his cabinet, yes! And sat down with him there to talk it

over. I thank Heaven, I can talk to any nobleman, I don't need to have

my tongue loosened for me. "What can I do for you?" he asks, and bids me

be seated. Say I, and whisper into his ear, "My lord," say I, "we," say

I, "are not rich people, but we have," say I, "a boy, and he wishes to

study, and I," say I, "wish it, too, but my wife wishes it very much!"

Says he to me again, "What is it you want?" Say I to him, and edge a bit

closer, "My dear lord," say I, "we," say I, "are not rich people, but we

have," say I, "a small fortune, and one remarkably clever boy, who," say

I, "wishes to study; and I," say I, "also wish it, but my wife wishes it

very much!" and I squeeze that "very much" so that he may understand.

But he's a Gentile and slow-witted, and he doesn't twig, and this time

he asks angrily, "Then, whatever is it you want?!" I quietly put my hand

into my pocket and quietly take it out again, and I say quietly: "Pardon

me, we," say I, "are not rich people, but we have a little," say I,

"fortune, and one remarkably clever boy, who," say I, "wishes to study;

and I," say I, "wish it also, but my wife," say I, "wishes it very much

indeed!" and I take and press into his hand----and this time, yes! he

understood, and went and got a note-book, and asked my name and my son's

name, and which class I wanted him entered for.

"Oho, lies the wind that way?" think I to myself, and I give him to

understand that I am called Katz, Aaron Katz, and my son, Moisheh,

Moshke we call him, and I want to get him into the third class. Says he

to me, if I am Katz, and my son is Moisheh, Moshke we call him, and he

wants to get into class three, I am to bring him in January, and he will

certainly be passed. You hear and understand? Quite another thing!

Apparently the horse trots as we shoe him. The worst is having to wait.

But what is to be done? When they say, Wait! one waits. A Jew is used to


January--a fresh commotion, a scampering to and fro. To-morrow there

will be a consultation. The director and the inspector and all the

teachers of the Gymnasiye will come together, and it's only after the

consultation that we shall know if he is entered or not. The time for

action has come, and my wife is anywhere but at home. No hot meals, no

samovar, no nothing! She is in the Gymnasiye, that is, not in the

Gymnasiye, but at it, walking round and round it in the frost, from

first thing in the morning, waiting for them to begin coming away from

the consultation. The frost bites, there is a tearing east wind, and she

paces round and round the building, and waits. Once a woman, always a

woman! It seemed to me, that when people have made a promise, it is

surely sacred, especially--you understand? But who would reason with a

woman? Well, she waited one hour, she waited two, waited three, waited

four; the children were all home long ago, and she waited on. She waited

(much good may it do you!) till she got what she was waiting for. A door

opens, and out comes one of the teachers. She springs and seizes hold on

him. Does he know the result of the consultation? Why, says he, should

he not? They have passed altogether twenty-five children, twenty-three

Christian and two Jewish. Says she, "Who are they?" Says he, "One a

Shefselsohn and one a Katz." At the name Katz, my wife shoots home like

an arrow from the bow, and bursts into the room in triumph: "Good news!

good news! Passed, passed!" and there are tears in her eyes. Of course,

I am pleased, too, but I don't feel called upon to go dancing, being a

man and not a woman. "It's evidently not much you care?" says she to

me. "What makes you think that?" say I.--"This," says she, "you sit

there cold as a stone! If you knew how impatient the child is, you would

have taken him long ago to the tailor's, and ordered his little

uniform," says she, "and a cap and a satchel," says she, "and made a

little banquet for our friends."--"Why a banquet, all of a sudden?" say

I. "Is there a Bar-Mitzveh? Is there an engagement?" I say all this

quite quietly, for, after all, I am a man, not a woman. She grew so

angry that she stopped talking. And when a woman stops talking, it's a

thousand times worse than when she scolds, because so long as she is

scolding at least you hear the sound of the human voice. Otherwise it's

talk to the wall! To put it briefly, she got her way--she, not I--as


There was a banquet; we invited our friends and our good friends, and my

boy was dressed up from head to foot in a very smart uniform, with white

buttons and a cap with a badge in front, quite the district-governor!

And it did one's heart good to see him, poor child! There was new life

in him, he was so happy, and he shone, I tell you, like the July sun!

