By Count Lyof Nikolayevitch Tolstoi
From the original Russian
Nathan Haskell Dole
Printed in 1925
By Thomas Y. Crowell Company
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that does not love abides in death. First Epistle of St. John: iii. 14.
But whoever has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need and withholds pity from him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us love not in word or with the tongue, but in deed and in truth. iii. 17, 18.
Love is of God and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. He who loves not, knows not God, for God is love. iv. 7, 8.
No one has ever beheld God: if we love one another, God abides in us. iv. 12
God is love; and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him. iv. 16.
If anyone say, I love God and hate his brother, he is a liar, for he who loves not his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. iv. 20.
WHAT MEN LIVE BY
A cobbler with his wife and children had lodgings with a farmer. He owned neither house nor land and supported himself and his family by his shoemaking. Bread was dear and work was poorly paid and what he earned went for food. He and his wife had one sheepskin coat for them both and this had come to holes, and for now two years he had been trying to save money enough to buy pelts for a new coat.
It was autumn and he had saved only three rubles which lay in his wife’s box; but his customers in the village owed him five more and a few coppers.
One morning the cobbler made up his mind to buy the new coat. He put on his wife’s wadded nankeen jacket over his shirt and over that a long woolen coat; he stuffed into his pocket the three-ruble bill, broke off a small branch for a staff and after eating his breakfast started on his way. He said to himself: “I will collect the five rubles that’s owed me and with the three I have in my pocket I will buy the pelts for the new coat.”
He reached the village, and went to one customer’s cottage, but the man was out and his wife could not pay him. He called at another place and though the man was at home he swore he had no money at all; all he could pay was a few copper-pieces on account.
The cobbler decided he would buy the pelts on credit but the dealer refused to sell except for cash.
“Bring your money,” he said, “then you can select the kind you want; but you and I know how hard it is to get what is owed us.”
So the cobbler failed to do what he intended to do; but he was richer by the copper pieces paid him on account for having mended the boots, and moreover a customer entrusted to him an old pair of shoes to patch.
At first he felt disappointed but he cheered himself with a glass or two of brandy which he paid for with his extra coppers and turned his face homeward without any immediate hope of having a new sheepskin coat.
All the morning it had seemed to him pretty cold but the brandy warmed him up and he did not miss the coat. He strode along the road thumping the frozen ground with his stick and swinging in his other hand the old shoes which he had to mend. And thus he communed with himself:
“I am warm enough even without a sheepskin coat. I took a little drink and just see how it cheers me up through and through! It makes me step along lively, forgetting all my troubles. What a fine fellow 1 am! What do I care what happens? I shall get on well enough without the coat. Why, I don’t need it at all. There’s one thing, though—she’ll be mad. And it is too bad—to work hard for a man and then have him go back on you! Just wait! I’ll tell him if he doesn’t bring the pay I’ll take his hat; by Heavens I will! What a way of doing things! Ile pays me a few coppers on account! What good do a few coppers do? They just pay for a drink! He says he’s hard up. I’ll tell him I’m hard up too. But he’s got a house and livestock and everything, while I have nothing but my trade. He raises his own grain, I’ll tell him, while I have to buy my food when I can and it costs me three rubles a week for that alone.
When I get home now, there won’t be anything to eat in the house, and so I shall have to spend more money. I’ll tell him he’s got to pay me what he owes!”
While talking to himself in this way the cobbler had reached the little chapel at the cross-roads and he saw something gleaming white behind the little building. Twilight was already beginning to fall and the cobbler strained his eyes to make out what it was, but it was too dark.
“That’s queer,” he muttered to himself; “There wann’t never any such white stone there, as fur’s I can remember! Can it be a cow? But it doesn’t look like a cow. It’s got a head like a man’s, but it’s all white. But what should a man be doing there?”
He came nearer. Now he could see distinctly: but how strange! It was certainly a man, but whether alive or dead he could not decide; a man sitting there stark naked, leaning against the wall of the chapel and perfectly motionless.
The cobbler was terrified: he said to himself: “Someone has killed that man, stripped him and left him there. If I was caught here nearby I might get into trouble.”
And he hurried past. When he reached a point beyond the chapel the man was no longer to be seen. After he had gone some little distance he glanced around and saw that the man was no longer leaning against the chapel but was moving as if he were trying to look after him.
The cobbler was still more alarmed and yet he said to himself;
“Shall I go on or go back? If I go back to him something unpleasant might happen. Who knows what kind of a man he is? He can’t be there for any good purpose. If I went near him he might spring at me and choke me and I couldn’t get away from him. And even if he didn’t choke me, why should I have anything to do with him? Why, he’s stripped naked! I can’t take him with me or give him any of my clothes. Let God look after him!”
Saying these things, the cobbler hurried along. But after he had gone some distance beyond the chapel his conscience began to prick him: he stopped on the road.
