In the city lived the shoemaker, Martuin Avdyeitch. He lived in a basement, in a little room with one window. The window looked out on the street. Through the window he used to watch the people passing by; although only their feet could be seen, yet by the boots, Martuin Avdyeitch recognized the people. Martuin Avdyeitch had lived long in one place, and had many acquaintances. Few pairs of boots in his district had not been in his hands once and again. Some he would half-sole, some he would patch, some he would stitch around, and occasionally he would also put on new uppers. And through the window he often recognized his work.
Avdyeitch had plenty to do, because he was a faithful workman, used good material, did not make exorbitant, charges, and kept his word. If it was possible for him to finish an order bya certain time, he would accept it; otherwise, he would not deceive you, he would tell you so beforehand. And all knew Avdyeitch, and he was never out of work.
Avdyeitch had always been a good man; but as he grew old, he began to think more about his soul, and get nearer to God. Martuin’s wife had died when he was still living with his master. His wife left him a boy three years old. None of their other children had lived. All the eldest had died in childhood. Martuin at first intended to send his little son to his sister in the village, but afterward he felt sorry for him; he thought to himself:
“It will be hard for my Kapitoshka to live in a strange family. I shall keep him with me.”
And Avdyeitch left his master, and went into lodgings with his little son. But God gave Avdyeitch no luck with his children. As Kapitoshka grew older, he began to help his father, and would have been a delight to him, but a sickness fell on him, he went to bed, suffered a week, and died. Martuin buried his son, and fell into despair. So deep was this despair that he began to complain of God. Martuin fell into such a melancholy state, that more than once he prayed to God for death, and reproached God because He had not taken him who was an old man, instead of his beloved only son. Avdyeitch also ceased to go to church.
And once a little old man from the same district came from Troïtsa1 to see Avdyeitch; for seven years he had been wandering about. Avdyeitch talked with him, and began to complain about his sorrows.
Trinity, a famous monastery, pilgrimage to which is considered a virtue. Avdyeitch calls this zemlyak-starichok, Bozhi chelovyek, God’s man.—Ed.↩︎
“I have no desire to live any longer,” he said, “I only wish I was dead. That is all I pray God for. I am a man without anything to hope for now.”
And the little old man said to him:—
“You don’t talk right, Martuin, we must not judge God’s doings. The world moves, not by our skill, but by God’s will. God decreed for your son to die,—for you—to live. So it is for the best. And you are in despair, because you wish to live for your own happiness.”
“But what shall one live for?” asked Martuin.
And the little old man said:—
“We must live for God, Martuin. He gives you life, and for His sake you must live. When you begin to live for Him, you will not grieve over anything, and all will seem easy to you.”
Martuin kept silent for a moment, and then said, “But how can one live for God?”
And the little old man said:—
“Christ has taught us how to live for God. You know how to read? Buy a Testament, and read it; there you will learn how to live for God. Everything is explained there.”
And these words kindled a fire in Avdyeitch’s heart. And he went that very same day, bought a New Testament in large print, and began to read.
At first Avdyeitch intended to read only on holidays; but as he began to read, it so cheered his soul that he used to read every day. At times he would become so absorbed in reading, that all the kerosene in the lamp would burn out, and still he could not tear himself away. And so Avdyeitch used to read every evening.
And the more he read, the clearer he understood what God wanted of him, and how one should live for God; and his heart kept growing easier and easier. Formerly, when he lay down to sleep, he used to sigh and groan, and always thought of his Kapitoshka; and now his only exclamation was:
“Glory to Thee! glory to Thee, Lord! Thy will be done.”
And from that time Avdyeitch’s whole life was changed. In other days he, too, used to drop into a public-house2 as a holiday amusement, to drink a cup of tea; and he was not averse to a little brandy, either. He would take a drink with some acquaintance, and leave the saloon, not intoxicated, exactly, yet in a happy frame of mind, and inclined to talk nonsense, and shout, and use abusive language at a person. Now he left off that sort of thing. His life became quiet and joyful. In the morning he would sit down to work, finish his allotted task, then take the little lamp from the hook, put it on the table, get his book from the shelf, open it, and sit down to read. And the more he read, the more he understood, and the brighter and happier it grew in his heart.