The company drank to him, and wished him joy: Might he study in health,

and finish the course in health, and go on in health, till he reached

the university! "Ett!" say I, "we can do with less. Let him only

complete the eight classes at the Gymnasiye," say I, "and, please God,

I'll make a bridegroom of him, with God's help." Cries my wife, smiling

and fixing me with her eye the while, "Tell him," says she, "that he's

wrong! He," says she, "keeps to the old-fashioned cut." "Tell her from

me," say I, "that I'm blest if the old-fashioned cut wasn't better than

the new." Says she, "Tell him that he (may he forgive me!) is----" The

company burst out laughing. "Oi, Reb Aaron," say they, "you have a wife

(no evil eye!) who is a Cossack and not a wife at all!" Meanwhile they

emptied their wine-glasses, and cleared their plates, and we were what

is called "lively." I and my wife were what is called "taken into the

boat," the little one in the middle, and we made merry till daylight.

That morning early we took him to the Gymnasiye. It was very early,

indeed, the door was shut, not a soul to be seen. Standing outside there

in the frost, we were glad enough when the door opened, and they let us

in. Directly after that the small fry began to arrive with their

satchels, and there was a noise and a commotion and a chatter and a

laughing and a scampering to and fro--a regular fair! Schoolboys jumped

over one another, gave each other punches, pokes, and pinches. As I

looked at these young hopefuls with the red cheeks, with the merry,

laughing eyes, I called to mind our former narrow, dark, and gloomy

Cheder of long ago years, and I saw that after all she was right; she

might be a woman, but she had a man's head on her shoulders! And as I

reflected thus, there came along an individual in gilt buttons, who

turned out to be a teacher, and asked what I wanted. I pointed to my

boy, and said I had come to bring him to Cheder, that is, to the

Gymnasiye. He asked to which class? I tell him, the third, and he has

only just been entered. He asks his name. Say I, "Katz, Moisheh Katz,

that is, Moshke Katz." Says he, "Moshke Katz?" He has no Moshke Katz in

the third class. "There is," he says, "a Katz, only not a Moshke Katz,

but a Morduch--Morduch Katz." Say I, "What Morduch? Moshke, not

Morduch!" "Morduch!" he repeats, and thrusts the paper into my face. I

to him, "Moshke." He to me, "Morduch!" In short, Moshke--Morduch,

Morduch--Moshke, we hammer away till there comes out a fine tale: that

which should have been mine is another's. You see what a kettle of fish?

A regular Gentile muddle! They have entered a Katz--yes! But, by

mistake, another, not ours. You see how it was: there were two Katz's in

our town! What do you say to such luck? I have made a bed, and another

will lie in it! No, but you ought to know who the other is, that Katz,

I mean! A nothing of a nobody, an artisan, a bookbinder or a carpenter,

quite a harmless little man, but who ever heard of him? A pauper! And

his son--yes! And mine--no! Isn't it enough to disgust one, I ask you!

And you should have seen that poor boy of mine, when he was told to take

the badge off his cap! No bride on her wedding-day need shed more tears

than were his! And no matter how I reasoned with him, whether I coaxed

or scolded. "You see," I said to her, "what you've done! Didn't I tell

you that your Gymnasiye was a slaughter-house for him? I only trust this

may have a good ending, that he won't fall ill."--"Let my enemies," said

she, "fall ill, if they like. My child," says she, "must enter the

Gymnasiye. If he hasn't got in this time, in a year, please God, he

will. If he hasn't got in," says she, "here, he will get in in

another town--he must get in! Otherwise," says she, "I shall shut an

eye, and the earth shall cover me!" You hear what she said? And who, do

you suppose, had his way--she or I? When she sets her heart on a

thing, can there be any question?

Well, I won't make a long story of it. I hunted up and down with him; we

went to the ends of the world, wherever there was a town and a

Gymnasiye, thither went we! We went up for examination, and were

examined, and we passed and passed high, and did not get in--and why?