“What’s this you’re doing, Simon?” he asked himself. “A man is perishing of the cold and you are afraid of him and leaving him in the lurch! Are you so loaded down with money that you’re afraid of losing your riches? Oh, Simon, that’s not right!”
Simon turned round and went back to the man.
Simon went back to the man, looked at him scrutinizingly and saw that he was young, in the prime of life; no bruises were visible on him but it was plain that he was shivering and timid. He sat there leaning back and did not even look at Simon. It seemed as if he was so weak that he could not raise his eyes. As Simon went up close to him he seemed suddenly to revive; he lifted his head, opened his eyes and gazed at Simon and something in the man’s look instantly won Simon’s confidence: he liked him.
He flung the shoes down on the ground, unbuckled his belt and piled it on the shoes; then took off his coat.
“Don’t say a word! Put this right on! There now!”
Simon put his hand under the man’s elbow to assist him to his feet and noticed as soon as he got up that his body was slim and clean, that his hands and feet were shapely and that his face was pleasant.
Simon threw his coat over the man’s shoulders, helped him get his arms into the sleeves, straightened them out and fastened the coat around him with the belt. Then he started to take off his ragged cap to put it on the naked man’s head but reconsidered:
“No, I’m perfectly bald,” he said to himself, “While he has a thick head of curly hair.” So he put his cap on again. “I’d better let him put on my boots.” And he made the man sit down and put his felt boots on his bare feet.
So the cobbler got the stranger dressed and said to him: “There you are, friend. Come now, stir about a little and you’ll get warmed up. All these things are in other hands than ours. Can you walk now?”
The man stood up, looked affectionately at Simon but could not seem to say a word.
“Why don’t you say something? We can’t spend the winter in this place. We must get to shelter—Here, take my stick and lean on that, if you don’t feel strong enough. Come now, bestir yourself!”
And the man started to walk and he walked easily and did not lag behind. As they went their way along the road Simon said: “Where are you from if I may ask.”
“I do not belong hereabouts.”
“That’s so; I know everyone in this region. Tell me how you happened to get here: how did you find that chapel?”
“I cannot tell you.”
“Someone must have treated you abominably.”
“No, no one has treated me abominably. It was a punishment from God.”
“Of course, God is back of everything, but still you must have come from somewhere. Where did you want to go?”
“It makes no difference to me.”
Simon was amazed. The man did not seem like a suspicious character; his voice was gentle but he would not talk about himself. Simon thought:
“Such things as this don’t happen every day,” and he said to the man:
“Well then, come home with me, though you’ll find rather tight quarters.”
So they walked along till they got to Simon’s place and the stranger did not lag behind but kept abreast of him all the way. A cold wind had sprung up and searched under Simon’s shirt, and as the effect of the liquor he had taken had passed off, he began to feel chilly. He tried to walk faster and began to snuffle; he wrapped his wife’s jacket tighter around him and kept saying to himself:
“This is the way you get a sheepskin coat! Here I went off to buy one and come home without even my coat and bring a naked man with me into the bargain! What will Martha say to that? She’ll give me a piece of her mind!”
The thought of his wife was like a black cloud to him. But as he glanced at the stranger he remembered the look which he had given him back at the chapel and his heart leaped within him.
Simon’s wife had finished her work early. She had split wood, brought in water, given the children their supper, eaten her own and was just deliberating whether she should make some bread that evening or wait until the next morning. A good-sized loaf-end was still left in the box.
“If Simon gets something to eat in town,” she said to herself, “he won’t want much supper and so there’ll be enough bread to last till tomorrow.”
She weighed the question of the bread now this way, now that, and finally made up her mind, saying to herself: “I’m not going to mix the bread tonight. There’s just enough flour left for one more loaf. We can get along till Friday.”
So Martha put away what was left of the bread and sat down at the table to put a patch on one of Simon’s shirts. And as she sewed she wondered how he was getting along in buying sheepskins for his coat.
“I hope the dealer won’t cheat him—he’s such & simpleton. He wouldn’t cheat nobody, but a chit of a child can lead him by the nose. Eight rubles ain’t no small sum ’t would buy a fine coat. Not the very best of course, but still good enough. How we suffered last winter without one! Couldn’t go to the river or anywhere; and whenever he went out doors, he had to put on every stitch of clothing we had and there wa’n’t nothing left for me to wear!—Seems to me he’s late in getting home; he ought to ’ve been here long ago. I hope my lovey-dove hasn’t been drinking with any one!”
Just as these thoughts were passing through her mind she heard the door steps creaking: someone was coming. Sticking her needle into the shirt she went to the entry and saw two men—Simon and a stranger who had nothing on his head and was wearing felt boots.
Martha instantly noticed her husband’s breath: that it smelt of hquor. “There,” she said to herself, “he’s been on a spree!” She noticed too that he was without a coat and had on only her jacket and that his hands were empty and that he had not a word to say for himself but merely simpered, and her heart sank within her.
