By Leo Tolstoy (1828--1910)
'We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death.' -- I Epistle St. John iii. 14.
'Whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.' -- iii. 17-18.
'Love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.' -- iv. 7-8.
'No man hath beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abideth in us.' -- iv. 12.
'God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him.' -- iv. 16.
'If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?' -- iv. 20.
A SHOEMAKER named Simon, who had neither house nor land of his own, lived with his wife and children in a peasant's hut, and earned his living by his work. Work was cheap but bread was dear, and what he earned he spent for food. The man and his wife had but one sheepskin coat between them for winter wear, and even that was worn to tatters, and this was the second year he had been wanting to buy sheep-skins for a new coat. Before winter Simon saved up a little money: a three-rouble note lay hidden in his wife's box, and five roubles and twenty kopeks were owed him by customers in the village.
So one morning he prepared to go to the village to buy the sheep-skins. He put on over his shirt his wife's wadded nankeen jacket, and over that he put his own cloth coat. He took the three-rouble note in his pocket, cut himself a stick to serve as a staff, and started off after breakfast. 'I'll collect the five roubles that are due to me,' thought he, 'add the three I have got, and that will be enough to buy sheep-skins for the winter coat.'
He came to the village and called at a peasant's hut, but the man was not at home. The peasant's wife promised that the money should be paid next week, but she would not pay it herself. Then Simon called on another peasant, but this one swore he had no money, and would only pay twenty kopeks which he owed for a pair of boots Simon had mended. Simon then tried to buy the sheep-skins on credit, but the deader would not trust him.
'Bring your money,' said he, 'then you may have your pick of the skins. We know what debt-collecting is like.'
So all the business the shoemaker did was to get the twenty kopeks for boots he had mended, and to take a pair of felt boots a peasant gave him to sole with leather.
Simon felt downhearted. He spent the twenty kopeks on vódka, and started homewards without having bought any skins. In the morning he had felt the frost; but now, after drinking the vódka, he felt warm even without a sheep-skin coat. He trudged along, striking his stick on the frozen earth with one hand, swinging the felt boots with the other, and talking to himself.
'I'm quite warm,' said he, 'though I have no sheepskin coat. I've had a drop, and it runs through all my veins. I need no sheepskins. I go along and don't worry about anything. That's the sort of man I am! What do I care? I can live without sheep skins. I don't need them. My wife will fret, to be sure. And, true enough, it's a shame; one works all day long, and then does not get paid. Stop a bit! If you don't bring that money along, sure enough I'll skin you, blessed if I don't. How's that? He pays twenty kopeks at a time! What can I do with twenty kopeks: Drink it -- that's all one can do! Hard up, he says he is! So he may be -- but what about me? You have house, and cattle, and everything; I've only what I stand up in! You have corn of your own growing; I have to buy every grain. Do what I will, I must spend three roubles every week for bread alone. I come home and find the bread all used up, and I have to fork out another rouble and a half. So just you pay up what you owe, and no nonsense about it!'
By this time he had nearly reached the shrine at the bend of the road. Looking up, he saw something whitish behind the shrine. The daylight was fading, and the shoemaker peered at the thing without being able to make out what it was. 'There was no white stone here before. Can it be an ox? It's not like an ox. It has a head like a man, but it's too white; and what could a man be doing there?'
He came closer, so that it was clearly visible. To his surprise it really was a man, alive or dead, sitting naked, leaning motionless against the shrine. Terror seized the shoemaker, and he thought, 'Some one has killed him, stripped him, and left him here. If I meddle I shall surely get into trouble.'
So the shoemaker went on. He passed in front of the shrine so that he could not see the man. When he had gone some way, he looked back, and saw that the man was no longer leaning against the shrine, but was moving as if looking towards him. The shoemaker felt more frightened than before, and thought, 'Shall I go back to him, or shall I go on? If I go near him something dreadful may happen. Who knows who the fellow is? He has not come here for any good. If I go near him he may jump up and throttle me, and there will be no getting away. Or if not, he'd still be a burden on one's hands. What could I do with a naked man? I couldn't give him my last clothes. Heaven only help me to get away!'
So the shoemaker hurried on, leaving the shrine behind him -- when suddenly his conscience smote him and he stopped in the road.
'What are you doing, Simon?' said he to himself. 'The man may be dying of want, and you slip past afraid. Have you grown so rich as to be afraid of robbers? Ah, Simon, shame on you!'
So he turned back and went up to the man.