Once it happened that Martuin read till late into the night. He was reading the Gospel of Luke. He was reading over the sixth chapter; and he was reading the verses:
“And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”
He read farther also those verses, where God speaks:
“And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew yoa to whom he is like: he is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it; for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.”
Avdyeitch read these words, and joy filled his soul. He took off his spectacles, put them down on the book, leaned his elbows on the table, and became lost in thought. And he began to measure his life by these words. And he thought to himself:—
“Is my house built on the rock, or on the sand? Tis well if on the rock. It is so easy when you are alone by yourself; it seems as if you had done everything as God commands; but when you forget yourself, you sin again. Yet I shall still struggle on. It is very good. Help me, Lord!”
Thus ran his thoughts; he wanted to go to bed, but he felt loath to tear himself away from the book. And he began to read farther in the seventh chapter. He read about the centurion, he read about the widow’s son, he read about the answer given to John’s disciples, and finally he came to that place where the rich Pharisee desired the Lord to sit at meat with him; and he read how the woman that was a sinner anointed His feet, and washed them with her tears, and how He forgave her. He reached the forty-fourth verse, and began to read:
“And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.”
He finished reading these verses, and thought to himself:—
“Thou gavest me no water for my feet, thou gavest me no kiss. My head with oil thou didst not anoint.”
And again Avdyeitch took off his spectacles, put them down on the hook, and again he became lost in thought.
“It seems that Pharisee must have been such a man as I am. I, too, apparently have thought only of myself,—how I might have my tea, be warm and comfortable, but never to think about my guest. He thought about himself, but there was not the least care taken of the guest. And who was his guest? The Lord Himself. If He had come to me, should I have done the same way?”
Avdyeitch rested his head upon both his arms, and did not notice that he fell asleep.
“Martuin!” suddenly seemed to sound in his ears.
Martuin started from his sleep:
“Who is here?”
He turned around, glanced toward the door no one.
Again he fell into a doze. Suddenly, he plainly heard:—
“Martuin! Ah, Martuin! look to-morrow on the street. I am coming.”
Martuin awoke, rose from the chair, began to rub his eyes. He himself could not tell whether he heard those words in his dream, or in reality. He turned down his lamp, and went to bed.
At daybreak next morning, Avdyeitch rose, made his prayer to God, lighted the stove, put on the shchi3 and the kasha,4 put the water in the samovar, put on his apron, and sat down by the window to work.
And while he was working, he kept thinking about all that had happened the day before. It seemed to him at one moment that it was a dream, and now he had really heard a voice.
“Well,” he said to himself, “such things have been.”
Martuin was sitting by the window, and looking out more than he was working. When anyone passed by in boots which he did not know, he would bend down, look out of the window, in order to see, not only the feet, but also the face.
The dvornik5 passed by in new felt boots,6 the water-carrier passed by; then there came up to the window an old soldier of Nicholas’s time, in an old pair of laced felt boots, with a shovel in his hands. Avdyeitch recognized him by his felt boots. The old man’s name was Stepanuitch; and a neighboring merchant, out of charity, gave him a home with him. He was required to assist the dvornik. Stepanuitch began to shovel away the snow from in front of Avdyeitch’ s window. Avdyeitch glanced at him, and took up his work again.
“Pshaw! I must be getting crazy in my old age,” said Avdyeitch, and laughed at himself. “Stepanuitch is clearing away the snow, and I imagine that Christ is coming to see me. I was entirely out of my mind, old dotard that I am!”
Avdyeitch sewed about a dozen stitches, and then felt impelled to look through the window again. He looked out again through the window, and saw that Stepanuitch had leaned his shovel against the wall, and was warming himself, and resting. He was an old, broken-down man; evidently he had not strength enough even to shovel the snow. Avdyeitch said to himself:—
“I will give him some tea; by the way, the samovar has only just gone out.” Avdyeitch laid down his awl, rose from his seat, put the samovar on the table, poured out the tea, and tapped with his finger at the glass. Stepanuitch turned around, and came to the window. Avdyeitch beckoned to him, and went to open the door.