“He’s been and drank up all the money,” she thought, “he’s been on a bat with this vagabond! and what’s more, he’s brought him home with him!”
Martha let the two men precede her into the cottage, then followed them; she noticed that the stranger was a young man and slender, that he was wearing their overcoat. There was no shirt under the coat and he had no hat. As he came in he paused motionless and did not raise his eyes. And she said to herself:
“He is not a good man, his conscience troubles him.” Frowning she went to the stove and watched to see what they would do.
Simon took off his cap and sat down on the bench like a man in good spirits.
“Well, Martha,” said he, “can’t you get us a little something to eat?”
Martha muttered something under her breath and stood by the stove without stirring but kept gazing at the two men, first at one, then at the other, and merely shook her head. Simon saw that his wife was out of sorts and had no intention of doing anything for them; but he pretended not to notice it and took the stranger by the hand.
“Sit down, friend,” said he, “we’ll have something to eat.”
The man took a seat on the bench.
“Say,” said Simon to his wife, “haven’t you cooked anything?”
Martha’s anger blazed out:
“Certainly I cooked something, but not for you! There you’ve been drinking, I see. You went after your sheepskins and you come home without your coat and what’s more you’ve brought with you some naked vagabond. There’s no supper for you, you miserable drunkard!”
“That’ll do, Martha! What’s the sense of letting your tongue run on so? If you’d only inquired first what kind of a man. . . .”
“You just tell me what you did with the money!”
Simon fished down into the pocket of the coat, took out the bill and smoothed it out.
“The money? . . . Here it is; but Trifonof couldn’t pay me; he said he’d give it to me tomorrow.”
Martha grew angrier than ever.
“You didn’t buy your pelts and you’ve given your only coat to this beggar, whoever he is, and then brought him home with you!”
She snatched up the bill from the table and carried it off to hide it, saying as she went: “I haven’t any supper for you. I’m not going to feed all your naked drunkards.”
“There now, Martha, hold your tongue! First listen to what he has to say.”
“Much sense should I hear from a drunken fool! No wonder I didn’t want to marry you, you miserable drunkard, Mother furnished me with plenty of linen and you’ve drank it all up. You went to buy pelts for a new coat, and that’s gone the same way.”
Simon tried in vain to persuade his wife that he had spent only a few coppers for a drink; he tried to tell her where he had found the naked man, but Martha would not let him say a word. What chance had he? She hurled at him a perfect torrent of charges. Things that had happened a dozen years earlier—she brought them all up.
She scolded and scolded and she sprang at Simon and held him by the sleeve: “Give me my jacket, it’s the only one I have left and you took it from me and wore it yourself. Give it here this minute, you tongue-twisted cur! Off with it, you rotten pig!”
Simon started to strip off the woman’s jacket but as he was pulling his arms out of the sleeves, she gave it a quick jerk and ripped it up the seam from top to bottom. Then she seized the jacket, threw it over her head and ran to the door. She intended to go out, but suddenly she stopped, for her heart was torn in two directions—she wanted to vent her spite and she also was curious to discover what kind of a man the stranger was.
Martha paused and said: “If he were a decent man he wouldn’t have been naked; why, even now he hasn’t any shirt on his back; and if he had been engaged in any right sort of business, you’d have told where you picked up such a dandy!”
“Well, I was going to tell you but you wouldn’t let me put in a word. I was coming along home and I see this man without a stitch of clothes and half-froze, sitting behind the chapel. It ain’t summer, mind you, and there he was naked! God brought me to him, else he would have perished. Now what was I to do? Such things don’t happen every day. I took and dressed him up a little and fetched him home with me. Calm yourself, Martha, it’s a sin. We must all die.”
Martha was about to make a surly reply, but as she looked at the stranger, she held her tongue. He was sitting motionless just as he had first taken his seat on the edge of the bench. His hands were folded on his knees; his head was bent on his breast; he sat there with his eyes closed and his brows were contracted as if something were choking him. Martha said nothing. Simon turned to her.
“Martha,” said he, “Can it be that you have forgotten God.”
She heard him and stared again at the stranger and suddenly her heart melted within her. She came back from the door, went to the corner where the stove stood and began to prepare the supper. She put a bowl on the table, poured into it some hot soup and got the last of the bread.
“Well, I’ll give you something to eat,” she said.
Simon nudged the stranger, saying: “Come young man, sit down at the table.”
Simon cut the loaf, crumbled it into the soup and they ate their supper. Martha sat at one side of the table, leaned her head on her hand and gazed at the stranger, and as she gazed she felt a pity for him and took a great fancy to him. Then suddenly the stranger’s face lighted up, the frown vanished from his brow; he raised his eyes and smiled at Martha.
After they had finished eating Martha cleared away the things and began to ask questions of the stranger.
“Now tell me where you belong.”
“My home is not hereabouts.”