Simon approached the stranger, looked at him, and saw that he was a young man, fit, with no bruises on his body, only evidently freezing and frightened, and he sat there leaning back without looking up at Simon, as if too faint to lift his eyes. Simon went close to him, and then the man seemed to wake up. Turning his head, he opened his eyes and looked into Simon's face. That one look was enough to make Simon fond of the man. He threw the felt boots on the ground undid his sash, laid it on the boots, and took off his cloth coat.
'It's not a time for talking,' said he. 'Come, put this coat on at once!' And Simon took the man by the elbows and helped him to rise. As he stood there, Simon saw that his body was clean and in good condition, his hands and feet shapely, and his face good and kind. He threw his coat over the man's shoulders but the latter could not find the sleeves. Simon guided his arms into them, and drawing the coat well on trapped it closely about him, tying the sash round the man's waist.
Simon even took off his torn cap to put it on the man's head, but then his own head felt cold, and he thought: 'I'm quite bald, while he has long curly hair.' So he put his cap on his own head again. 'It will be better to give him something for his feet,' thought he; and he made the man sit down, and helped him to put on the felt boots, saying, 'There, friend, now move about and warm yourself. Other matters can be settled later on. Can you walk?'
The man stood up and looked kindly at Simon, but could not say a word.
'Why don't you speak?' said Simon. 'It's too cold to stay here; we must be getting home. There now, take my stick, and if you're feeling weak, lean on that. Now step out!'
The man started walking, and moved easily, not lagging behind.
As they went along, Simon asked him, 'And where do you belong to?'
'I'm not from these parts.'
'I thought as much. I know the folks hereabouts. But how did you come to be there by the shrine?'
'I cannot tell.'
'Has some one been ill-treating you?'
'No one has ill-treated me. God has punished me.
'Of course God rules all. Still, you'll have to find food and shelter somewhere. Where do you want to go to?'
'It is all the same to me.'
Simon was amazed. The man did not look like a rogue, and he spoke gently, but yet he gave no account of himself. Still Simon thought, 'Who knows what may have happened?' And he said to the stranger: 'Well then, come home with me, and at least warm yourself awhile.'
So Simon walked towards his home, and the stranger kept up with him, walking at his side. The wind had risen and Simon felt it cold under his shirt. He was getting over his tipsiness by now, and began to feel the frost. He went along sniffling and wrapping his wife's coat round him, and he thought to himself: 'There now -- talk about sheepskins! I went out for sheepskins and come home without even a coat to my back and what is more, I'm bringing a naked man along with me. Matryóna won't be pleased!' And when he thought of his wife he felt sad; but when he looked at the stranger and remembered how he had looked up at him at the shrine, his heart was glad.
Simon's wife had everything ready early that day. She had cut wood, brought water, fed the children eaten her own meal, and now she sat thinking. She wondered when she ought to make bread: now or to-morrow? There was still a large piece left.
'If Simon has had some dinner in town,' thought she, and does not eat much for supper, the bread will last out another day.'
She weighed the piece of bread in her hand again and again, and thought: 'I won't make any more to-day. We have only enough flour left to bake one batch. We can manage to make this last out till Friday.'
So Matryóna put away the bread, and sat down at the table to patch her husband's shirt. While she worked she thought how her husband was buying skins for a winter coat.
'If only the dealer does not cheat him. My good man is much too simple; he cheats nobody, but any child can take him in. Eight roubles is a lot of money -- he should get a good coat at that price. Not tanned skins, but still a proper winter coat. How difficult it was last winter to get on without a warm coat. I could neither get down to the river, nor go out anywhere. When he went out he put on all we had, and there was nothing left for me. He did not start very early to-day, but still it's time he was back. I only hope he has not gone on the spree!'
Hardly had Matryóna thought this, when steps were heard on the threshold, and some one entered. Matryóna stuck her needle into her work and went out into the passage. There she saw two men: Simon, and with him a man without a hat, and wearing felt boots.
Matryóna noticed at once that her husband smelt of spirits. 'There now, he has been drinking,' thought she. And when she saw that he was coatless, had only her jacket on, brought no parcel, stood there silent, and seemed ashamed, her heart was ready to break with disappointment. 'He has drunk the money,' thought she, 'and has been on the spree with some good-for-nothing fellow whom he has brought home with him.'
Matryóna let them pass into the hut, followed them in, and saw that the stranger was a young, slight man, wearing her husband's coat. There was no shirt to be seen under it, and he had no hat. Having entered, he stood neither moving, nor raising his eyes, and Matryóna thought: 'He must be a bad man -- he's afraid.'
