By Count Lyof Nikolayevitch Tolstoi
From the original Russian
Nathan Haskell Dole
Printed in 1925
By Thomas Y. Crowell Company
In a certain city a cobbler by the name of Martin lived in a small room in a basement. It had one window which looked out on the street so that he could see the passers-by. To be sure, only their feet were visible, yet he was able to recognize who they were by their boots, for he had lived long in this one place and had many acquaintances. Few pairs of boots in that neighborhood had not been in his hands once and more than once. Some he resoled, some he patched, some he stitched around, and then again he put on new uppers, and through the window he often saw his work.
He had much to do, for he was an excellent cobbler, used good stock, never overcharged and kept his word. If he could finish a job at a certain time, he took it; if not, he said so frankly, holding out no false promises. And everyone knew Martin and he was always kept busy.
He had been a good man all his life, but as he grew older his thoughts turned more and more to the state of his soul, and he tried to get closer to God. When he still had his own house, his wife had died, leaving only one child, a boy three years old. None of their other children had lived; the older ones had been taken from them. His first thought was to put the little boy in the care of his sister in the country, but then he felt that he could not spare him; he said to himself, “It will be hard for my boy to grow up in a strange family; I will look after him myself.”
And Martin left the house where he had lived and went into lodgings with his little son. But he was not destined by God to be fortunate in his children. The boy grew older and was just beginning to be a help to his father and would have been a great joy to him, but he was taken ill of a fever, had to go to bed and after a week’s suffering, died. Martin buried his son and was in such despair that he even accused God. So deep was his melancholy that more than once he besought God to let him die and he blamed God because He had not taken him, an old man, instead of his only son so beloved. Martin even ceased going to church.
Now one day Martin received a call from a little old man of his own district whom he had not seen for seven years. They had a good talk together end Martin began to lament his misfortune.
“My dear old friend,” he said, “I have lost all desire to live any longer. If only I might die! That is the one thing I pray to God for. All hope is gone!”
Then the little old man replied: “What you say is wrong, Martin. We must not judge what God does. ‘Not as we say, but in God’s own way!’ God thought it best for your son to die and for you to live. Of course it is for the best. Now you are in despair because you want to live for your own happiness.”
“But what should I live for?” demanded Martin. And the little old man said: “For God, Martin; you must live for God. He gives you life and you must live for Him. As soon as you begin to live for Him, you will not have anything to grieve about and everything will seem easy to you.”
Martin was silent for a moment; then he asked: “But how in the world can one live for God?”
And the little old man replied: “Christ has shown us how we may live for God. You can read, can’t you? Buy a copy of the Gospels and read it and you will find there how to live for God; it’s all explained there.”
These words sank into Martin’s heart and he went that very day and bought a New Testament printed in large type and began to read in it.
He meant to take it up only on holidays, but he had no sooner begun reading it than it brought comfort to his soul, so that he made it a practice to open it every day, and sometimes he became so absorbed in it that all the kerosene in his lamp burnt out and he always found it hard to tear himself away from the book. And so he used to read every evening. And the more he read the more clearly he understood what God wanted of him and in what way one must live for God, and ever lighter and lighter grew his heart. Whereas formerly he sighed and groaned when he lay down to sleep and thought about his young son, now he found comfort in exclaiming:
“Praise to Thee, oh Lord! Praise to Thee, oh Lord! Thy will be done!”
And from this time Martin’s whole life was changed. Formerly, to kill time on holidays he was wont to go to the tavern for tea, and he was not averse to a little brandy. He would not refuse to drink with some acquaintance, and when he left the tavern, even if he was not really drunk, yet he often felt exhilarated and talked nonsense and shouted and used abusive language on meeting anyone. But now all this sort of thing was given up. His life became well-ordered and happy. He began to work in the early morning, and when he had finished his day’s task he would take down the little lamp from the hook and set it on the table, get his Testament from the shelf, open it and begin to read. The more he read, the more he understood and ever lighter and brighter became his heart.
One time it happened that he read till late. He was reading the Gospel of Luke and came to the sixth chapter where he found these verses:
“If anyone strike you on the cheek offer the other also and if anyone take away your cloak refuse him not your coat also. Give to everyone that asks of you and if anyone takes away your property demand it not back. Even as you wish men to do to you, so do to them.”