“How did you happen to come this way?”
“I cannot tell you.”
“But who was it treated you so badly?”
“God punished me.”
“And so you were lying there all naked?”
“Yes, there I lay all naked and freezing to death. Simon saw me and had pity on me; he took off his coat and put it on me and had me come home with him. And now you have given me something to eat and to drink and had pity on me. May the Lord requite you!”
Martha got up, brought from the window Simon’s old shirt which she had been mending and gave it to the stranger; she also found a pair of drawers and handed them to him. “Here,” she said, “I see you have no shirt. Put these things on and go to bed wherever you please— in the loft or on top of the oven.”
The stranger took off the overcoat, put on the shirt and went to bed in the loft. Martha blew out the light, and carrying the overcoat with her, lay down by her husband.
She threw over her the skirt of the coat, but as she lay there she could not sleep: she could not refrain from thinking all the time about the stranger under their roof. When she remembered that he had eaten up the last bit of bread and there was none for the morrow, when she remembered that she had given him the shirt and the drawers, she felt depressed and then came the thought of how he had smiled at her and her heart gave a leap.
Martha lay awake a long time and she became aware that Simon also was awake—he was trying to pull the coat up over him.
“What is it?”
“You ate up the last of the bread and I did not set any to raise! I don’t know what we shall do for tomorrow. Perhaps I might borrow a little of Mary though.”
“We shall get along; there’ll be enough for us.”
The woman lay there a long time thinking.
“Well, the man seems to be a good sort; but I wonder why he won’t tell us anything about himself: why do you suppose it is?”
“It must be because he can’t.”
“What is it?”
“We are always giving: why is it no one ever gives anything to us?”
Simon did not know what answer to make to that question, so he said, “We’ve talked enough.”
He turned over and went to sleep.
When morning came Simon awoke. The children were still asleep but his wife had gone to a neighbor’s to borrow some bread. The stranger of the previous evening, dressed in the old drawers and shirt, was sitting alone on the bench and looking up into the air. His face was brighter than it had been when he came.
Simon said: “This is true, ain’t it? The empty stomach asks for food and the naked body for clothes. One must earn one’s keep. What kind of work can you do?”
“I know nothing about work.”
Simon was amazed and said: “If you’re willing to learn, you can learn.”
“Men work and I will work.”
“What’s your name?”
“Well, Michael, if you don’t want to tell about yourself, that’s your affair, but you must earn your own living. If you will work as I will show you, I will keep you.”
“The Lord requite you! I will try to learn. Show me what I must do.”
Simon took a piece of thread, drew it through his fingers and proceeded to make a point of the waxed end.
“It don’t take much skill: look. . . .”
Michael watched him; then he too twisted the thread between his fingers; he immediately saw what to do and did it. Simon showed him how to make a vamp and this also Michael quickly understood. In the same way he learned the art of twistling the bristles into the thread and of using the awl and of overcasting. Whatever part of the work Simon showed him how to do he quickly understood and in two days it seemed as if he had been a shoemaker all his life. He worked steadily, ate sparingly and when there was nothing more to do, he sat silently, looking up. He never went out into the street, made no unnecessary remarks, never jested, and never laughed.
Indeed the only time he had been seen to smile was that first evening when Martha got supper for him.
Thus, day after day and week a whole year rolled by.
Michael kept on living at Simon’s, working steadily; and his good repute as Simon’s apprentice was spread far and wide. It was reported that no one anywhere could equal him in making nice strong boots and shoes, and people from all about got into the habit of coming to Simon to have their work done, and Simon found that he was laying up considerable money.
One winter’s day as he and Michael were busy at work, a sleigh, drawn by three horses abreast, drove up to the cottage with a great jingling of bells. They looked out of the window and noticed that it was stopping at their gate. A footman in livery jumped down from the box and opened the front door. A distinguished-looking gentleman in a costly fur coat got out of the sleigh, walked majestically up to the cottage and mounted the steps. Martha hastened to push the door wide open. The gentleman bent his head and entered the cottage, and when he drew himself up to his full height he almost touched the ceiling: he seemed to fill the whole room.
Simon stood up and made a low bow to the visitor. He was full of amazement for he had never in all his life had to do with men of that kind. Simon himself was lean, Michael was slender, while Martha was just like a dry chip; but this man, why, he was like a person from another world: his face was ruddy and full; his neck was like a bull’s; he looked as if he were made of wrought iron.
The gentleman recovered his breath, took off his fur coat and sitting down on the bench inquired: “Which of you is the master shoemaker?”
Simon stepped forward and said: “It’s me, your honor.”
The gentleman roared in a stentorian voice, addressing his servant: “Hey there, John, bring in the leather!”
The young fellow ran out to the sleigh and brought back a big parcel which the gentleman took and after looking at it, laid it on the table.
“Open it,” he shouted.
The footman opened it.
