The Jew. The birth of the little bastard.
“Frieda, Frieda,” the young girl yelled across the crowd.
Frieda turned even though she did not want to. She was in the middle of a conversation with Schwartz, a prospective customer, and she did not want to be interrupted. Business trumps everything. But she turned and recognized Aniela. “What the hell do you want?” she said and then realized that sounded unladylike like she blushed. She hoped that Schwartz did not recognize Aniela for she was employed by her cousin, Henrietta. Aniela was a minor whore. Frieda was not shy and she knew many knew of her cousin and herself but she did not advertise it. She also went by the motto of “keeping things close to the vest”. On top of that there was Hymie who she was hoping to represent as a yenta in order to get him a bride. Frieda was a matchmaker and Hymie needed one, considering he was rather unattractive and had a lot of other distractions. He reeked of butchered meat for he was a butcher. But he had money and that alone would be the attraction for a good match.
“Excuse me, Hymie. I must see what this girl wants, but let us get together later to go over a few prospects I have in mind.” Frieda said this hurriedly and turned to Aniela.
She was still thinking midstream about Hymie, the widower, and his four kids and whom she was going to pare him off with when Aniela started to blubber.
The child, twenty years old, was talking, but making no sense.
“Come away from the crowd so I can hear you,” Frieda led her to a small area devoid of a lot of people.
“Your cousin needs your help, you must come and right away.” Aniela sputtered in rapid succession. She was breathing hard but that could have been in her exertion to find Frieda or nervousness on the subject of why she had to find Frieda.
Frieda’s cousin was the proprietor of a whore house in the village. This was well known by most everybody but to Frieda it had pluses and minuses attached. Sometimes she got business for matchmaking from the connections and sometimes not.
“Vus tzach? (What is happening?)
“Your cousin wants you to come immediately, she will explain it when get there.” and with that Aniela turned and lead the way.
Both ladies made their way quickly past streets and streets of the town. Finally on the outskirts of the village stood a two story abode on the hill.
The structure was built in 1890 and the wood structure was as solid as a rock. The men of the village had created it for the purpose of a place away from home. Frieda had taken it over quickly and recruited four women to handle the need of the men of the village. It was a secret that was not a secret. Most of the women of the village knew what it was and what went on there. Of course their individual men were faithful. But deep inside the women wanted to avoid diseases of the flesh and they were grateful that the men were careful.
The first floor of the structure was the greeting hall, the kitchen in the back and a storage closet. There was a wooden staircase that lead to the four rooms upstairs. There were couches and stuffed seats in the viewing room. The contents of the rooms upstairs were a little less elegant. A bed, dress of drawers, a table to lay out things and water basin for washing. One must keep clean.
The overall colors were reddish and faded. Most of the clientele were the better suited men of the village. And then there were the first time young boys. A visitation that took place with much fanfare as the culminating activity of the bar mitzvah.
Frieda was not a young women. She was past middle age which for the turn of the century was forty five. She was puffing slightly as she was bulky and svelte. Aniela was much younger and had moved quickly. But she had not said what this was all about. Frieda was concerned for this was the first time she had been called to her cousin in such an abrupt manner. Frieda was the matchmaker of the village. Although the village was big enough and she had some competition. But what could her cousin want from the matchmaker?
Frieda entered the building and quickly Anna met her at the door as if she was waiting for her.
“What is going on?” Frieda blurred out.
“Up stairs quickly.” Anna gestured and Frieda complied. As she climbed the stairs she had to pass the carpenter Wolf Freedman and the girl who had just serviced him as they descended the stairs. Frieda avoided eye contact for the carpenter was well known to her. He had been a prior client and she had matched him up with a young thing from a decent family. She tucked this information away. This was not her purpose to be here.
Frieda’s cousin came out of a room and met her at the top of the stairs.
Frieda knew something was amiss. Henrietta, her cousin was wiping her hands with a rag. There was blood on the rag.
Henrietta ushered her cousin into a room closing the door behind her.
“Glad you came.” Frieda’s eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room.
There on the bed was a young girl. Frieda did not recognize her but immediately saw the problem. There was a sheet over her bottom extremities and there was blood. Lots of blood. Then she heard a noise from the corner of the room. Sitting there was Rose and she was holding a bundle. She was cradling it and quickly Frieda put the pieces of the puzzle together. The bundle was a baby and the girl on the bed had just given birth. She was dead. Dead from child birth that had gone horribly wrong.
“Oh my God, who is it?” Frieda asked of Henrietta.
“Devri, poor little Devri.” muttered Henrietta. She followed Frieda into the room and closed the door.
