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Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Eight: Waiting for the Baron

Cover of Tevye in the Promised Land by Tzvi Fishman.

It was decided that Nachman would go back to the colony and bring Tevye some water and food. For the first time since morning, Tevye sat down. Remembering his speech, he removed the crumpled papers from his back pocket and started to rehearse once again. In the banquet tent, flies and bees were swarming around the buffet table and the lavish assortment of delicacies which the women had prepared. With nervous impatience, LeClerc ran around the tables, shouting at the insects and swatting them away from the food. When Nachman entered the tent and innocently asked the Company manager what time the Baron was due to arrive, the meticulously dressed Frenchman exploded.

“When he gets here!” he yelled. “Why does someone have to ask me every five minutes?”

“He had better get here quickly,” the butcher’s wife chided, “before the flies eat all of the food.”

LeClerc growled as he lunged at a battalion of ants which were advancing along the table and attacking a hill of creamy potatoes. Falling off balance, he tripped over a chair onto the ground. The women turned away and tried to suppress their giggles. Nachman smiled and retreated from the tent. Embarrassed, the Company manager rose to his feet. Brushing the dirt off of his neatly-starched suit and vest, he strode outside, ordering the women to cover up the food, as if they were to blame for the invasion of insects.

Nachman brought Tevye a pouch of water and a nourishing snack, and left him alone on the hilltop to continue his vigil. Instead of wasting more time on the mountain, Nachman announced that he was going to the synagogue to study Torah. Before long, LeClerc joined Tevye on the hillside. His head twitched nervously, as if his cravat were strangling him. With growing impatience, he paced up and down the mountain ridge, peering through a spyglass at the valley below.

“Are you sure they are coming today?” Tevye asked.

“Of course, I am sure,” the tyrannical clerk tensely replied. Compulsively, he brushed at his suit jacket, as if to straighten out wrinkles, though it seemed perfectly laundered to Tevye.

“The day is almost over,” Tevye noted, looking up at the afternoon sun.

LeClere paced to the other side of the ridge.

“It seems to me that you should let one of the settlers address the Baron on behalf of the yishuv,” Tevye said.

“Is that all you can think about?”

“It seems to me the proper thing to do.”

“As long as I am the Company manager, I will decide what is the proper thing to do.”

“You might have a revolt on you hands.” Tevye warned.

“Is that a threat?” LeClere asked with increasing irritation. Tevye didn’t have tune to answer. Far down the mountain side, a wagon appeared on the trail. Spotting it, Tevye froze, then gave out a shout.

“They’re coming!” he yelled. “They’re coming!”

Ecstatic, he threw his cap in the air. Beside himself with happiness, he grabbed onto LeClerc’s shoulders and spun him around in a whirl. Laughing, he ran off to fetch his cap, which had landed in a bush of wild berries. LeClerc peered through his spyglass down the mountain.

“Merde!” he exclaimed in French, almost spitting out the word.

“What’s the matter?” Tevye asked.

“The wagon you saw. It’s Hillel with Pincus and the scribe.”

“Where’s the Baron Rothschild?”

“I don’t know. They’re alone.”

“Give me that thing,” Tevye said.

He reached out and grabbed the spyglass away from LeClerc. Sure enough, it was the Morasha welcoming wagon. No other wagon, nor carriage, nor horse was in sight.

“Merde!” the Frenchman repeated.

Tevye didn’t have to ask what it meant. The gentile pronounced the word the very same way that a Jew would say drek.

“I’m going back to the colony to meet them and find out what happened,” the Company manager declared.

He was so upset, he forgot to take his spyglass. Tevye turned and looked back down the mountain. The only thing accompanying the wagon was dust. Hillel was sprawled out in the rear, his head on his accordion, sleeping.

“Hmmm,” Tevye snorted. Obviously, the Baron had been delayed on the way. After all, surveys took time, and he had probably stopped to measure some new tract of land. Also, one could never rule out bandits and highwaymen. Bedouins may have attacked the entourage, forcing them to turn back. Once again, Tevye sat down to wait. He had waited all day. He would wait a little more. After all, a Jew was used to waiting. Another day in galut. Another year in exile. Another lifetime waiting for salvation to come. Waiting and hoping, that was the fate of a Jew. Who knew? If the Baron didn’t show up, maybe the Mashiach would come in his place. Tevye had faith.

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press


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