Translated from Yiddish to English by Martin Jacobs One frosty Sunday the skin which covered her protruding bones collapsed, never again to rise up. The horse died at the hole in the ice just when its owner, Itshe Shtumak, (Itshe the Stammerer) was filling a barrel with water to bring to his customers, the good people of the town.
He stood for a while holding the empty bucket and thought: A foolish animal! She went a whole night without tasting the bit of straw that I gave her. If you had eaten, you would not have come to such a bad end. And if you did pass away, you could have died in your own stall and not come here to the ice hole pulling the sled and the barrel. Now who will drag them up the mountain to town?
Itshe took off the wet frozen bag which he wore over his torn trousers, threw it over the hole of the half filled barrel, and stared at the beast. I no longer have to worry about you. You're done with your world, but what am I to do now? You've left me five orphans, and I, Itshe Shtumak, am a sixth. It's good that my Chaye-Leye didn't live to see this.
Seeing that the collar was still on the horse's neck, it occurred to him that it might be choking him. He went over, bent down, and tried to take the collar off. Rest in peace, he thought to himself. For four years you dragged the water with me; if only you waited a couple of years, little Henekh would be earning money working for Shmuel-Ber the tailor. He's been learning the work altogether now for two years.
"Henekh is a dear child. A warmth went through Itshe's whole body. And Yisekher, such a smart child. He can already say his prayers by heart. If I hadn't been a water-carrier I would have been enough! I'm not a water-carrier any longer. Without a horse, with just a sled what will I carry? What will I carry? He went over to the carcass and gave it a kick. Carry water! On your neck, with a couple of straps, up the mountain. He lifted his eyes to the mountain top, lost in thought, big tears moistening his frozen silent face.
I have to notify the knacker, the buyer of carcasses, Yashek Kozhol. You can't leave a carcass lying at the ice hole. Itshe thought. He tightened the cord on his trousers, looked at the sled and barrel, and began his climb up the hill. At the top Chatskl the water-carrier's sled appeared. His big, blind horse shook his head, as though he was trying to feel his way in the dark. He knew the way down the mountain very well. Many a time had he fallen there and injured his old bones. These days Chatskl the water-carrier no longer held the reins; he relied completely on his blind horse. Coming to a ditch, the horse swerved to the right on its own. It would have occurred to no one that the horse was blind. For equine intelligence this was nothing. This is why Chatskl loved his horse.
Chatskl very much hated it when someone said to him, Your blind horse rides well. Even if it was his best customer, the finest citizen, he became angry and answered with anger. What does it have to do with you that the horse is blind? Aren't you getting your water?
Chatskl saw from the mountain top that Itshe Shtumak's horse and sled were parked at the ice hole. But what happened? Why was the horse lying down? He asked himself that question, and, looking at the river, he gave himself the answer: It's dead. What will Itshe Shumak do now, when he has five orphan children? A feeling of pity enveloped him. He pushed back his astrakhan hat, revealing his wrinkled brow. He stroked his beard: The Master of the Universe didn't have anyone's horse to kill, so he chose Itshe Shtumak's.
How is Itshe Shtumak to blame? As far as I'm concerned his horse could have lived a hundred and twenty years. The townspeople are to blame! Bring them water in the coldest frost, in a blizzard, in rain, lie on the ice and open the ice hole, all for three groshen a trip.
Itshe Shtumak came up opposite Chatskl's sled. He turned his head away so as not to see him. He was embarrassed and heavy in his heart. He stood there out of breath. Chatskl looked at him and said, Good morning. Itshe shook his head and pointed to the river. Finished, he stammered to Chatskl (you could understand him, although since his tongue and palate were fused together it was hard for him to talk). Dead! I'll go tell the knacker.
Chatskl the water-carrier got up from his seat. Where are you going? To the knacker? On foot? Get on the sled. I'll drive you.
No, Chatskl. You've got to deliver water for my customers too.The sad news that Itshe Shtumak's horse had died spread through the town. The housewives began to look into how their water was holding out. Itshe Shtumak's customers were very much afraid and started thinking about what they would do. Chatskl the water-carrier's customers remained calm and confidant. He will take care of his customers. . . no problem!, they thought.
