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Samooborona
by [?]

I

Milovka was to be the next place reddened on the map of Holy Russia. The news of the projected Jewish massacre in this little Polish town travelled to the Samooborona (Self-Defence) Headquarters in Southern Russia through the indiscretion of a village pope who had had a drop of blood too much. It appeared that Milovka, though remote from the great centres of disturbance, had begun to seethe with political activity, and even to publish a newspaper, so that it was necessary to show by a first-class massacre that true Russian men were still loyal to God and the Czar. Milovka lay off the pogrom route, and had not of itself caught the contagion; careful injection of the virus was necessary. Moreover, the town was two-thirds Jewish, and consequently harder to fever with the lust of Jewish blood. But in revenge the pogrom would be easier; the Jewish quarter formed a practically separate town; no asking of dvorniks (janitors) to point out the Jewish apartments, no arming one’s self with photographs of the victims; one had but to run amuck among these low wooden houses, the humblest of which doubtless oozed with inexhaustible subterranean wealth.

David Ben Amram was hurriedly despatched to Milovka to organize a local self-defence corps. He carried as many pistols as could be stowed away in a violin-case, which, with a music-roll holding cartridges, was an obtrusive feature of his luggage. The winter was just beginning, but mildly. The sun shone over the broad plains, and as David’s train carried him towards Milovka, his heart swelled with thoughts of the Maccabean deeds to be wrought there by a regenerated Young Israel. But the journey was long. Towards the end he got into conversation with an old Russian peasant who, so far from sharing in the general political effervescence, made a long lament over the good old days of serfdom. ‘Then, one had not to think–one ate and drank. Now, it is all toil and trouble.’

‘But you were whipped at your lord’s pleasure,’ David reminded him.

‘He was a nobleman,’ retorted the peasant with dignity.

David fell silent. The Jew, too, had grown to kiss the rod. But it was not even a nobleman’s rod; any moujik, any hooligan, could wield it. But, thank Heaven, this breed of Jew was passing away–killed by the pogroms. It was their one virtue.

At the station he hired a ramshackle droshky, and told his Jewish driver to take him to the best inn. Seated astride the old-fashioned bench of the vehicle, and grasping his violin-case like a loving musician, as they jolted over the rough roads, he broached the subject of the Jewish massacres.

Be!‘ commented the driver, shrugging his shoulders. ‘We are in Goluth (exile)!’ He spoke with resignation, but not with apprehension, and David perceived at once that Milovka would not be easy to arouse. As every man thought every other man mortal, so Milovka regarded the massacres as a terrible reality–for other towns. It was no longer even shocked; Kishineff had been a horror almost beyond belief, but Jew-massacres had since become part of the natural order, which babes were born into.

II

The landlord shook his head.

‘All our rooms are full.’

David, still hugging his violin-case, looked at the dirty, mustard-smeared tablecloth on the long table, and at the host’s brats playing on the floor. If this was the best, what in Heaven’s name awaited him elsewhere?

‘For how long?’ he asked.

The landlord shrugged his shoulders like the driver. ‘Am I the All-knowing?’

He wore a black velvet cap, but not with the apex that would have professed piety. Its square cut indicated to the younger generation that he was a man of the world, in touch with the times; to the old its material and hue afforded sufficient guarantee of ritual orthodoxy. He was a true host, the friend of all who eat and drink.

‘But how many rooms have you?’ inquired David.