The milkman didn’t answer. He gazed forward into the darkening evening. Only Ruchel stared back down the road hoping that Nachman would come running after their wagon. But no one appeared. They turned a bend, leaving the shtetl behind. A ditch in the road jolted the wagon and Ruchel’s dreams of a husband. She sighed and faced forward, but then, out of a corner of her eye, she saw a figure materialize out of the shadows of the forest. A beat of excitement rushed through her heart, but for naught. The tall, upright figure wasn’t Nachman, but the indefatigable Hevedke.
“Don’t worry,” Hava said, sensing her sister’s thoughts. “Your turn under the marriage chuppah will come.”
When Tevye spotted the Russian poet, he growled.
“It is a sin to murder,” he said, glancing up to the treetops, “So why must You send this devil to tempt me?”
Before long, they came to a clearing by the side of the road and agreed to make camp for the night. The men gathered wood while the women arranged a frugal meal, and once again two fires were lit, one for the Zionists, and one for Tevye and his family, a modest distance away. Everyone huddled around the warming blazes to ward off the evening chill, but the Almighty had other plans for the night. A burst of lightening flashed in the sky. Thunder rumbled in the treetops. Rain poured down from the heavens like brimstone. Within moments, the campfires were quenched. Tevye gathered his brood under the wagon, while their companions scattered for the shelter of trees. The rain pounded on the canvas stretched over Golda’s coffin. A bolt of lightening lit up the forest. A tree cracked in half and toppled to the ground with a crash. Little Moishe and Hannie started to cry.
“Fear not my treasures,” their grandfather said. “Hasn’t the Almighty promised not to destroy the world again with a flood? And things could be worse. We could be standing outside in the rain like our companions.”
“Or like Hevedke,” Hava added.
“A torrent should wash him away,” Tevye said.
“Why do you want him to drown, Zaida?” Moishe asked. “He’s married to Hava.”
“He is married to Hava like my horse is married to a fish,” Tevye answered.
“How can a horse marry a fish?” the young child asked.
“It can’t,” Tevye answered. “Horses marry horses, and fish marry fish.”
Just then, someone came running toward the clearing.
“Shalom, shalom,” he called out.
It was Nachman. He was carrying a bulging handbag in one hand and a suitcase in the other. He bent down under the wagon, said a hasty hello, and left his belongings with Ruchel.
“Take care of my books,” he said and hurried off toward the trees where Ben Zion was waiting to greet him.
“Welcome, welcome, son of Israel!” the speechmaker exclaimed. “I trust you have come to enlist in our lofty mission.”
“With the help of the Almighty,” Nachman responded.
“Whether He helps or He doesn’t, it’s all the same to us. Just let Him not interfere.”
Tevye crawled out from under his wagon. He threw the cover off of their chest of belongings and held up a bottle of vodka. “To Zion!” he shouted.
Like the meshugennehs they were, the crazy Zionists joined hands and started to dance in the rain. “Zion, Zion, Zion,” they sang in the black Russian woods. Ben Zion dragged Nachman into their whirl. With a healthy slug of vodka warming his belly, Tevye joined them. He grasped Nachman’s hand, and with the joyous simcha of a wedding, they swirled round and round in the mud. Ben Zion held the bottle of vodka to the young rabbi’s lips. The bottle changed hands until it was finished. The ground spun. Trees and clouds swirled around and around as they danced.
“With your permission,” Nachman said to Tevye. “I would like to marry your daughter.”
“Permission granted,” Tevye agreed.
With a cheer, the dancing continued. The women were all giggles under the wagon. Everyone congratulated Ruchel and showered her with mazal tovs and kisses. Discreetly, they joined in with the traditional wedding song, “Let soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the call of the groom, and the song of the bride….”