“Come in, warm yourself a little,” he said. “You must be cold.”
“May Christ reward you for this! my bones ache,” said Stepanuitch.
Stepanuitch came in, and shook off the snow, tried to wipe his feet, so as not to soil the floor, but staggered.
“Don’t trouble to wipe your feet. I will clean it up myself; we are used to such things. Come in and sit down,’ said Avdyeitch.”Here, drink a cup of tea.”
And Avdyeitch filled two glasses, and handed one to his guest; while he himself poured his tea into a saucer, and began to blow it.
Stepanuitch finished drinking his glass of tea, turned the glass upside down,7 put the half-eaten lump of sugar on it, and began to express his thanks. But it was evident he wanted some more.
To signify he was satisfied; a custom among the Russians.—Ed.↩︎
“Have some more,” said Avdyeitch, filling both his own glass and his guest’s. Avdyeitch drank his tea, but from time to time glanced out into the street.
“Are you expecting anyone?” asked his guest.
“Am I expecting anyone? I am ashamed even to tell whom I expect. I am, and I am not, expecting someone; but one word has kindled a fire in my heart. Whether it is a dream, or something else, I do not know. Don’t you see, brother, I was reading yesterday the Gospel about Christ the Batyushka; how He suffered, how He walked on the earth. I suppose you have heard about it?”
“Indeed I have,” replied Stepanuitch; “but we are people in darkness, we can’t read.”
“Well, now, I was reading about that very thing,—how He walked on the earth; I read, you know, how He came to the Pharisee, and the Pharisee did not treat Him hospitably. Well, and so, my brother, I was reading yesterday, about this very thing, and was thinking to myself how he did not receive Christ, the Batyushka, with honor. Suppose, for example, He should come to me, or anyone else, I said to myself, I should not even know how to receive Him. And he gave Him no reception at all. Well I while I was thus thinking, I fell asleep, brother, and I heard someone call me by name. I got up; the voice, just as if someone whispered, said, ‘Be on the watch; I shall come to-morrow.’ And this happened twice. Well! would you believe it, it got into my head? I scolded myself and yet I am expecting Him, the Batyushka.”
Stepanuitch shook his head, and said nothing; he finished drinking his glass of tea, and put it on the side; but Avdyeitch picked up the glass again, and filled it once more.
“Drink some more for your good health. You see, I have an idea that, when the Batyushka went about on this earth, He disdained no one, and had more to do with the simple people. He always went to see the simple people. He picked out His disciples more from among folk like such sinners as we are, from the working class. Said He, whoever exalts himself, shall be humbled, and he who is humbled shall become exalted. Said He, you call me Lord, and, said He, I wash your feet. Whoever wishes, said He, to be the first, the same shall be a servant to all. Because, said He, blessed are the poor, the humble, the kind, the generous.”
And Stepanuitch forgot about his tea; he was an old man, and easily moved to tears. He was listening, and the tears rolled down his face.
“Come, now, have some more tea,” said Avdyeitch; but Stepanuitch made the sign of the cross, thanked him, turned down his glass, and arose.
“Thanks to you,” he says, “Martuin Avdyeitch, for treating me kindly, and satisfying me, soul and body.”
“You are welcome; come in again; always glad to see a friend,” said Avdyeitch.
Stepanuitch departed; and Martuin poured out the rest of the tea, drank it up, put away the dishes, and sat down again by the window to work, to stitch on a patch. He kept stitching away, and at the same time looking through the window. He was expecting Christ, and was all the while thinking of Him and His deeds, and his head was filled with the different speeches of Christ.
Two soldiers passed by: one wore boots furnished by the crown, and the other one, boots that he had made; then the master8 of the next house passed by in shining galoshes; then a baker with a basket passed by. All passed by; and now there came also by the window a woman in woolen stockings and rustic bashmaks on her feet. She passed by the window, and stood still near the window-case.