As he read on he was struck by these verses:
“Why do you call me Lord! Lord! And do not what I say? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug and went deep and laid a foundation on the rocks, so when a freshet came, the river dashed against that house and had not strength enough to shake it because it was well-built. But he who has heard and not done is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation, against which the river dashed, and straightway it crumbled and the ruin of that house was great.”
Martin read those words and his heart became joyful. He took off his glasses, laid them on the book, leaned his elbows on the table and meditated. And he began to measure his life by those words and he thought to himself:
“Is my house on the rock or on the sand? ‘Tis well if on the rock. And how easy it is when you are alone by yourself; it seems as if you had done everything as God commanded, but then you forget and sin again. Still I mean to keep struggling on. And how good it seems! Lord help me!”
So ran his thoughts. He felt sleepy and yet he could not tear himself away from his reading and he went on with the seventh chapter where it tells about the centurion and about the widow’s son and the reply to John’s disciples and finally he came to the passage where the rich Pharisee took the Lord home to dinner with Him. Then in the next chapter he read about the woman who was a sinner: how she anointed His feet and washed them with her tears and how He permitted it. He went on beginning at the forty-fourth verse: “And looking around at the woman, He said to Simon: Do you see this woman? I came into your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she, from the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
He read these verses over and said to himself: “You gave me no water for my feet; you gave me no kiss, you did not anoint my head.”
He took off his glasses again, laid them on the book and began to meditate: “Evidently that Pharisee was such a man as I am. . . . It seems that he had been thinking only of himself— how he might drink his cup of tea and be warm and comfortable but never was concerned about his guest. He thought about himself and never bothered about his guest. And who was his guest? The Lord himself. I wonder if he came to me whether I should do the same thing!”
Martin leaned his head on both arms and without knowing it fell asleep.
“Martin!” A voice seemed suddenly to whisper close to his ear.
He started up half awake: “Who is here?”
He turned around, looked toward the door. No one was there. He began to doze again.
Suddenly he heard distinctly:
“Martin, oh, Martin! Tomorrow look in the street; I am coming.”
Martin awoke, Got up from his chair and began to rub his eyes. He could not tell whether he had actually heard those words or had dreamed them. He put out the light and went to bed.
At daybreak next morning he got up as usual, said his prayer, kindled a fire in the stove, started his cabbage-soup and gruel to cooking, made his tea, put on his apron and sat down under the window to work. And as he sat there working he could not keep his mind from the incident of the previous evening. He found it hard to decide whether it was all a dream or whether he had actually heard the voice.
“Who knows?” he said to himself; “such things have happened.”
As he sat there under the window, often ceasing his work so as to look out, and in case anyone passed by in boots which he did not recognize, craning his neck so as to see not merely the feet but also the face of the person.
The janitor went by in new shoes; a messenger-boy sauntered past; then opposite the window paused an old veteran. Martin recognized his patched shoes. He had a shovel in his hand. People called him Stevenson and a neighboring shopkeeper out of charity gave him lodgings and had him help the chore-man.
Stevenson began to shovel away the snow in front of Martin’s window. Martin watched him for a little and then sat down to his work again.
“Pshaw, I must be growing foolish in my old age,” he said to himself. “Stevenson is shoveling away the snow and I imagine that Christ is coming to see me. I am an old fool! a regular imbecile!”
He took about a dozen stitches and then peered out of the window again. He noticed that Stevenson, who had leaned his shovel against the wall, was rubbing his hands together to warm them and to get a little rest. He was a decrepit old man, not strong enough to shovel snow. Martin said to himself:
“I wonder if he wouldn’t like a cup o’ tea: there, the kettle’s just boiling,”
He laid down his awl, and getting up, set the teapot on the table, made the tea and tapped with his finger on the window-pane. Stevenson turned around and bent down to the window. Martin beckoned to him to come in; then went and opened the door.
“Come in and get warm; you’re half-frozen, ain’t you?”
“May Christ reward you,” said Stevenson. “My bones just ache!”
He tramped in, shook off the snow, attempted to wipe his shoes so as not to soil the floor, but staggered.
“Don’t bother to wipe your feet. I’ll clean it up; that’s part of my job. Come in and sit down,” said Martin. “Here, have a cup o’ tea.”