Let them get it themselves. To deliver water for three groshen a trip! Let them get it themselves! Get on! Chatskl called out. Five groshen. Otherwise no water.
You're right, Reb Chatskl. Five groshen a trip, otherwise no water. Now you can do it; you're the only carrier.
Now and later! Don't be a fool, you'll deliver water too. But for five groshen a trip, do you hear? Otherwise we don't deliver.
Itshe, Chatskl called out. Tomorrow is Monday, market day. Tomorrow you'll buy a horse. But buy a good one. I have twenty rubles, I'll lend them to you; you'll pay me back a bit at a time. At five groshen a trip there will even be enough for you to do good deeds.
When Chaye-Tsirl, the baker, heard of the misfortune, she wrung her hands and ran out from behind her counter onto the narrow wooden bridge Perhaps she might see Chatskl and talk to him, get him to see you can't run a bakery without water. Well, we'll have to give a two gulden contribution to buy Shtumak a horse. It won't be the first time. she thought to herself.
Chatskl went out very early to the old market place. Itshe was already there, looking around at the horses tied to the railing.
Good morning, Reb Chatskl.Chatskl touched the pocket where his twenty rubles were. Agree on a price, Itshe, and come, let's go inform the customers that from now on they'll be paying five groshen a trip. Good luck! Take its reins, Chatskl yelled. This is an animal you must be able to lead.
Itshe, come here a moment. Do you see this animal? This is a horse for a water-carrier. Look at his legs. Look at his chest. This is the one for you. Do you have to have eyes? What does it matter to you that he's blind? A horse doesn't need eyes; it needs legs! It needs strength! Itshe, listen to me.
If you say so, Reb Chatskl, there's nothing to think about. Who knows better than you what a water-carrier needs.
The great chestnut horse shook its head, as though it was looking into the darkness, trying to find out who its new master was. There was something strange about his speech. When Itshe Shtumak pulled on the rope and stammered out: Doh! it followed him.
Come, Reb Chatskl Let's doh drink lekhayim. I have a dulden; it's like simchi-teyre (Simchas Torah) for us today.Chaye-Tsirl, the baker, went out onto the little wooden bridge; seeing Itshe Shtumak leading a big horse, her face lit up. We'll soon have water, thank God. But how did Shtumak come up with the money to buy such a stallion? And he complains that the little Shtumaks have nothing to eat! He'll give me buckets full to the brim if he wants to deliver for me.
Good morning. The three of them drew near the bridge with a heavy step. Itshe walked in front pulling the beast by the rope which hung from the bridle. At his side, between Itshe and the horse, came Chatskl the water-carrier.Itshe gave a pull on the bridle. Come, he said to the horse. Chatskl followed them.
We've come to tell you that from now on the price is five groshen a trip and you. . . .
Did you ever hear such a thing? Suddenly, out of nowhere, five groshen a trip! When he got three he had with what to buy a stallion like this, but he wants five! She pointed at Itshe. I'll stuff him full of five groshen a trip! Never in all my life have I heard such a thing! I won't bake! We hardly pay that for a sack of flour, so I should give them five groshen a trip for water? Her breath failed her from talking so loud and she remained silent.
Thieves! Chaye-Tsirl shouted after them. You're leaving me without water right in the middle of a Monday. Come back! I'll give you four groshen, alright?Itshe and the horse stopped; he turned to Chatskl and looked at him, waiting to see what he would tell him to do.
Five groshen, the same for everyone! For the bakerman Dyadye, for Peshe the bakerwoman, for everyone the same. One price for the whole town. Chatskl stated clearly.
So when will you start delivering? An end to this! Just don't leave me without water, Chaye-Tsirl yielded.
If necessary we'll deliver all night. You won't be without water, Chatskl answered.
Chatskl! Itshe Shtumak stammering cried out. Chatskl, I have a dilden, come, let's drink lekhayim. Today is our simchi-teyri. It's like moshiach arrived. If Chaye-Tsirl is divving five droshen a trip, everyone will div.
Simchi -teyri Chatskl ! Simchi- teyri!
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