I was living in Mezkez at the time, and Seinwill Bookbinder lived there


But Heaven only knows where he is now! Even then his continual pallor

augured no long residence in Mezkez, and he was a Yadeschlever Jew with

a wife and six small children, and he lived by binding books.

Who knows what has become of him! But that is not the question--I only

want to prove that Seinwill was a great li

If he is already in the other world, may he forgive me--and not be very

angry with me, if he is still living in Mezkez!

He was an orthodox and pious Jew, but when you gave him a book to bind,

he never kept his word.

When he took a book and even the whole of his pay in advance, he would

swear by beard and earlocks, by wife and children, and by the Messiah,

that he would bring it back to you by Sabbath, but you had to be at him

for weeks before the work was finished and sent in.

Once, on a certain Friday, I remembered that next day, Sabbath, I should

have a few hours to myself for reading.

A fortnight before I had given Seinwill a new book to bind for me. It

was just a question whether or not he would return it in time, so I set

out for his home, with the intention of bringing back the book, finished

or not. I had paid him his twenty kopeks in advance, so what excuses

could he possibly make? Once for all, I would give him a bit of my mind,

and take away the work unfinished--it will be a lesson for him for the

next time!

Thus it was, walking along and deciding on what I should say to

Seinwill, that I turned into the street to which I had been directed.

Once in the said street, I had no need to ask questions, for I was at

once shown a little, low house, roofed with mouldered slate.

I stooped a little by way of precaution, and entered Seinwill's house,

which consisted of a large kitchen.

Here he lived with his wife and children, and here he worked.

In the great stove that took up one-third of the kitchen there was a

cheerful crackling, as in every Jewish home on a Friday.

In the forepart of the oven, on either hand, stood a variety of pots and

pipkins, and gossipped together in their several tones. An elder child

stood beside them holding a wooden spoon, with which she stirred or

skimmed as the case required.

Seinwill's wife, very much occupied, stood by the one four-post bed,

which was spread with a clean white sheet, and on which she had laid out

various kinds of cakes, of unbaked dough, in honor of Sabbath. Beside

her stood a child, its little face red with crying, and hindered her in

her work.

"Seinwill, take Chatzkele away! How can I get on with the cakes? Don't

you know it's Friday?" she kept calling out, and Seinwill, sitting at

his work beside a large table covered with books, repeated every time

like an echo:

"Chatzkele, let mother alone!"

And Chatzkele, for all the notice he took, might have been as deaf as

the bedpost.

The minute Seinwill saw me, he ran to meet me in a shamefaced way, like

a sinner caught in the act; and before I was able to say a word, that

is, tell him angrily and with decision that he must give me my book

finished or not--never mind about the twenty kopeks, and so on--and thus

revenge myself on him, he began to answer, and he showed me that my book

was done, it was already in the press, and there only remained the

lettering to be done on the back. Just a few minutes more, and he would

bring it to my house.

"No, I will wait and take it myself," I said, rather vexed.

Besides, I knew that to stamp a few letters on a book-cover could not

take more than a few minutes at most.

"Well, if you are so good as to wait, it will not take long. There is a

fire in the oven, I have only just got to heat the screw."

And so saying, he placed a chair for me, dusted it with the flap of his

coat, and I sat down to wait. Seinwill really took my book out of the

press quite finished except for the lettering on the cover, and began to

hurry. Now he is by the oven--from the oven to the corner--and once more

to the oven and back to the corner--and so on ten times over, saying to

me every time:

"There, directly, directly, in another minute," and back once more

across the room.

So it went on for about ten minutes, and I began to take quite an

interest in this running of his from one place to another, with empty

hands, and doing nothing but repeat "Directly, directly, this minute!"

Most of all I wonder why he keeps on looking into the corner--he never

takes his eyes off that corner. What is he looking for, what does he

expect to see there? I watch his face growing sadder--he must be

suffering from something or other--and all the while he talks to

himself, "Directly, directly, in one little minute." He turns to me: "I

must ask you to wait a little longer. It will be very soon now--in

another minute's time. Just because we want it so badly, you'd think

she'd rather burst," he said, and he went back to the corner, stooped,

and looked into it.

"What are you looking for there every minute?" I ask him.

"Nothing. But directly--Take my advice: why should you sit there

waiting? I will bring the book to you myself. When one wants her to, she


"All right, it's Friday, so I need not hurry. Why should you have the

trouble, as I am already here?" I reply, and ask him who is the "she who


"You see, my wife, who is making cakes, is kept waiting by her too, and

I, with the lettering to do on the book, I also wait."

"But what are you waiting for?"

"You see, if the cakes are to take on a nice glaze while baking, they

must be brushed over with a yolk."

"Well, and what has that to do with stamping the letters on the cover of

the book?"

"What has that to do with it? Don't you know that the glaze-gold which

is used for the letters will not stick to the cover without some white

of egg?"

"Yes, I have seen them smearing the cover with white of egg before

putting on the letters. Then what?"

"How 'what?' That is why we are waiting for the egg."

"So you have sent out to buy an egg?"

"No, but it will be there directly." He points out to me the corner

which he has been running to look into the whole time, and there, on the

ground, I see an overturned sieve, and under the sieve, a hen turning

round and round and cackling.

"As if she'd rather burst!" continued Seinwill. "Just because we want it

so badly, she won't lay. She lays an egg for me nearly every time, and

now--just as if she'd rather burst!" he said, and began to scratch his


And the hen? The hen went on turning round and round like a prisoner in

a dungeon, and cackled louder than ever.

To tell the truth, I had inferred at once that Seinwill was persuaded I

should wait for my book till the hen had laid an egg, and as I watched

Seinwill's wife, and saw with what anxiety she waited for the hen to

lay, I knew that I was right, that Seinwill was indeed so persuaded, for

his wife called to him:

"Ask the young man for a kopek and send the child to buy an egg in the

market. The cakes are getting cold."

"The young man owes me nothing, a few weeks ago he paid me for the whole

job. There is no one to borrow from, nobody will lend me anything, I owe

money all around, my very hair is not my own."

When Seinwill had answered his wife, he took another peep into the

corner, and said:

"She will not keep us waiting much longer now. She can't cackle forever.

Another two minutes!"

But the hen went on puffing out her feathers, pecking and cackling for a

good deal more than two minutes. It seemed as if she could not bear to

see her master and mistress in trouble, as if she really wished to do

them a kindness by laying an egg. But no egg appeared.

I lent Seinwill two or three kopeks, which he was to pay me back in

work, because Seinwill has never once asked for, or accepted, charity,

and the child was sent to the market.

A few minutes later, when the child had come back with an egg,

Seinwill's wife had the glistening Sabbath cakes on a shovel, and was

placing them gaily in the oven; my book was finished, and the

unfortunate hen, released at last from her prison, the sieve, ceased to

cackle and to ruffle out her plumage.