He filled two cups and handed one to Stevenson. His own he poured off into a saucer and blew on it to cool it.
Stevenson drank his down, put the cup on the table with half the lump of sugar which he had not used, and tried to express his gratitude. It was quite plain to see that he wanted some more.
“Have another cup,” said Martin, and suiting the action to the word, filled both cups again. But all the time he kept glancing out of the window.
“Are you expecting anyone?” asked Stevenson.
“Expecting anyone? I’m ashamed to say whom I’m expecting. I really don’t know whether I am or not! You see, last night something queer happened. It may have been a dream; I don’t know. I had been reading in the Gospels about Jesus Christ and how He suffered and how He went about among men. I s’pose you have heard about it?”
“I sure have,” replied Stevenson; “but I’m that ignorant I can’t read.”
“Listen, then. I was reading about that very thing; how He went about among men, and I came to the place where He visited the Pharisee, and the Pharisee wasn’t very thoughtful about His comfort. That was just what I was reading about last evening, and I wondered how he could have treated our Lord so disrespectfully. Suppose He should come to me or to anyone else, for example, I said to myself: I don’t know how I should treat Him. The Pharisee certainly didn’t make Him very welcome. Well, while I was wondering about it, and puzzling over it, somehow or other I dropped asleep. And while I was dozing I thought I heard someone call me by name. I sat up, and suddenly I heard a voice; someone seemed to whisper: ‘Be on the watch,’ it said, ‘I shall be coming tomorrow.’ Twice it happened. And would you believe it, the idea got into my head and I can’t get rid of it. I keep scolding myself and yet it seems as if the Master were going to come.”
Stevenson shook his head and said nothing, He finished drinking his tea and set the cup down. Martin took it and filled it again.”
“Have some more for your health’s sake! Now, it seems to me that when the good Lord went about on this earth He didn’t despise anyone and had more dealings with the common people. He used to go with simple folks. He liked simple ways and chose His disciples among men like us, among sinners and laboring men such as we are. ‘Whoever exalts himself,’ He said, ‘shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.’ ‘You call me Lord,’ said He, ‘but,’ said He, ‘I wash your feet.’ And He said, ‘Whoever wants to be first shall be the servant of all, because,’ said He, ‘blessed are the poor, the humble, the kindhearted, the generous.’”
Stevenson had forgotten all about his tea. He was an old man and easily moved to tears. He sat there listening and the tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Come now, have another cup,” said Martin. But Stevenson made the sign of the cross, expressed his thanks, set down his cup: and made ready to go.
“I thank you, Martin,” he said; “you have treated me kindly and warmed me, body and soul.”
“You are welcome; come again. I’m always glad to see a friend,” said Martin in reply. Stevenson went out, and Martin drank the rest of his tea, put away the tea-things and sat down again by the window to work. As he stitched on a patch he kept looking out, on the watch for Christ’s coming, and his thoughts were about Him and His deeds, and he kept remembering His different sayings.
Two men in khaki passed by; one wore Government boots, the other a pair which Martin had made. Then passed the owner of the next house in well-brushed galoshes; then came the baker, carrying a basket. They all went by; and suddenly he saw a woman in woolen stockings and coarse, heavy shoes: she came and paused close to the window. Martin peered up at her and saw that she was a stranger, poorly dressed and carrying a baby in her arms. There she stood, with her back to the wind, trying to shelter the child, but she had nothing to wrap around it. Her clothing was pitifully thin and poverty-stricken. Martin could hear the child crying and the woman trying to pacify it, but all in vain.
Martin got up and going to the door and mounting the steps called to her:
“My good woman, hey, my good woman!”
The woman heard him and turned around.
“Why are you standing out in the cold with the child? Come down into my room, where it’s warm; you can nurse the little one better there. Here, this way!”
The woman was surprised. She saw an old, old man in an apron, with spectacles on his nose, beckoning to her. She went to him and followed him down the steps. They went into the room and the old man pointed to the couch.
“There, my good woman, sit down close to the stove; you’ll soon get warm and you can nurse the little one.”
“I have no milk for him. I have had nothing to eat this morning,” said the woman; but still she took the child to her breast.