Frieda thought back. Devri was one of Henrietta’s girls from the past. She was eighteen when Frieda had set up a match in a city near Petersburg. An emissary had come to the village and sought out Frieda. It seems that a very wealthy man had been in the area on a secret mission and for some reason had come to Henrietta’s house for a “rest” He later had sent for her through the grapevine using Frieda as an intermediate. He wanted a marriage for show. He was capable of sex but not procreation. The purpose of marriage would be a sham but he wanted to show off a young girl and set up liaisons with people who could be of use to his advancement. These liaisons included the use of Devri as a prior whore using sex for advancement.
But if Baron Simon Yakovlevich could not have children, how did Devri end up here dead from childbirth. Who was the father? This was in the back of Frieda’s mind but other issues were more pressing. There was a dead body to dispose of and a baby to pawn off somewhere. But the first issue was the boy baby who now was crying and wanting nourishment.
With her cousin exhausted, Frieda took the lead. It appeared that Henrietta was tired and not thinking right. She had been up all night with trying to save Devri and the baby. But the breach birth had gone wrong and within a short time Devri bled out and was dead. Henrietta was happy her cousin took the reins and relinquished decisions to her quickly.
Frieda was an in charge person. She felt that the baby’s nourishment was primary but the thought of allowing the baby to nurse on a dead woman was repugnant.
“Is Isadore still live up the road?” Frieda asked.
Frieda remembered that Isadore did odd jobs and was paid for his services by one of the ladies. She had a job in mind. “We will need him to bury Devri in the ground behind the house. Send one of the girls to fetch him.”
“What if he tells?”
“Use sex to keep his mouth shut, and have him bring the utter of one of his goats.”
“What?” Henrietta asked puzzled.
“We need to feed the baby. We do not want it to die, do we?”
“I thought we would bury the baby with the momma.” Henrietta thought that burying the problem would be to make like it did not happen and explaining a child would raise suspicions.
“I will take the child and place it in a home, how could you be so cruel? Now leave me and take the child downstairs but first give me a dish.”
“What do you need a dish for?”
“I need the dish for the milk I am going to squeeze out Devri, the child will need some nourishment. We will then have to use cow or goat milk.”
Rose got up and left to go to the kitchen carrying the unnamed child. Henrietta followed her and closed the door. She was glad her cousin took charge but she did not want to see the milking of a dead woman and returned with a dish and then quickly retreated back to the kitchen. She sent Aniela to get Isadore and told her to not mention why he was needed. Aniela was not the brightest of girls but she was the perfect runner for errands. Meanwhile she and Rose cleaned the baby up in the kitchen. In a few minutes Frieda came down with the milk. Frieda washed up and dipped her finger into the bowl containing the milk. She then put her finger in the baby’s mouth and let the child suckle on the finger getting the few drops of milk into its system.
Frieda was like a rock but deep inside she was anxiety ridden. Too many questions floated through her mind.
There was only one customer downstairs and he did not question the baby being carried into the kitchen. He was only interested in being taken care of and was in a hurry to get home to his wife and four children.
Isadore came in through the backdoor and was made aware of the tradeoff that Frieda proposed. He was angry because he had to go back and get the shovel from his shack. He did not want to ask too many questions and really did not want to get involved but the prospect of one of the girls was appealing enough to buy his work and silence. He was an old man looking far older than fifty five. He was scrawny and walked broken because of a broken leg that had never mended properly.
As soon as the customer left a note was put on the door. Closed for the night. Henrietta’s never liked turning away business but this was a necessity.
Rose was selected to stay in the kitchen with the baby. After getting some nourishment the baby was asleep. But just in case there was enough milk to get the baby through the night. Frieda was able to squeeze out enough to fill a pan with breast milk. Frieda and Henrietta cleaned the body of Devri and wrapped it in cloth and then an old rug. Isadore had returned having dug the hole in the back six feet deep. At least that was what he told the ladies but in reality it was only four and a half feet deep. But it would do. He helped carry the body out to the back with the aid of Frieda, Henrietta and Aniela. The other two girls in their mid-forties were reluctant to get involved. But they stood at the edge of the coffin as the body was lowered in. Then Isadore started to put soil back into the hole.
“Should we not say a prayer for her?” asked Aniela
And so Isadore stopped and waited while Frieda said, “God we send this soul to you. Please forgive her for her sins, Amen.”
It was not much but it would do. Frieda was in a hurry to find out a little more about what happened and of course there was the baby. What to do with that cute kid?
The girls left before Isadore was finished. They went back to the kitchen and sat around the table. The two girls who wanted to be left out of the mix voiced their concerns and Frieda and Henrietta allowed them to go back to their rooms. Both were in their forties and both did not want any trouble. Golda and Judith were good girls and had enough troubles in their lives. The good thing was they could be trusted to keep their mouths shut. On the other hand who would listen to them? Aniela was sent to her room because she was young and a gossip. Better to keep the secrets deep and hidden then to talk too much in front of her.