The gentleman touched the leather gingerly with his finger and said to Simon: “Now listen, shoemaker! Do you see this leather?”
“I do, your reverence,” said Simon.
“Well, do you realize what kind of leather it is?”
Simon felt the leather carefully and said:
“It’s fine leather.”
“Fine leather! I should say it is! You idiot, you never in all your life saw such leather. It’s imported: it cost twenty rubles.”
Simon was deeply impressed and said: “I never saw any like it before.”
“Of course you never did! That’s all right. Now can you make me a pair of boots from this leather so they’ll fit me?”
“I can, your highness.”
The gentleman shouted at him: “So you think you can, do you? ‘Can’ is a big word! I want you to understand whom you are making them for and out of what kind of leather! And you’ve got to make them so that they will last a year, a whole year, without getting out of shape or ripping. If you can, take the job and cut up the leather, but if you can’t, why, then don’t take it and don’t spoil a leather! I give you this warning: if the boots rip or wear out of shape before a year is over I will have you put in the lockup; but if they don’t rip or get out of shape before the year is up then I will pay you ten rubles for the work.”
Simon was troubled and did not know what to say. He turned an inquiring look at Michael nudged him with his elbow and whispered:
“Say, what shall we do?”
Michael nodded his head: “You had better take the work.”
Simon followed Michael’s advice and promised to make the pair of boots that would not rip or lose their shape within a year.
The gentleman shouted to his footman, bidding him to pull off the boot from his left foot and stretched out his huge leg.
“Take my measure!”
Simon got a piece of paper and cut off about seventeen inches of it, smoothed it out on his knee, rubbed his hands carefully on his apron so as not to soil the gentleman’s stocking and proceeded to make his measurements. He noted the size of the sole; then of the ankle; then he started to measure the calf; but the piece of paper was not big enough: for the leg was as thick as a weaver’s beam.
“Be careful that it does not pinch around the calf!” warned the gentleman.
Simon had to get another piece of paper and the gentleman sat there, rubbing his toes together inside the stocking and staring at the inmates of the cottage. He noticed Michael.
“Who is that man?” he demanded. “Does he belong to you?”
“He’s my master-work man; he will make the boots for you.”
“Look here!” said the gentleman to Michael. “Remember, you must make those boots so that they will last a whole year!”
Simon also looked at Michael and saw that he paid no attention to his patron but stood there by himself and seemed to be gazing at something behind the gentleman, then suddenly smiled and his whole face grew radiant.
“You idiot, what are you showing your teeth like that for? You had better see to it that the boots are ready in time!”
Michael replied simply: “They will be finished as soon as they are needed.”
The gentleman had his servant draw on his boot, wrapped his fur coat around him and stalked to the door, but he forgot to bend his head and gave himself a hard thump against the lintel.
He swore like a pirate, rubbed his forehead, went out and got into his sleigh and drove off.
When he had gone Simon said: “He’s as solid as a boulder! You could not kill him with a mallet. His head almost knocked the door down but it didn’t seem to damage him much.”
And Martha remarked: “Such folks can’t help getting stout, they live so well. Even death doesn’t carry off a man like that—he’s hard as a nail.”
Simon turned to Michael and said; “We’ve taken on this work, you know, and we must look out that it doesn’t go badly, for the leather is expensive and the gentleman is cross. So we mustn’t make any mistakes. Now your eyes are sharper than mine are and your hands are much more skillful in following the measurements. You cut out the leather and I will finish sewing the vamps.”
Michael did as he was told; he took the gentleman’s leather, spread it out on the table, doubled it over, and with his sharp knife proceeded to cut it.
Martha went over and watched him as he cut and was amazed at the way he was doing it, for she was accustomed to see shoemaking done and she noticed that Michael was not cutting the leather for boots but in a circular way.
She wanted to call his attention to it but she said to herself:
“Maybe I do not understand how boots are made for gentlemen; probably Michael knows what he is doing; I won’t meddle.”
Michael finished cutting out the work, took the waxed ends and began to sew not with a double thread but with a single thread such as shoemakers use in making slippers. Martha was still more amazed at this but still she did not venture to interfere, and Michael went on with his work.
When the noon hour arrived Simon got up and noticed for the first time that Michael had cut out and made a pair of slippers from the gentleman’s leather. He groaned and said to himself:
“How can this be? Michael has lived a whole year with me and has never made a mistake and now he has committed this frightful blunder! That gentleman ordered high boots and he has made a pair of soleless slippers! He has spoiled the leather. How can I ever make it right with the gentleman? Such leather as that is not to be got!”
And he said to Michael: “What on earth have you been doing, my dear man? You have ruined me! Why, that gentleman ordered a pair of boots of me and see what you have made instead?”
He had not finished his expostulations when a banging was heard on the knocker; someone was at the door. Looking out the window they saw a saddle-horse fastened. Simon opened the door and in came the same young man who had accompanied the gentleman the day before.