Martin shook his head, went to the table, got some bread and a dish. Then he opened the stove door and filled the dish with soup. He also took out the oatmeal but found it was not as yet cooked sufficiently. So he had only the soup to give her. He put it on the table, spreading out a napkin which hung on a nail.
“Sit down there, my good woman and eat something,” he said; “let me take the baby and look after it. You see, I have had children of my own and I know how to manage with them.”
The woman made the sign of the cross, sat down at the table and began to eat, while Martin took his place on the bed by the baby, and kept smacking his lips, but he could not do it very well, for he had no teeth. The little one still cried. And so Martin thought of another way of attracting its attention: he shook his finger several times at it, put it close to the baby’s mouth and then drew it back. He did not put it in because it was black and soiled with wax. The baby looked at his finger and soon became quiet and then began to smile. This made Martin happy. While the woman was eating she told who she was and where she came from. She said:
“My husband’s a working man and seven months ago he went off to find a job and since then I have not heard a word from him. I got a place as a cook, but when the baby came I lost it and for three months I have not been able to earn anything. Everything I had went for food. I tried to engage as wet-nurse but no one would take me; they said I was too thin. Finally I came here to the house of a merchant’s wife, where a woman I know is one of the servants and I was promised a place there. I thought my troubles were over, but I was told to come next week. Home’s a long way off. I was starved and my darling baby suffered in consequence. Fortunately, a kind woman took us in out of pity, so we have somewhere to stay, else I don’t know what I should have done.”
Martin sighed and said: “Haven’t you any warm clothes?”
“One needs warm clothes this kind of weather,” said the woman, “but yesterday I pawned my only shawl for twenty cents.”
The woman went and took the baby up from the bed and Martin stepped over to the back partition where he rummaged around behind a curtain and got out an old sleeveless jacket.
“There,” said he, “Take this; it isn’t good for much but perhaps you can make something out of it.”
The woman looked at the jacket and looked at the old man; then she took the garment and burst into tears. Martin turned away. He reached under the couch, pulled out a little trunk and fumbled in it; then he sat down again facing the woman, who said:
“Thank you in Christ’s name, my kind benefactor. He must have led me to your window. The little baby would have frozen to death. When I started out, it was mild but now it has been turning cold. And the Heavenly Father certainly caused you to look out the window and take pity on me when I was so wretched!”
Martin smiled and replied: “Indeed He did that; and there was some hidden reason why I kept looking out the window.”
Martin went on and told the woman his dream—how he had heard the voice promising him that the Lord would come to him that day.
“It is all quite possible,” said the woman, as she got up to go. She put on the jacket, wrapped the baby in it, and as she did so thanked Martin again.
“Take this in the name of Christ,” said Martin, “thrusting a twenty-five cent-piece into her hand.
“Redeem your shawl with it.”
The woman made the sign of the cross and Martin did the same and saw her to the stairs.
After she had gone, he finished eating his soup, cleared away the dishes and resumed his work, but: he still kept looking up at the window and when anyone passing darkened it he peered up to see who it might be. Acquaintances passed and strangers passed but nothing unusual happened.
At last Martin noticed an old apple-woman stopping directly opposite his window. She was carrying her basket but it had only a few apples in it. She had evidently sold the most of them. Over her shoulder was thrown a bag of chips which she had been picking up in some new building on her way home.
It seemed to be heavy for her and in order to shift it from one shoulder to the other, she stood her basket on the curbstone, and the bag on the windowsill, shaking the chips down into it. While she was engaged in doing this, a small boy in a torn cap suddenly appeared and snatched an apple from the basket; but before he could make off with it, the old woman happened to turn around, detected him and seized him by the sleeve. The youngster struggled, and tried to tear himself away from her; but the old woman held him firmly, knocked off his cap and twisted her fingers into his hair. The small boy yelled; the old woman scolded.
Martin wasted no time in putting away his awl; he threw it on the floor, sprang to the door and, in his haste to mount the stairs, lost his spectacles off his nose. When he reached the sidewalk the old woman was jerking the boy’s forelock and threatening to drag him off to the policeman. The youngster was trying to defend himself and denying the charge,
“I didn’t steal it,” he cried, “What are you lickin’ me for? Lemme go.”
Martin tried to interfere; he took the boy by the arm and said to the old woman: “Let him go, Auntie, let him go for Christ’s sake!”
