“If our father, Abraham, were here,” Ben Zion said pointedly from his seat by the campfire, “I bet he would invite a fellow traveler over to join in his meal.”
“He is not one of us,” Tevye answered.
“That never stopped Abraham,” Ben Zion responded. “Didn’t he bring everyone he met under the roof of his tent to spread the knowledge of God? After all, are not all men created in God’s image?”
“There are men, and there are men who look like men, but behave like wild beasts.”
“Oh, Tata,” Tzeitl said. “You know there are lots of exceptions.”
“Like our wonderful Russian friends who threw us out of our village.”
“Which one of your daughters is he in love with?” Ben Zion asked.
Tevye stood up. “What business is it of yours?” he demanded.
It was Naftali, the singer, who answered. “He just wants to know which of your roses are still up for grabs.”
His comrades all laughed. Tevye growled. One of the group, a mamzer named Peter, jumped to his feet and said he was going to invite Hevedke to join them. With a laugh, he started to walk toward the road, but Tevye grabbed him. With a powerful grasp, he spun him around and shoved him into the fire. The Zionist landed on the burning branches with a yelp. Quickly, his comrades pulled him out of the flames.
Tevye stood glaring.
“That’s the last time anyone mentions either that uncircumcised Philistine or my daughters! Is that understood?”
Even the usually garrulous Ben Zion was silent. Tevye walked back to his wagon. It was a pity, he thought, that the brunt of his anger had to fall on a Jew. How much better it would have been if he had pulled the Russian Police Commissioner off of his horse and broken his bones instead. Or if he were to set Hevedke on fire and wish him a final good riddance.
His daughters didn’t dare open their mouths when their father returned to their side. Tevye sat down and leaned back against a wheel of the wagon. He was tired from the vodka and from the strains of the day. The fire across the road had waned in brightness, but the silhouette of the Russian poet could still be seen against the trees of the forest. Tevye’s eyes closed in the darkness. Exhaustion swept through his body. Before long, he was snoring. Ben Zion called over in a discreet, polite voice, asking him to be quiet, but the milkman didn’t hear. Hodel gave her father a nudge, but he was deep in some other world, dreaming of a carriage pulled by a team of white horses.
Tevye only awoke after everyone else had fallen asleep. His daughters were huddled in blankets under the wagon. The Zionists dozed in the warmth of the campfire’s embers. When Tevye was certain that everyone was sleeping, he quietly stood up, opened the chest in the wagon, and pulled out his slaughterer’s knife. Careful not to step on branches or twigs, he walked across the road toward the wisps of smoke rising amongst the pine trees. Hevedke was sleeping. His features were serene and innocently youthful. A small smile, like a baby’s, was curled on his lips. A stubble of blondish red hair covered his cheeks, as if he were growing a beard. And a hand-sewn yarmulka had fallen off his head to the ground. Bending down to lift it, Tevye recognized Hava’s skilled stitch in the traditional Jewish skullcap.
When Tevye let out a roar, Hevedke jerked upright, still half asleep. Tevye grasped him around his chest and lay the blade of the knife gently on his throat.
“This is a slaughterer’s knife,” he said. “Its blade is kept extra sharp in order to kill the animal quickly so it won’t have to suffer needless pain.”
“Thou shall not murder,” Hevedke whispered in terror.
“That’s as much as you know,” Tevye said. “It is also written that if a thief enters your house to kidnap your daughter, then you are allowed to kill him.”
Tevye scraped the steel of the knife along his prisoner’s neck.
“I want to be a Jew,” the young Russian vowed in a hush.