“Good afternoon! What is the trouble?”
“Why, you see her ladyship sent me in regard to that pair of boots.”
“What about them?”
“Yes, about that pair of boots. My master will not need them! He is dead.”
“What is that you say?”
“He did not live to get home yesterday—he died in the sleigh. When we reached the house, we went to help him out but he had fallen over like a sack; he lay there stone-dead and it took all our strength to lift him out. Her ladyship sent me here to say: ‘Tell the shoemaker who your late master just ordered boots of to be made from leather which he left with him—tell him, I say, that the boots are not needed now but that he is to make a pair of slippers for the corpse as soon as possible—out of the same leather. And mind you wait till they are done,’ says she, ‘and bring them back with you.’ So here I am.”
Michael gathered up the leather from the table, made a roll of it; he also took the slippers which were finished, slapped them together, wiped them with his apron and handed them to the young man who put them under his arm and turned to go.
“I bid you good bye. Thank you very much!”
Still another year and then two more rolled by and Michael had now been living five years with Simon and everything was going on as usual. He never went anywhere, spoke little and during all that time had smiled only twice: once when Martha had got supper for him and the second time when the gentleman was in the cottage. Simon was more than contented with his apprentice; and he no longer cared to ask him where he came from. His only fear was lest Michael should leave him.
One time they were all at home, Martha was stirring the food in iron kettles which she had put on the stove; the children were playing on the benches or looking out of the window. Simon was pegging away at one window and at the other Michael was engaged in fitting a heel to a boot.
One of the little boys ran along the bench toward Michael, leaned over his shoulder and gazed out the window.
“O Uncle Michael, just look! There’s a woman coming toward the house with two little girls—yes, and one of them is lame!”
Before the boy finished speaking, Michael put down his work, turned to the window and looked out into the street.
This amazed Simon for Michael had never done such a thing before, but now he was pressing close to the window and gazing at something. So Simon also came to the window and saw a woman approaching his door; she was neatly clad and was leading two little girls by the hand; they wore fur-trimmed coats and kerchiefs on their heads. They looked so very much alike that it was difficult to tell them apart, but the left leg of one of them must have been injured; she limped as she walked.
The three mounted the steps, entered the porch, fumbled about, lifted the latch and entered the room, the woman letting the little girls precede her. She greeted Simon and the others:
“Good morning, friends.”
“Come in please! What can we do for you?”
The woman sat down by the table; the two little girls pressed close to her knees; they were bashful before strangers.
“Here are these two little girls and they need some goatskin shoes to wear this spring.”
Well, we can make some for them. We don’t generally make shoes for such little folks, but we can do it; we can do anything in the shoe-line. Would you like them with vamps or lined with linen? Here is my master-workman, Michael.”
Simon glanced at Michael and was filled with amazement for he noticed that he had put down his work and was sitting there with his eyes fixed on the two little girls. To be sure, the little girls were very pretty, with their black eyes and their round, rosy cheeks, and their fur coats and kerchiefs were handsome, but still Simon could not understand why Michael gazed at them as if they were acquaintances of his.
Simon wondered what it all meant, but he proceeded to talk with the woman and to come to terms with her. After this was settled, he began to take the measures. The woman lifted one of the little girls—the one that was lame—into her lap, saying:
“Please make two measurements from this one. One of the shoes will have to be made for this crippled foot and the other three for her well one. Their feet are alike; the little girls are twins.”
“How did this happen to her? She is such a pretty little girl. Was she born so?”
“No; her mother crushed it.”
Here Martha chimed in: she was curious to know who the woman and the children were:
“Then you are not their mother,” she said.
“No, my good woman, I am not their mother and they are not even relations of mine; I merely adopted them and am bringing them up.”
“Well, even though they are not your children you seem to take good care of them.”
“Why should I not take good care of them? I nursed them both at my own breast. I had a baby of my own, too, but God saw fit to take him. I took better care of these than if they had been my own.”
“Whose children were they?”
The woman became confidential and told her story in these words:
“Six years ago,” said she, “these little girls were left orphans in one single week. Their father was buried on a Tuesday and the mother died the next Friday. For three days the poor things were perishing without the father, and the mother was wasting away. At this time my husband and I were living on a farm in the country. They were neighbors of ours and lived in the next house. The man was a woodchopper and worked in the forest. They were felling a tree and somehow or other it struck him as it fell, caught him across, the body and crushed his insides out. They hadn’t more’n got him out when he gave his soul to God, and that same week his wife borned twins—these two little girls here. She was left poor and deserted, not a soul to help her, no relations, nobody! She was alone when the babies came, she was alone when she died.