Matryóna frowned, and stood beside the oven looking to see what they would do.
Simon took off his cap and sat down on the bench as if things were all right.
'Come, Matryóna; if supper is ready, let us have some.'
Matryóna muttered something to herself and did not move, but stayed where she was, by the oven. She looked first at the one and then at the other of them, and only shook her head. Simon saw that his wife was annoyed, but tried to pass it off. Pretending not to notice anything, he took the stranger by the arm.
'Sit down, friend,' said he, 'and let us have some supper.'
The stranger sat down on the bench.
'Haven't you cooked anything for us?' said Simon.
Matryóna's anger boiled over. 'I've cooked, but not for you. It seems to me you have drunk your wits away. You went to buy a sheep-skin coat, but come home without so much as the coat you had on, and bring a naked vagabond home with you. I have no supper for drunkards like you.'
'That's enough, Matryóna. Don't wag your tongue without reason! You had better ask what sort of man --'
'And you tell me what you've done with the money?'
Simon found the pocket of the jacket, drew out the three-rouble note, and unfolded it.
'Here is the money. Trífonof did not pay, but promises to pay soon.'
Matryóna got still more angry; he had bought no sheep-skins, but had put his only coat on some naked fellow and had even brought him to their house.
She snatched up the note from the table, took it to put away in safety, and said: 'I have no supper for you. We can't feed all the naked drunkards in the world.'
'There now, Matryóna, hold your tongue a bit. First hear what a man has to say!'
'Much wisdom I shall hear from a drunken fool. I was right in not wanting to marry you -- a drunkard. The linen my mother gave me you drank; and now you've been to buy a coat -- and have drunk it too!'
Simon tried to explain to his wife that he had only spent twenty kopeks; tried to tell how he had found the man -- but Matryóna would not let him get a word in. She talked nineteen to the dozen, and dragged in things that had happened ten years before.
Matryóna talked and talked, and at last she flew at Simon and seized him by the sleeve.
'Give me my jacket. It is the only one I have and you must needs take it from me and wear it yourself. Give it here, you mangy dog, and may the devil take you.'
Simon began to pull off the jacket, and turned a sleeve of it inside out; Matryóna seized the jacket and it burst its seams. She snatched it up, threw it over her head and went to the door. She meant to go out, but stopped undecided -- she wanted to work off her anger, but she also wanted to learn what sort of a man the stranger was.
Matryóna stopped and said: 'If he were a good man he would not be naked. Why, he hasn't even a shirt on him. If he were all right, you would say where you came across the fellow.'
'That's just what I am trying to tell you,' said Simon. 'As I came to the shrine I saw him sitting all naked and frozen. It isn't quite the weather to sit about naked! God sent me to him, or he would have perished. What was I to do? How do we know what may have happened to him? So I took him, clothed him, and brought him along. Don't be so angry, Matryóna. It is a sin. Remember, we all must die one day.'
Angry words rose to Matryóna's lips, but she looked at the stranger and was silent. He sat on the edge of the bench, motionless, his hands folded on his knees, his head drooping on his breast, his eyes closed, and his brows knit as if in pain. Matryóna was silent, and Simon said: 'Matryóna, have you no love of God?'
Matryóna heard these words, and as she looked at the stranger, suddenly her heart softened towards him. She came back from the door, and going to the oven she got out the supper. Setting a cup on the table, she poured out some kvas. Then she brought out the last piece of bread, and set out a knife and spoons.
'Eat, if you want to,' said she.
Simon drew the stranger to the table.
'Take your place, young man,' said he.
Simon cut the bread, crumbled it into the broth, and they began to eat. Matryóna sat at the corner of the table, resting her head on her hand and looking at the stranger.
And Matryóna was touched with pity for the stranger, and began to feel fond of him. And at once the stranger's face lit up; his brows were no longer bent, he raised his eyes and smiled at Matryóna.
When they had finished supper, the woman cleared away the things and began questioning the stranger. 'Where are you from?' said she.
'I am not from these parts.'
'But how did you come to be on the road?'
'I may not tell.'
'Did some one rob you?'
'God punished me.'
'And you were lying there naked?'
'Yes, naked and freezing. Simon saw me and had pity on me. He took off his coat, put it on me and brought me here. And you have fed me, given me drink, and shown pity on me. God will reward you!'
Matryóna rose, took from the window Simon's old shirt she had been patching, and gave it to the stranger. She also brought out a pair of trousers for him.
'There,' said she, 'I see you have no shirt. Put this on, and lie down where you please, in the loft or on the oven.'
