Fisch and Berl invite the boys to come to their home, where they will be given food.
* * *
If you didn’t already know the precise location of the Metzger home you would walk right by it. Papa Metzger’s main goal when he built it was maximum inconspicuousness. It was built half into the ground and half out. The entrance was four steps down.
Inside was surprisingly warm and roomy. The furniture was rough but decent, the fruit of the elder Metzger’s labors reflected sturdiness over beauty. He hadn’t bothered to sand or stain the wood, so much of it retained its tree-trunk character, but it served its purpose nonetheless.
At some point Fisch had learned to sew. The ageing curtains, pillows and blankets that had been part of Mrs. Metzger’s dowry had eventually begun to shred, along with their torn trousers and shirts that looked as though someone had taken a scissors to them. Fisch had adamantly refused, claiming they could approach a seamstress, until Berl reminded him of their vow to be completely independent. “So why don’t you learn to sew?” Fisch had asked. Berl had been too busy laughing to answer and so, with no other choice, Fisch’s fingers had come to resemble human pin cushions, but the sewing did get done.
Berl and Fisch usually had to bend their heads to enter the house through the doorway. Papa Metzger had been small, the twins having inherited their height from their maternal grandfather, and the doorway was more suitable for their father’s size than their own.
“What is this place?” Hershel asked, once he’d disembarked from Berl’s shoulders. “It’s a house and not a house.”
“Why is it not a house?” asked Berl.
“Because it’s under the ground,” said Hershel.
While his brother was amused by the strange abode, a welcome sense of relief descended on Kalonymous. Unlike Yannick’s place, which had been windowless, this one had the combined advantage of hiddenness and airiness. The windows poked out of the ground like a pair of eyes looking over a wall, and they let in surprising amounts of air and light. Kalonymous felt, for the first time in a long time, safe. He somehow knew these men would not hurt them.
“Which first?” Fisch asked Berl. “Food or sleep?”
“I think a bit of food should fill their stomachs enough to let them have a good rest. They can’t eat too much, or they might get sick.”
“How about a bit of that herring?” asked Fisch.
Berl made a face. “No, too salty. They’ll be parched. Give them some tea and clotted cream. That should keep them for a while.”
Fisch settled the boys, two on stools (there were only two — one for Berl and one for Fisch) and Dovid’l perched on a pile of pillows. Fisch warmed the kettle, and sprinkled tea leaves into three mugs. Meanwhile, he sliced three pieces of black bread and spread each with a thick layer of clotted cream. Then he cut the bread into small cubes so it would be easier for the boys to chew and digest.
He gave each a portion and his own cup of tea, and waited quietly as they first nibbled the food and then gobbled it. Fisch kept slicing, spreading, cubing, and pouring, begging the children to eat slowly, until they finally ran out of steam. Hershel began to sway first, barely able to keep his eyes open. Dovid’l followed and, although Kalonymous struggled valiantly to keep his eyes open, he too succumbed to the satiety and curled up in a ball on the floor.
Berl and Fisch regarded the boys with a sense of satisfaction. With the great exception of their parent, and each other, Berl and Fisch had never cared for anyone, and were surprised at the pleasure they felt in doing so. By mutual agreement, they picked up the boys one by one and lay them in their own beds, covering them with their own blankets, then took the two stools and sat, keeping watch on their precious charges until they would awake.
They hadn’t dreamed the boys would sleep for nearly 24 hours! They took turns sleeping and eating, unwilling and unable to leave them unguarded. Occasionally one of the children would shout or cry out, rousing the twins to their senses, but otherwise the time passed uneventfully. Berl kept the fire going and Fisch prepared food for himself and his brother.
Dovid’l woke first. Certain he would startle at their unfamiliar faces, Berl and Fisch sat quietly and waited to see what he would do. No one was more surprised when he held his arms out to Fisch, but they would soon learn that children know everything. Some part of Dovid’l remembered that Fisch had carried him through the woods and he’d been safe there, and that knowledge had remained throughout his sleep and into his first waking moments. He even knew it was Fisch and not Berl. The twins would soon find that, despite their identical appearance, the boys could tell them apart immediately.
Dovid’l’s first words upon awakening were “Thirsty!” and he soon had the two brothers at his beck and call, fetching and bringing and feeding him small morsels. Dovid’l enjoyed the smoked fish in tiny bites, and by the time Kalonymous and Hershel awoke, Dovid’l had been sated and had fallen back to sleep once again.
Fisch saw immediately that Kalonymous and Hershel were tougher customers than the youngest brother, more suspicious. He imagined they’d come by this distrust honestly. Of course, they wondered about the boys’ background, and what had brought them to the forsaken spot where they’d found them, but there would be plenty of time for stories.
To be continued . . .