“When I went over the next morning to see how she was getting along, poor thing, as soon as I went in, I found her dead and cold. In her death-agony she must have rolled over on this little girl and so twisted her foot and spoiled it. The folks got together and washed and laid out the body; we had a coffin made and buried her, People are always kind, you know, in doing such things. But the two little babies were left alone. What was to be done with them? Who was to take them? Now I was the only woman in the neighborhood that had a baby. For seven weeks I had been nursing my first-born—a little boy. So I took them temp’rally. The men had a meeting and argued and planned what to do with the two children and finally they said to me:
“‘Ann,’ says they, ‘you just take care of them little girls for a while and give us a chanst to make up our minds what’s to become of them.’
“I nursed the well one two or three times but it hardly seemed worthwhile to bother with the deformed one for it looked as if she wasn’t going to live: and then I says to myself, says I: ‘Why shouldn’t the little darling have a chance to live?’ —I felt awful sorry for her—So I began to nurse her and I had my own and these two in addition—yes, I had three babies all at the same time, but I was young and strong and lived well and God gave me so much milk in my breasts that it ran to waste. First I would suckle the two of them while the other one waited and when one of them had enough, then I’d take the third. In that way God let me suckle all three of them. But when my own little boy was going on to his third year I lost him. And God never gave me any more children. We began to be quite comfortable in circumstances and now we are living here at the trader’s where the mill is. My man gets good wages and we have everything we want. But we have no children of our own and how lonely we should be if it wa’n’t for these two little girls! How could I help being fond of them? They are to me like the wax in the candle, that’s what they are.”
The woman hugged the little lame girl to her breast with her one arm and with the other wiped away the tears from her eyes,
Martha sighed and remarked:
“It’s a fact as the proverb says, ‘You can get along without father and mother, but not without God.’”
While they were thus talking together, suddenly something like a flash of lightning from the corner where Michael was sitting lighted up the whole room. They all turned to see what it was and there was Michael sitting with his hands folded on his knees: he was looking up and smiling.
After the woman and the two little girls had gone, Michael arose from the bench, put aside his work, took off his apron and making a low bow to the shoemaker and his wife, said: “Farewell, my good friends. God has forgiven me and I hope you will also.”
Simon and Martha perceived that a light was streaming from Michael, and Simon stood up and making a low bow before him said to him:
“I see that you are not a mere man, Michael, and I cannot detain you and I have no right to ask you questions. But tell me one thing: Why was it, when I found you and brought you home with me, that you were so sad, and when Martha gave you something to eat, you smiled on her, and from that time you seemed lighter-hearted. And then, when the gentleman ordered the boots made, you smiled a second time and became still more light-hearted. And now, when the woman came with the two little girls, you smiled the third time and seemed to blaze with light. Tell me, Michael, why such light streams from you, and why you smiled the three times.”
And Michael answered: “The light streams from me because I had been punished and now God has forgiven me. And this is the reason I smiled three times: I had to learn God’s three truths and I have learned them. One of God’s truths I learned when your wife took pity on me and so I smiled the first time. The second of God’s truths I learned when the rich man ordered the boots and then I smiled the second time; and now, since I have seen that little girl I have learned the third of God’s truths and so I smiled for the third time.”
And Simon asked: “Tell me, Michael why did God punish you and what are those truths of God, so that I too may know them?”
Michael replied: “God punished me because I disobeyed him. I was an angel in Heaven and yet I disobeyed God.
“I was an angel in Heaven and the Lord sent me to fetch a woman’s soul, I flew down to earth and I saw the woman lying alone and sick: she had just given birth to twins, two little girl-babies. The babies were squirming by their mother’s side and she was too weak to lift them to her bosom. She saw me; she realized that God had sent me after her soul; she burst into tears and said: ‘Angel of God! My husband has only just been buried: he was killed by a falling tree in the forest, I have no sister, no aunt, no grandmother, no one to take care of my little ones—dear little orphans! Do not carry away my poor soul! Let me take care of my children! Let me nourish them and bring them up! They can’t possibly live without their father and without their mother.”
“I heeded the mother’s prayer; I put one of the babies to the mother’s breast and laid the other in her arm and then I went back to the Lord in Heaven. I went before the Lord and said: ‘I cannot take the soul from that poor mother. The father has just been killed by a tree; the mother has given birth to twins and she begged me not to take her soul from her: she said to me: ‘Let me take care of my children! Let me nourish them and bring them up! They can’t possibly live without their father and without their mother.’ So I did not take that poor mother’s soul.
“And the Lord said: ‘Go down and take that mother’s soul and then thou must learn three truths: Thou must learn What is in men and What it is not given unto men and What men live by. When thou hast learned these three truths, then mayest thou return to Heaven.’
“I flew down to earth and took away that woman’s soul. The little ones fell away from her bosom. The dead body rolled over on the bed and fell on one of them and crushed her foot: I flew high above the village and was going to carry the soul to God, when a sudden wind seized me, my wings ceased to move and the soul mounted alone to God and I fell back to earth.”
Then Simon and Martha knew whom they had been feeding and clothing and who had lived with them and they wept with dismay and joy.