The stranger took off the coat, put on the shirt, and lay down in the loft. Matryóna put out the candle, took the coat, and climbed to where her husband lay.
Matryóna drew the skirts of the coat over her and lay down, but could not sleep; she could not get the stranger out of her mind.
When she remembered that he had eaten their last piece of bread and that there was none for to-morrow and thought of the shirt and trousers she had given away, she felt grieved; but when she remembered how he had smiled, her heart was glad.
Long did Matryóna lie awake, and she noticed that Simon also was awake -- he drew the coat towards him.
'You have had the last of the bread, and I have not put any to rise. I don't know what we shall do tomorrow. Perhaps I can borrow some of neighbour Martha.'
'If we're alive we shall find something to eat.'
The woman lay still awhile, and then said, 'He seems a good man, but why does he not tell us who he is?'
'I suppose he has his reasons.'
'We give; but why does nobody give us anything?'
Simon did not know what to say; so he only said, 'Let us stop talking,' and turned over and went to sleep.
In the morning Simon awoke. The children were still asleep; his wife had gone to the neighbour's to borrow some bread. The stranger alone was sitting on the bench, dressed in the old shirt and trousers, and looking upwards. His face was brighter than it had been the day before.
Simon said to him, 'Well, friend; the belly wants bread and the naked body clothes. One has to work for a living. What work do you know?'
'I do not know any.'
This surprised Simon, but he said, 'Men who want to learn can learn anything.'
'Men work, and I will work also.'
'What is your name?'
'Well Michael, if you don't wish to talk about yourself that is your own affair; but you'll have to earn a living for yourself. If you will work as I tell you, I will give you food and shelter.'
'May God reward you! I will learn. Show me what to do.'
Simon took yarn, put it round his thumb and began to twist it.
'It is easy enough -- see!'
Michael watched him, put some yarn round his own thumb in the same way, caught the knack, and twisted the yarn also.
Then Simon showed him how to wax the thread. This also Michael mastered. Next Simon showed him how to twist the bristle in, and how to sew, and this, too, Michael learned at once.
Whatever Simon showed him he understood at once, and after three days he worked as if he had sewn boots all his life. He worked without stopping, and ate little. When work was over he sat silently, looking upwards. He hardly went into the street, spoke only when necessary, and neither joked nor laughed. They never saw him smile, except that first evening when Matryóna gave them supper.
Day by day and week by week the year went round. Michael lived and worked with Simon. His fame spread till people said that no one sewed boots so neatly and strongly as Simon's workman, Michael; and from all the district round people came to Simon for their boots, and he began to be well off.
One winter day, as Simon and Michael sat working a carriage on sledge-runners, with three horses and with bells, drove up to the hut. They looked out of the window; the carriage stopped at their door, a fine servant jumped down from the box and opened the door. A gentleman in a fur coat got out and walked up to Simon's hut. Up jumped Matryóna and opened the door wide. The gentleman stooped to enter the hut, and when he drew himself up again his head nearly reached the ceiling, and he seemed quite to fill his end of the room.
Simon rose, bowed, and looked at the gentleman with astonishment. He had never seen any one like him. Simon himself was lean, Michael was thin, and Matryóna was dry as a bone, but this man was like some one from another world: red-faced, burly, with a neck like a bull's, and looking altogether as if he were cast in iron.
The gentleman puffed, threw off his fur coat, sat down on the bench, and said, 'Which of you is the master bootmaker?'
'I am, your Excellency,' said Simon, coming forward.
Then the gentleman shouted to his lad, 'Hey, Fédka, bring the leather!'
The servant ran in, bringing a parcel. The gentleman took the parcel and put it on the table.
'Untie it' said he. The lad untied it.
The gentleman pointed to the leather.
'Look here, shoemaker,' said he, 'do you see this leather?'
'Yes, your honour.'
'But do you know what sort of leather it is?'
Simon felt the leather and said, 'It is good leather.'
'Good, indeed! Why, you fool, you never saw such leather before in your life. It's German, and cost twenty roubles.'
Simon was frightened, and said, 'Where should I ever see leather like that?'
'Just so! Now, can you make it into boots for me?'
'Yes, your Excellency, I can.'
Then the gentleman shouted at him: 'You can, can you? Well, remember whom you are to make them for, and what the leather is. You must make me boots that will wear for a year, neither losing shape nor coming unsewn. If you can do it, take the leather and cut it up; but if you can't, say so. I warn you now, if your boots come unsewn or lose shape within a year, I will have you put in prison. If they don't burst or lose shape for a year, I will pay you ten roubles for your work.'