“Huh! I’ll forgive him so that he won’t forget it till the snow melts! I’m going to turn the little villain over to the police.”
Martin tried to persuade the old woman.
“Let him go, Auntie,” he said, “he won’t do it again. Let him go for Christ’s sake!”
The old woman loosed her hold and the boy started to run but Martin held him back. “Ask Auntie’s forgiveness,” said he, “And promise not to do such a thing again: I saw you take the apple.”
The boy began to cry and did as he was told.
“There now, that’s right: and here’s an apple for you.”
Martin took an apple from the basket and gave it to the boy. “I’ll pay you for it,” he said to the old woman.
“That’s the way to ruin them, the rascals,” said she. “He ought to be trounced so that he’ll remember it for a whole week.”
“Oh, Auntie, Auntie!” exclaimed Martin, “That may be so as we look at it, but not as God looks at it. If he is to be whipped on account of a little apple, then what must be done to us for our sins?”
The old woman was silent.
Then Martin told her the parable of the master that forgave a debtor the whole amount that he owed and how the debtor went and choked one that was in debt to him.
The old woman listened and the boy stood listening,
“God has commanded us to forgive,” said Martin, “for if we don’t, we ourselves may not be forgiven; yes, to forgive everyone, but especially, the thoughtless ones.”
The old woman shook her head and sighed.
“That may be true,” she said, “still there are such a lot of these good-for-nothings.” “Then, we who are older must teach them.” urged Martin.
“I agree with you,” said the old woman. “I myself have had seven and only one daughter is left.”
And she began to tell where she lived and how she lived with her daughter and how many grandchildren she had. “I haven’t got much stren’th,” she said, “but still I have to work hard. My old heart goes out to my grandchildren; they are fine youngsters, if I do say it. No one gives me such a welcome as they do. Lizzie won’t come to anyone else: ‘grandma, dearest grandma!’ she’ll say.”
And the old woman grew quite sentimental.
“Of course, it was only a boy’s trick, God bless him,” said she, referring to the stolen apple.
She was on the point of lifting to her shoulder the bag of chips, but the boy sprang forward, saying: “Let me carry it for you, Auntie, I’m going your way.”
The old woman nodded and put it on his back, and the two started off together down the street, nor did she even remember to ask Martin to pay her for the apple, as he had promised.
He stood motionless for a while gazing after them and he could hear them talking together as they went. Then when he could see them no longer, he went back to his basement, found his glasses and was glad that they were not broken; then he picked up his awl and went to work again. He stitched for a while, until it grew too dark for him to see his thread. He looked up and there was the lamplighter passing by to light the street lamps.
“Why, how dark it is getting to be,” he said to himself, “I must make a light.”
“He got his lamp ready, hung it up, then sat down to do a little more work. He managed to get one boot finished. He turned it all around, examined it carefully and decided that it was a good job. He put away his tools, swept off the cuttings, cleared up the bristle and ends, took down the lamp and placed it on the table and got the Testament from the shelf.
He had intended to open it at the very same passage where the previous evening he had inserted a little piece of morocco, but it opened at another place. And at that moment he remembered his dream. It seemed to him suddenly as if he heard someone moving about, shuffling his feet behind him. Martin looked around and saw a number of persons standing in the dark corner but he could not distinguish who they were. Then a voice whispered in his ear:
“Martin, Martin, didn’t you recognize me?”
“Who?” asked Martin.
“Me!” said the voice. “Why, it was I.”
And from the dark corner emerged Stevenson, who smiled at him and then like a little cloud faded and vanished.
“And it was I!” said the voice, and again from the dark corner came the woman with the baby: the woman smiled and the little one laughed and then they too disappeared.
“And it was I,” said the voice. The old apple-woman appeared and the boy who had taken the apple and they both smiled and vanished from his sight.
And Martin’s heart was full of joy. He made the sign of the cross, put on his glasses and began to read in the Testament where it had opened. At the top of the page he read these words:
“I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in. . . .”
And a little farther down he read:
“Inasmuch as you did it unto one of these, my humblest brethren you did it unto me.” (Matthew XV.)
And then Martin realized that his dream had not deceived him, that his Saviour had really visited him that day, and that he, Martin, had really received him.