Times changed. The pickings withered, both with war in the south and two years of drought. The rough leather-waist-coated cattlemen from across the river had squelched its drying pools into churned clay. Goading their bellowing herds through the town of N., they wended their way north, depositing an assortment of droppings and the collapsed carcass of a heat-exhausted bull, in lieu of payment for damages after draining the innkeeper’s final barrel of ale. The bull was devoured, the inn remained shut, there remained only the assortment of abandoned dung to flake in the heat; an eyesore of the times.
The town of N. boasted a hierarchy. Shnorrawitz commanded the bottom of the pecking order yet the harsh circumstances of fate were poised to eject him from this status. His vacating the lowest position would, unbeknown to him, have the highest social consequences. The man above him, Hinkerdink the Lame, would slither down a rung leaving a spot open for Hayker the Hunchback who in turn would have his position filled from above. A clanking chain reaction that would finally end with the Burghermaster himself, being demoted a whole rung. Over and above, Shnorrawitz played a vital role in the townsfolk’s well-being. With ‘heaven and earth eyes’ - one blue and one green – he sold places in The World to Come. With each payment deposited into his open palm came a guarantee to be claimed upon if there were any posthumous complaints. He wailed over open graves sending many a departed on their way with fine prospects for the future, leaving behind well-primed relatives and friends. But alas of late, his mantra: ‘Alms for the poor. Buy your way with a charitable deed into The World to Come,’ fell on less than sympathetic ears, for buying potatoes and horseradish were more essential than agonizing over a seat in the garden of Eden next to great grandpa Korpsovitz of blessed memory. So Shnorrawitz, casting behind an irritated Burghermaster was leaving town.
He gathered his family. “Beloved long-suffering wife and dear children. I go to seek our fortune. If I have not returned before the winter, stay warm. Gather up dry cow patties to burn. That is all that remains for us here.”
With much wailing he set out.
Over great distances he slunk, each step leaving him more rancid and dejected. It’s best not to relate the misfortunes our intrepid traveler faced. Suffice to say: he was more the target of jibes and whips and savage dogs than the charity of the locals. He took to the countryside, finding safety in its loneliness.
One morning Shnorrawitz on his last legs, stumbled on an apple orchard. Maybe it was a spider bite, or perhaps not having washed since being thrown into a village’s drinking trough some days previous, he felt the deepest of itches between the shoulder blades. When one thinks life has exhausted its pleasures there always remains one last element of bliss - dropping his satchel he squirmed up against an apple tree trunk, the rough bark scraping the inaccessible spot on his back. “Ahhhhhh….” But he was not alone.
The Squire was taking his customary morning promenade through the estate. His entourage of three wolfhounds and one gamekeeper circled Shnorrawitz, growling and snarling and grimacing.
“Whelp of a poxy whore! You dare scratch your back on my apple tree. I shall make an example of you. To the stables with you. There I shall hold court and decide your miserable fate. But had I my whip, I would once and for all settle the matter right here and now.”
The word went out that the Squire was holding court and a much needed spectacle was in the offing. The tavern and village square emptied as all and sundry wended their way to the stables where justice and a barrel of ale were to be meted out. Perhaps, with a good verdict and enough good-cheer, the Squire would set a pair of wolfhounds at each other as a post-judicial diversion.
Shnorrowitz pleaded his case. “Master, I am a lowly citizen of the town of N. A beggar am I. Not one of your many apples did I covet; only the urge to ease the itch on my back is my crime. We know not yet if the apples have soured. For the sake of my children, I beg for your mercy.”
Justice was absolute, the verdict assured and the sentence abrupt. “Death! Flay and burn the whore’s driblet.”
Shnorrawitz appealed to the Squire’s better nature. “Master, the people of the town of N. would hear of your generosity. I would tell of your great nobility in the markets and in the taverns. Far and wide, all shall recognize your bigheartedness.” Desperate situations demanded desperate measures. “Look into my eyes, Master, and consider - what of your place in The World to Come? Set me free. It takes only one act and Saint Barkhazerai, the Patron Saint of the Patron Saints will one day welcome you.”
The crowd gasped. Saint Barkhazerai! Their Master, the Squire, was to be famous both in this world and The World to Come! Shnorrowitz made his final play. “Your servants are blessed to have a generous master such as you.”
“Yes generous Master,” the crowd swelled, “Bring in the dogs. Let the dogs fight!”
The Squire ordered his servants to provide the ‘whore’s driblet’ with a donkey and a cart piled high with good things and a sack of silver and to send him off on his way.
Shnorrawitz entered N. with much ado. His new won splendour was the talk of the town. He bought out the inn and reopened it. His adventure was told and retold over many a mug of ale. Now worried as to his place in The World to Come, Hayker the Hunchback and Hinkerdink the Lame drank for free. One day, after an ale or three, the malformed pair decided they too should go and seek their personal fortunes. Begging directions from Shnorrawitz, they eventually arrived at the apple orchard. Backing up to an appropriate tree they scratched their backs looking left and right. Then again. Still no Squire to reward them. They heard the dogs and the dogs heard them when they began to scratch up against the apple tree with ‘oohs and ‘aahs’. The Squire and his gamekeeper broke through the brush, following the dogs’ lead.
“What devil-deed is this – fornicating with my apple trees!”
“We are scratching our itchy backs, generous Master.”
The squire turned to his gamekeeper. “Hang the crooked pair from that very tree… and if it bears no fruit after, all be damned. Let them vomit on my apples when they sup with Lucifer.”
“You command and I obey Master. But the last churl you set free?”
“You cretin! There are two of them. They could have scratched each other’s backs.”