Simon was frightened, and did not know what to say. He glanced at Michael and nudging him with his elbow, whispered: 'Shall I take the work?'
Michael nodded his head as if to say, 'Yes, take it.'
Simon did as Michael advised, and undertook to make boots that would not lose shape or split for a whole year.
Calling his servant, the gentleman told him to pull the boot off his left leg, which he stretched out.
'Take my measure!' said he.
Simon stitched a paper measure seventeen inches long, smoothed it out, knelt down, wiped his hands well on his apron so as not to soil the gentleman's sock, and began to measure. He measured the sole, and round the instep, and began to measure the calf of the leg, but the paper was too short. The calf of the leg was as thick as a beam.
'Mind you don't make it too tight in the leg.'
Simon stitched on another strip of paper. The gentleman twitched his toes about in his sock, looking round at those in the hut, and as he did so he noticed Michael.
'Whom have you there?' asked he
'That is my workman. He will sew the boots.'
'Mind,' said the gentleman to Michael, 'remember to make them so that they will last me a year.'
Simon also looked at Michael, and saw that Michael was not looking at the gentleman, but was gazing into the corner behind the gentleman, as if he saw some one there. Michael looked and looked, and suddenly he smiled, and his face became brighter.
'What are you grinning at, you fool?' thundered the gentleman. 'You had better look to it that the boots are ready in time.'
'They shall be ready in good time,' said Michael.
'Mind it is so,' said the gentleman, and he put on his boots and his fur coat, wrapped the latter round him, and went to the door. But he forgot to stoop and struck his head against the lintel.
He swore and rubbed his head. Then he took his seat in the carriage and drove away.
When he had gone, Simon said: 'There's a figure of a man for you! You could not kill him with a mallet. He almost knocked out the lintel, but little harm it did him.'
And Matryóna said: 'Living as he does, how should he not grow strong? Death itself can't touch such a rock as that.'
Then Simon said to Michael: 'Well, we have taken the work, but we must see we don't get into trouble over it. The leather is dear, and the gentleman hot-tempered. We must make no mistakes. Come, your eye is truer and your hands have become nimbler than mine, so you take this measure and cut out the boots. I will finish off the sewing of the vamps.'
Michael did as he was told. He took the leather spread it out on the table, folded it in two, took a knife and began to cut out.
Matryóna came and watched him cutting, and was surprised to see how he was doing it. Matryóna was accustomed to seeing boots made, and she looked and saw that Michael was not cutting the leather for boots, but was cutting it round.
She wished to say something, but she thought to herself: 'Perhaps I do not understand how gentlemen's boots should be made. I suppose Michael knows more about it -- and I won't interfere.'
When Michael had cut up the leather, he took a thread and began to sew not with two ends, as boots are sewn, but with a single end, as for soft slippers.
Again Matryóna wondered, but again she did not interfere. Michael sewed on steadily till noon. Then Simon rose for dinner, looked around, and saw that Michael had made slippers out of the gentleman's leather.
'Ah!' groaned Simon, and he thought, 'How is it that Michael, who has been with me a whole year and never made a mistake before, should do such a dreadful thing? The gentleman ordered high boots, welted, with whole fronts, and Michael has made soft slippers with single soles, and has wasted the leather. What am I to say to the gentleman? I can never replace leather such as this.'
And he said to Michael, 'What are you doing friend? You have ruined me! You know the gentleman ordered high booth but see what you have made!'
Hardly had he begun to rebuke Michael, when 'rat-tat , went the iron ring that hung at the door. Some one was knocking. They looked out of the window; a man had come on horseback, and was fastening his horse. They opened the door, and the servant who had been with the gentleman came in.
'Good day,' said he.
'Good day,' replied Simon. 'What can we do for you?'
'My mistress has sent me about the boots.'
'What about the boots?'
'Why, my master no longer needs them. He is dead.'
'Is it possible?'
'He did not live to get home after leaving you, but died in the carriage. When we reached home and the servants came to help him alight he rolled over like a sack. He was dead already, and so stiff that he could hardly be got out of the carriage. My mistress sent me here, saying: "Tell the bootmaker that the gentleman who ordered boots of him and left the leather for them no longer needs the boots, but that he must quickly make soft slippers for the corpse. Wait till they are ready, and bring them back with you." That is why I have come.'
Michael gathered up the remnants of the leather; rolled them up, took the soft slippers he had made, slapped them together, wiped them down with his apron, and handed them and the roll of leather to the servant, who took them and said: 'Good-bye, masters and good day to you!'