The Two Brothers


It is three months since Yainkele and Berele--two brothers, the first

fourteen years old, the second sixteen--have been at the college that

stands in the town of X--, five German miles from their birthplace

Dalissovke, after which they are called the "Dalissovkers."

Yainkele is a slight, pale boy, with black eyes that peep slyly from

beneath the two black eyebrows. Berele is taller and stouter than

e, his eyes are lighter, and his glance is more defiant, as

though he would say, "Let me alone, I shall laugh at you all yet!"

The two brothers lodged with a poor relation, a widow, a dealer in

second-hand goods, who never came home till late at night. The two

brothers had no bed, but a chest, which was broad enough, served

instead, and the brothers slept sweetly on it, covered with their own

torn clothes; and in their dreams they saw their native place, the

little street, their home, their father with his long beard and dim eyes

and bent back, and their mother with her long, pale, melancholy face,

and they heard the little brothers and sisters quarrelling, as they

fought over a bit of herring, and they dreamt other dreams of home, and

early in the morning they were homesick, and then they used to run to

the Dalissovke Inn, and ask the carrier if there were a letter for them

from home.

The Dalissovke carriers were good Jews with soft hearts, and they were

sorry for the two poor boys, who were so anxious for news from home,

whose eyes burned, and whose hearts beat so fast, so loud, but the

carriers were very busy; they came charged with a thousand messages from

the Dalissovke shopkeepers and traders, and they carried more letters

than the post, but with infinitely less method. Letters were lost, and

parcels were heard of no more, and the distracted carriers scratched the

nape of their neck, and replied to every question:

"Directly, directly, I shall find it directly--no, I don't seem to have

anything for you--"

That is how they answered the grown people who came to them; but our two

little brothers stood and looked at Lezer the carrier--a man in a wadded

caftan, summer and winter--with thirsty eyes and aching hearts; stood

and waited, hoping he would notice them and say something, if only one

word. But Lezer was always busy: now he had gone into the yard to feed

the horse, now he had run into the inn, and entered into a conversation

with the clerk of a great store, who had brought a list of goods wanted

from a shop in Dalissovke.

And the brothers used to stand and stand, till the elder one, Berele,

lost patience. Biting his lips, and all but crying with vexation, he

would just articulate: "Reb Lezer, is there a letter from father?"

But Reb Lezer would either suddenly cease to exist, run out into the

street with somebody or other, or be absorbed in a conversation, and

Berele hardly expected the answer which Reb Lezer would give over his


"There isn't one--there isn't one."

"There isn't one!" Berele would say with a deep sigh, and sadly call to

Yainkele to come away. Mournfully, and with a broken spirit, they went

to where the day's meal awaited them.

"I am sure he loses the letters!" Yainkele would say a few minutes

later, as they walked along.

"He is a bad man!" Berele would mutter with vexation.

But one day Lezer handed them a letter and a small parcel.

The letter ran thus:

"Dear Children,

Be good, boys, and learn with diligence. We send you herewith half

a cheese and a quarter of a pound of sugar, and a little

berry-juice in a bottle.

Eat it in health, and do not quarrel over it.

From me, your father,


That day Lezer the carrier was the best man in the world in their eyes,

they would not have been ashamed to eat him up with horse and cart for

very love. They wrote an answer at once--for letter-paper they used to

tear out, with fluttering hearts, the first, imprinted pages in the

Gemoreh--and gave it that evening to Lezer the carrier. Lezer took it

coldly, pushed it into the breast of his coat, and muttered something

like "All right!"

"What did he say, Berele?" asked Yainkele, anxiously.

"I think he said 'all right,'" Berele answered doubtfully.

"I think he said so, too," Yainkele persuaded himself. Then he gave a

sigh, and added fearfully:

"He may lose the letter!"

"Bite your tongue out!" answered Berele, angrily, and they went sadly

away to supper.

And three times a week, early in the morning, when Lezer the carrier

came driving, the two brothers flew, not ran, to the Dalissovke Inn, to

ask for an answer to their letter; and Lezer the carrier grew more

preoccupied and cross, and answered either with mumbled words, which the

brothers could not understand, and dared not ask him to repeat, or else

not at all, so that they went away with heavy hearts. But one day they

heard Lezer the carrier speak distinctly, so that they understood quite


"What are you doing here, you two? What do you come plaguing me for?

Letter? Fiddlesticks! How much do you pay me? Am I a postman? Eh? Be off

with you, and don't worry."

The brothers obeyed, but only in part: their hearts were like lead,

their thin little legs shook, and tears fell from their eyes onto the

ground. And they went no more to Lezer the carrier to ask for a letter.

"I wish he were dead and buried!" they exclaimed, but they did not mean

it, and they longed all the time just to go and look at Lezer the

carrier, his horse and cart. After all, they came from Dalissovke, and

the two brothers loved them.

