Carmel was silent. Tevye loved her for that. She knew when to speak up, and when to leave matters to him.
“You know, that isn’t a bad idea” Tevye said.
“Who?” Carmel asked.
Tevye’s wife thought and nodded her head.
“Unless you think he’s too old for her,” Tevye added with a grin.
His wife smiled back. The great difference in their ages was a joyful joke between them.
“Do you want me to suggest it to her?” Carmel asked.
“No, no,” Tevye said. “That would end it before it began. If she thinks that it’s something I’ve planned, she’ll say no just for spite. She may have learned a big lesson about husbands, but if I know my daughter, she still has a stubborn, willful streak. So we have to proceed with caution.”
Tevye grabbed a bottle of wine, and without waiting another minute, he set off to the barracks where the bachelors all slept. The musician was leading a symphony of snoring. Tevye sat on his bed and poked at his friend until he woke up with a startled expression.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“It isn’t good for a man to be alone,” Tevye said.
“You’ve woken me in the middle of the night to tell me that?” Hillel asked.
“It’s time you got married.”
Hillel wiped the sleep from his eyes. “With whom?”
Whispering, Tevye related his plan. The lovelorn musician agreed with a big grin at once. As if concluding a transaction, the father of the bride handed the bottle of wine to the groom.
“L’Chaim,” Tevye said.
“L’Chaim,” Hillel answered. Singing the blessing in the traditional wedding tune, he raised the bottle to his mouth and drank. Then he handed the bottle to Tevye.
“I can’t,” Tevye said. “When I was sinking in the swamp, I made a vow to give up drinking.”
“This isn’t drinking. It’s a toast.”
“A vow is a vow,” Tevye said. “But if my daughter agrees to marry you, I will speak to a rabbi before the wedding to see if I can take a sip or two to celebrate such a great simcha.”
The very next day, outside the packing house of the colony where Hodel worked packing vegetables into the sacks and crates which were sent to the market, a man started singing a love song behind her. It was Hillel. He had been “transferred” from the fields to the packing house to help speed the packing.
Though other unmarried women worked alongside her, with a woman’s intuition, Hodel felt that Hillel’s ballads were being aimed in her direction. By their smiles, the other women seemed to sense it too. As his love songs continued, Hodel felt herself blushing.
Without looking at Hillel, she fastened the lid on a crate of tomatoes and carried it toward one of the wagons. Yentel, the wife of the butcher, walked over beside her.
“Running away from a love song?” she asked.
“Nonsense,” Hodel answered.
He certainly isn’t singing to me. I’m married, and so are Minnie and Ruth.”
“And the other girls are too young to get married.”
“A minstrel doesn’t need a reason to sing,” Hodel answered.
“Perhaps not. But Hillel has been long-faced for months. All of a sudden, you show up, and he turns into a nightingale.”
Again, Hodel blushed. Walking back to her heap of tomatoes, she caught Hillel’s eye. He stared at her with an unabashedly friendly smile, the kind of a smile which a religious man doesn’t give to a woman unless he has serious intentions. With a polite, if frigid, reaction, Hodel set back to her work.
“Can I marry Hillel, the minstrel?” she thought. He was the age of her father! And lame! Not that lameness was a sin, but it certainly wasn’t an attractive quality in a man. “Why does a man have to be attractive?” a voice inside her asked. Her husband, Perchik, had been attractive and where had it gotten her? It turned out that he loved himself more than he had loved her. What did good looks matter if a man was a rogue inside? And in this world, in one way or another, wasn’t everyone lame? No one was perfect, except the Creator, so who was she to look askance at the shortcomings of Hillel or anyone else?