All because of the percentage! You may believe, I looked upon my own

self as crazy those days! "Wretch! what is this? What is this flying

that you fly from one town to another? What good is to come of it? And

suppose he does get in, what then?" No, say what you will, ambition is a

great thing. In the end it took hold of me, too, and the Almighty had

compassion, and sent me a Gymnasiye in Poland, a "commercial" one, where

they took in one Jew to every Christian. It came to fifty per cent. But

what then? Any Jew who wished his son to enter must bring his Christian

with him, and if he passes, that is, the Christian, and one pays his

entrance fee, then there is hope. Instead of one bundle, one has two on

one's shoulders, you understand? Besides being worn with anxiety about

my own, I had to tremble for the other, because if Esau, which Heaven

forbid, fail to pass, it's all over with Jacob. But what I went through

before I got that Christian, a shoemaker's son, Holiava his name was,

is not to be described. And the best of all was this--would you believe

that my shoemaker, planted in the earth firmly as Korah, insisted on

Bible teaching? There was nothing for it but my son had to sit down

beside his, and repeat the Old Testament. How came a son of mine to the

Old Testament? Ai, don't ask! He can do everything and understands


With God's help the happy day arrived, and they both passed. Is my story

finished? Not quite. When it came to their being entered in the books,

to writing out a check, my Christian was not to be found! What has

happened? He, the Gentile, doesn't care for his son to be among so many

Jews--he won't hear of it! Why should he, seeing that all doors are open

to him anyhow, and he can get in where he pleases? Tell him it isn't

fair? Much good that would be! "Look here," say I, "how much do you

want, Pani Holiava?" Says he, "Nothing!" To cut the tale short--up and

down, this way and that way, and friends and people interfering, we had

him off to a refreshment place, and ordered a glass, and two, and three,

before it all came right! Once he was really in, I cried my eyes out,

and thanks be to Him whose Name is blessed, and who has delivered me out

of all my troubles! When I got home, a fresh worry! What now? My wife

has been reflecting and thinking it over: After all, her only son, the

apple of her eye--he would be there and we here! And if so, what,

says she, would life be to her? "Well," say I, "what do you propose

doing?"--"What I propose doing?" says she. "Can't you guess? I propose,"

says she, "to be with him."--"You do?" say I. "And the house? What about

the house?"--"The house," says she, "is a house." Anything to object to

in that? So she was off to him, and I was left alone at home. And what a

home! I leave you to imagine. May such a year be to my enemies! My

comfort was gone, the business went to the bad. Everything went to the

bad, and we were continually writing letters. I wrote to her, she wrote

to me--letters went and letters came. Peace to my beloved wife! Peace to

my beloved husband! "For Heaven's sake," I write, "what is to be the end

of it? After all, I'm no more than a man! A man without a

housemistress!" It was as much use as last year's snow; it was she who

had her way, she, and not I, as usual.

To make an end of my story, I worked and worried myself to pieces, made

a mull of the whole business, sold out, became a poor man, and carried

my bundle over to them. Once there, I took a look round to see where I

was in the world, nibbled here and there, just managed to make my way a

bit, and entered into a partnership with a trader, quite a respectable

man, yes! A well-to-do householder, holding office in the Shool, but at

bottom a deceiver, a swindler, a pickpocket, who was nearly the ruin of

me! You can imagine what a cheerful state of things it was. Meanwhile I

come home one evening, and see my boy come to meet me, looking

strangely red in the face, and without a badge on his cap. Say I to him,

"Look here, Moshehl, where's your badge?" Says he to me, "Whatever

badge?" Say I, "The button." Says he, "Whatever button?" Say I, "The

button off your cap." It was a new cap with a new badge, only just

bought for the festival! He grows redder than before, and says, "Taken

off." Say I, "What do you mean by 'taken off'?" Says he, "I am free."

Say I, "What do you mean by 'you are free'?" Says he, "We are all

free." Say I, "What do you mean by 'we are all free'?" Says he, "We

are not going back any more." Say I, "What do you mean by 'we are not

going back'?" Says he, "We have united in the resolve to stay away." Say

I, "What do you mean by 'you' have united in a resolve? Who are 'you'?

What is all this? Bless your grandmother," say I, "do you suppose I have

been through all this for you to unite in a resolve? Alas! and alack!"

say I, "for you and me and all of us! May it please God not to let this

be visited on Jewish heads, because always and everywhere," say I, "Jews

are the scapegoats." I speak thus to him and grow angry and reprove him

as a father usually does reprove a child. But I have a wife (long life

to her!), and she comes running, and washes my head for me, tells me I

don't know what is going on in the world, that the world is quite

another world to what it used to be, an intelligent world, an open

world, a free world, "a world," says she, "in which all are equal, in

which there are no rich and no poor, no masters and no servants, no

sheep and no shears, no cats, rats, no piggy-wiggy--------" "Te-te-te!"

say I, "where have you learned such fine language? a new speech," say I,

"with new words. Why not open the hen-house, and let out the hens?

Chuck--chuck--chuck, hurrah for freedom!" Upon which she blazes up as if

I had poured ten pails of hot water over her. And now for it! As only

they can! Well, one must sit it out and listen to the end. The worst

of it is, there is no end. "Look here," say I, "hush!" say I, "and now

let be!" say I, and beat upon my breast. "I have sinned!" say I, "I have

transgressed, and now stop," say I, "if you would only be quiet!" But

she won't hear, and she won't see. No, she says, she will know why and

wherefore and for goodness' sake and exactly, and just how it was, and

what it means, and how it happened, and once more and a second time, and

all over again from the beginning!

I beg of you--who set the whole thing going? A--woman!