The angel continued: “There I was in a field, naked and alone, I had never known before that what human poverty was; I had never felt cold or hunger such as men feel and I had now become a man. I was famished and I was freezing and I knew not what to. I saw across the field a chapel built for the service of God. I went to that chapel, thinking to find shelter in it. But it was shut up and locked and I could net get in. So I sat down behind it where the wind did not blow. Evening was coming on; I was starving and half frozen and I ached all over. Suddenly I heard a man coming along the road, carrying a pair of shoes and talking to himself. This was the first time since I had become a man myself that I had seen the face of a living human being and I was afraid of him and I tried to hide from him. I heard this man asking himself how he was to be protected from the cold during the winter and how he was going to get food for his wife and children. Such a man could net help me, And I thought:
“‘I am perishing of cold and hunger, and here a man is passing and wondering how he shall get a sheepskin coat for himself and for his wife and how he shall feed his family. It would be impossible for him to help me.’
“The man caught sight of me and scowled; he seemed to me even more terrifying than before, but he did not stop; he went by. I was in despair. All at once I heard him coming back, I looked at him and did not recognize him as the same person as before. When I first saw him it was as if there was death in his face but now he suddenly became alive and I saw the light of God in his eyes. He came to me, took off his coat and shoes and put then on me; he fetched me home with him.
“I entered his house; a woman met us at the door and began to scold. This woman was even more terrifying to me than the man had been; a dead soul seemed to proceed from her mouth and I was suffocated by the stench of death. She wanted to drive me out into the cold night and I knew that she would die if she drove me out. But when at last her husband spoke to her of God, she all at once changed and when she relented and gave me something to eat and really looked at me, I became aware that death was no longer in her, that she was alive and I saw the light of God in. her face too.
“Then I discovered the first of God’s truths; ‘Thou must learn What is in men; and recognized that love is in men. And I rejoiced because God had now begun to fulfill his promise to me and I smiled for the first time. But I was not as yet ready to learn my whole lesson. I could not understand What it is not given unto men and What men live by.
“So I began to live with you and a year passed. Then came the man and ordered the pair of boots that should last a twelvemonth without ripping or wearing out of shape. I looked at him and suddenly saw standing behind him my comrade, the Angel of Death. No one else saw the angel but I recognized him and knew that before the sun went down he would take that rich man’s soul. And I said to myself; ‘This man is expecting to live another year and he knows not that ere evening comes he will be no longer alive.’
“Then I remembered God’s second truth; Thou must learn What is not given unto men.
“What is in men I had already learned and now I knew, what is not given unto men, it is not given to men to know what is needful for their bodies. And I smiled for the second time. I was glad when I saw my comrade, the angel and because God had revealed unto me his second truth.
“But still I had not learned my whole lesson, I could not as yet understand What men live by. And so I stayed on with you, waiting until God should see fit to disclose unto me the last of the three truths. And now when I have been with you going on the sixth year the little twin girls came with their foster-mother and I recognized them and I remembered how they had been left and I said to myself: ‘The mother besought me in behalf of her children and I heeded her prayer because I thought that they could not live without father and mother and yet a woman who was no relation to them adopted them and brought them up.’
“So when the foster-mother showed how fond she was of them and wept, I saw the living God in her face and understood What men live by. I realized that God had revealed unto me his third truth and had forgiven me and I smiled for the third time.”
Then the angel’s body became manifest and he was clad all in light, so that the eye could not bear the sight of him; and he spoke in louder accents, as if his voice came not from him but from heaven:
“I have learned that a man lives not by labor for himself but by love.
“It was not given to that mother to know what her children needed to keep them alive. It was not given to the rich man to know what he himself needed. It is not given to any man to know whether he will need boots for his daily use or slippers before evening for his burial.
“When I became a man, I was kept alive not by what I thought I needed for myself but by the love in the heart of a passerby and in his wife’s heart, for they took pity on me and loved me. The orphans were kept alive not through what men considered necessary for them but by the love that was in the heart of a woman who was not akin to them and had pity for them and loved them. And all men live not through what they plan for themselves but because There is love in men.
“I had known long ago that God gave life to men and desired them to live; but now I know something above and beyond that.
“I have learned that God does not desire that men live for themselves and therefore he has not revealed what each needs for himself but it has been his desire that they live in unity and therefore he has revealed what is necessary for themselves and for all together.
“I have now learned that only apparently are they kept alive by labor for themselves but that in reality they are kept alive by love. He who dwells in love abides in God and God abides in him, because God is love.”
And the angel sang a song of praise to God and the cottage shook by reason of his voice. Then the ceiling parted and a tower of flame reached from earth to heaven.
Simon and his wife and his children fell prostrate on the floor. And pinions spread out from the angel’s shoulders and he soared away to heaven.
When Simon opened his eyes, the cottage was the same as it had always been and there was no one in it save himself and his family.