* * * * *

One day, two or three weeks after the carrier sent them about their

business in the way described, the two brothers were sitting in the

house of the poor relation and talking about home. It was summer-time,

and a Friday afternoon.

"I wonder what father is doing now," said Yainkele, staring at the small

panes in the small window.

"He must be cutting his nails," answered Berele, with a melancholy


"He must be chopping up lambs' feet," imagined Yainkele, "and Mother is

combing Chainele, and Chainele is crying."

"Now we've talked nonsense enough!" decided Berele. "How can we know

what is going on there?"

"Perhaps somebody's dead!" added Yainkele, in sudden terror.

"Stuff and nonsense!" said Berele. "When people die, they let one


"Perhaps they wrote, and the carrier won't give us the letter--"

"Ai, that's chatter enough!" Berele was quite cross. "Shut up, donkey!

You make me laugh," he went on, to reassure Yainkele, "they are all

alive and well."

Yainkele became cheerful again, and all at once he gave a bound into the

air, and exclaimed with eager eyes:

"Berele, do what I say! Let's write by the post!"

"Right you are!" agreed Berele. "Only I've no money."

"I have four kopeks; they are over from the ten I got last night. You

know, at my 'Thursday' they give me ten kopeks for supper, and I have

four over.

"And I have one kopek," said Berele, "just enough for a post-card."

"But which of us will write it?" asked Yainkele.

"I," answered Berele, "I am the eldest, I'm a first-born son."

"But I gave four kopeks!"

"A first-born is worth more than four kopeks."

"No! I'll write half, and you'll write half, ha?"

"Very well. Come and buy a card."

And the two brothers ran to buy a card at the postoffice.

"There will be no room for anything!" complained Yainkele, on the way

home, as he contemplated the small post-card. "We will make little tiny

letters, teeny weeny ones!" advised Berele.

"Father won't be able to read them!"

"Never mind! He will put on his spectacles. Come along--quicker!" urged

Yainkele. His heart was already full of words, like a sea, and he wanted

to pour it out onto the bit of paper, the scrap on which he had spent

his entire fortune.

They reached their lodging, and settled down to write.

Berele began, and Yainkele stood and looked on.

"Begin higher up! There is room there for a whole line. Why did you put

'to my beloved Father' so low down?" shrieked Yainkele.

"Where am I to put it, then? In the sky, eh?" asked Berele, and pushed

Yainkele aside.

"Go away, I will leave you half. Don't confuse me!--You be quiet!" and

Yainkele moved away, and stared with terrified eyes at Berele, as he sat

there, bent double, and wrote and wrote, knitted his brows, and dipped

the pen, and reflected, and wrote again.

"That's enough!" screamed Yainkele, after a few minutes.

"It's not the half yet," answered Berele, writing on.

"But I ought to have more than half!" said Yainkele, crossly. The

longing to write, to pour out his heart onto the post-card, was

overwhelming him.

But Berele did not even hear: he had launched out into such rhetorical

Hebrew expressions as "First of all, I let you know that I am alive and

well," which he had learnt in "The Perfect Letter-Writer," and his

little bits of news remained unwritten. He had yet to abuse Lezer the

carrier, to tell how many pages of the Gemoreh he had learnt, to let

them know they were to send another parcel, because they had no "Monday"

and no "Wednesday," and the "Tuesday" was no better than nothing.

And Berele writes and writes, and Yainkele can no longer contain

himself--he sees that Berele is taking up more than half the card.

"Enough!" He ran forward with a cry, and seized the penholder.

"Three words more!" begged Berele.

"But remember, not more than three!" and Yainkele's eyes flashed. Berele

set to work to write the three words; but that which he wished to

express required yet ten to fifteen words, and Berele, excited by the

fact of writing, pecked away at the paper, and took up yet another bit

of the other half.

"You stop!" shrieked Yainkele, and broke into hysterical sobs, as he saw

what a small space remained for him.

"Hush! Just 'from me, thy son,'" begged Berele, "nothing else!"

But Yainkele, remembering that he had given a whole vierer toward the

post-card, and that they would read so much of Berele at home, and so

little of him, flew into a passion, and came and tried to tear away the

card from under Berele's hands. "Let me put 'from me, thy son'!"

implored Berele.

"It will do without 'from me, thy son'!" screamed Yainkele, although

he felt that one ought to put it. His anger rose, and he began tugging

at the card. Berele held tight, but Yainkele gave such a pull that the

card tore in two.

"What have you done, villain!" cried Berele, glaring at Yainkele.

"I meant to do it!" wailed Yainkele.

"Oh, but why did you?" cried Berele, gazing in despair at the two torn

halves of the post-card.

But Yainkele could not answer. The tears choked him, and he threw

himself against the wall, tearing his hair. Then Berele gave way, too,

and the little room resounded with lamentations.