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The Chorus Girl and Other Stories

Rothschild's Fiddle
THE town was a little one, worse than a village, and it was inhabited by scarcely any but
old people who died with an infrequency that was really annoying. In the hospital and in
the prison fortress very few coffins were needed. In fact business was bad. If Yakov
Ivanov had been an undertaker in the chief town of the province he would certainly have
had a house of his own, and people would have addressed him as Yakov Matveyitch; here
in this wretched little town people called him simply Yakov; his nickname in the street
was for some reason Bronze, and he lived in a poor way like a humble peasant, in a little
old hut in which there was only one room, and in this room he and Marfa, the stove, a
double bed, the coffins, his bench, and all their belongings were crowded together.
Yakov made good, solid coffins. For peasants and working people he made them to fit
himself, and this was never unsuccessful, for there were none taller and stronger than he,
even in the prison, though he was seventy. For gentry and for women he made them to
measure, and used an iron foot-rule for the purpose. He was very unwilling to take orders
for children's coffins, and made them straight off without measurements, contemptuously,
and when he was paid for the work he always said:
"I must confess I don't like trumpery jobs."
Apart from his trade, playing the fiddle brought him in a small income.
The Jews' orchestra conducted by Moisey Ilyitch Shahkes, the tinsmith, who took more
than half their receipts for himself, played as a rule at weddings in the town. As Yakov
played very well on the fiddle, especially Russian songs, Shahkes sometimes invited him
to join the orchestra at a fee of half a rouble a day, in addition to tips from the visitors.
When Bronze sat in the orchestra first of all his face became crimson and perspiring; it
was hot, there was a suffocating smell of garlic, the fiddle squeaked, the double bass
wheezed close to his right ear, while the flute wailed at his left, played by a gaunt, red-
haired Jew who had a perfect network of red and blue veins all over his face, and who
bore the name of the famous millionaire Rothschild. And this accursed Jew contrived to
play even the liveliest things plaintively. For no apparent reason Yakov little by little
became possessed by hatred and contempt for the Jews, and especially for Rothschild; he
began to pick quarrels with him, rail at him in unseemly language and once even tried to
strike him, and Rothschild was offended and said, looking at him ferociously:
"If it were not that I respect you for your talent, I would have sent you flying out of the
window."
Then he began to weep. And because of this Yakov was not often asked to play in the
orchestra; he was only sent for in case of extreme necessity in the absence of one of the
Jews.
 
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