So around the table was Frieda, Henrietta and Rose. It would be up to them to decide what would happen to the baby and what routes they would take. At least that is what they thought.
Frieda started as soon as the three girls went upstairs.
“I am need to be brought up to date.” Frieda asked of Henrietta
“Devri was brought to us by the stable boy. We had not even known she was pregnant. We had lost contact with her after she got married to the Baron over a year ago. She was in a bad state.”
“Did the she or even the stable boy say anything?”
“She was in bad shape when she got her, riding in a cart, bouncing around over twenty miles, she was in hysterics when she got here. Barely alive. And as soon as the stable boy got her upstairs he ran out and was gone. Lucky we did not have a customer downstairs for we would have been in big trouble.”
“I hate to say the obvious but no one is out of the woods yet.” Frieda paused. A dead girl and a baby would be hard to explain. She remembered the Baron and he was not a forgiving man. She worried what really happened but one thing she knew for sure. The baby was not the Baron’s and she remembered there were bruises around the face of Devri as if she had been beaten. At least that was what she assumed. First the Baron was in his sixties. Second his first wife had died five years ago and there were no children from the union. Either his wife was barren or he was infertile. He certainly was active for when he came to the village over a year ago he spent some wild nights at Henrietta’s and there were stories said. Of course at this time they did not know he was the Baron. But at six foot five he was definitely someone you would not forget. The girl he seemed to like the most was Devri and he later sent for her. To do that he had Henrietta help him secure the yenta within the proper channels? It was all above board. Of course Frieda had to be knowledgeable of the Baron and his estate. She was paid handsomely for her time and effort.
“I hate to bring this up but the baby needs a name?” Rose spoke up. This was unusual for she normally was quiet, but she was right. “We just got not refer to the baby as an “it.”
“You are right and since you are, give us a name.”
“I name this child … she paused…. Baruch. Rose beamed for she thought it was a wonderful name.
“That is it. I agree.” concurred Henrietta and Frieda at the same time.
And so the baby was named and the issue was what to do with little Baruch. Not wanting it to be raised in a house of prostitution the girls thought about where?
As they started to contemplate the pathway to take there was a silence. Just a moment of quiet. The baby was in the corner asleep in a draw taken from a dresser and emptied and then towels draped in it to make it soft. Rose, Henrietta and Frieda sitting at the table immobilized by the stress of the past few hours. A sigh from all in a second. Then the silence was broken with two events occurring pretty close together. One was the kettle giving a whistle as it went to steam. The second was much more than that. A pounding on the door which startled the women as the sign on the door said closed.
“Who is that?” Frieda asked frightened.
“Maybe it is Isadore and he is finished.” responded Rose.
“No he would come in the back door. We had better get it before the baby wakes up.”
Frieda and Henrietta rushed to the door. They were worried who it was. Rose stayed with the baby which was stirring having heard the noise.
Henrietta opened the door and was startled. There in front of her was a bunch of men. In the front was the Baron. He had a look of determination on his face. A look which caused her to be discomforted.
“Where is she?” The baron scowled.
“Pray tell, who?”
“Devri, the bitch, where is she?” he asked again and with that he forced his way into the parlor room followed by two military looking men. Frieda immediately thought they were his body guards.
Frieda took over, she immediately connected that the Baron knew that Devri had come here. There was no doubt of that fact. To deny it was not a smart move. Come clean and hope for the best was the route to follow.
“We could not save her.” Frieda paused letting the words sink in. “The ride here killed her and then the baby was in a breach position. We did what we could.” As she spoke she could see the Baron give a sigh not because of relieve but knowing the truth without having to resort to some other method of persuasion.
“Where is she?” He asked still with a tinge of glowering.
“We buried her in the back. We thought that would be a smart move. We did not want too many questions asked.” Frieda still did the talking and for this Henrietta moved to a position behind her.
“Good.” That was all the Baron said and it was said with little effort.
Then the baby started to cry. All eyes looked towards the kitchen.
“What the hell is that?”
“That is the baby. We were able to save him.” Frieda said emphatically.
“The baby survived” The Baron gave a weird smile something was formulating in his mind, something out of the ordinary. The thought of having a son to leave his estate to was a pleasure he desired. No one would question that the baby was not his. In his mind this the plan was formulating. He now had a legacy to leave to the future.
“The baby is mine. I want to take him back to my estate and I will raise him. I need someone to be his nanny?” He said this thinking out loud.
“I would consider it if the money was right.” Frieda was amazed that she had said these words. But she thought it might be a good bargain and she had little to lose or so she thought.
The Baron was a man of few words. The baby and Frieda accompanied him back and so started the raising of his son who was named Baruch.