Avdyeitch looked up at her from the window, and saw it was a stranger, a woman poorly clad, and with a child; she was standing by the wall with her back to the wind, trying to wrap up the child, and she had nothing to wrap it up in. The woman was dressed in shabby summer clothes; and from behind the frame, Avdyeitch could hear the child crying, and the woman trying to pacify it; but she was not able to pacify it.
Avdyeitch got up, went to the door, ascended the steps, and cried:—
“My good woman. Hey! my good woman!”9
Umnitsa aumnitsa! literally, clever one.↩︎
The woman heard him and turned around.
“Why are you standing in the cold with the child? Come into my room, where it is warm; you can manage it better. Here, this way!”
The woman was astonished. She saw an old, old man in an apron, with spectacles on his nose, calling her to him. She followed him. They descended the steps and entered the room; the old man led the woman to his bed.
“There,” says he, “sit down, my good woman, nearer to the stove; you can get warm, and nurse the little one.”
“I have no milk for him. I myself have not eaten anything since morning,” said the woman; but, nevertheless, she took the baby to her breast.
Avdyeitch shook his head, went to the table, brought out the bread and a dish, opened the oven door, poured into the dish some cabbage soup, took out the pot with the gruel, but it was not cooked as yet; so he filled the dish with shchi only, and put it on the table. He got the bread, took the towel down from the hook, and spread it upon the table.
“Sit down,” he says, “and eat, my good woman; and I will mind the little one. You see, I once had children of my own; I know how to handle them.”
The woman crossed herself, sat down at the table, and began to eat; while Avdyeitch took a seat on the bed near the infant. Avdyeitch kept smacking and smacking to it with his lips; but it was a poor kind of smacking, for he had no teeth. The little one kept on crying. And it occurred to Avdyeitch to threaten the little one with his finger; he waved, waved his finger right before the child’s mouth, and hastily withdrew it. He did not put it to its mouth, because his finger was black, and soiled with wax. And the little one looked at his finger, and became quiet; then it began to smile, and Avdyeitch also was glad. While the woman was eating, she told who she was, and whither she was going.
“I am a soldier’s wife. It is now seven months since they sent my husband away off, and no tidings. I lived out as cook; the baby was born; no one cared to keep me with a child. This is the third month that I have been struggling along without a place. I ate up all I had. I wanted to engage as a wet-nurse no one would take me I am too thin, they say. I have just been to the merchant’s wife, where lives a young woman I know, and so they promised to take us in. I thought that was the end of it. But she told me to come next week. And she lives a long way off. I got tired out; and it tired him, too, my heart’s darling. Fortunately, our landlady takes pity on us for the sake of Christ, and gives us a room, else I don’t know how I should manage to get along.”
Avdyeitch sighed, and said:
“Haven’t you any warm clothes?”
“Now is the time, friend, to wear warm clothes; but yesterday I pawned my last shawl for a twenty-kopek piece.”10
Dvagrivennui, silver, worth sixteen cents.↩︎
The woman came to the bed, and took the child; and Avdyeitch rose, went to the partition, rummaged round, and succeeded in finding an old coat.
“Na!” says he; “It is a poor thing, yet you may turn it to some use.”
The woman looked at the coat and looked at the old man; she took the coat, and burst into tears; and Avdyeitch turned away his head; crawling under the bed, he pushed out a little trunk, rummaged in it, and sat down again opposite the woman.
And the woman said:—
“May Christ bless you, little grandfather!11 He must have sent me to your window. My little baby would have frozen to death. When I started out it was warm, but now it has grown cold. And He, the Batyushka, led you to look through the window and take pity on me, an unfortunate.”
Avdyeitch smiled, and said:—
“Indeed, He did that! I have been looking through the window, my good woman, for some wise reason.”
And Martuin told the soldier’s wife his dream, and how he heard the voice,—how the Lord promised to come and see him that day.
“All things are possible,” said the woman. She rose, put on the coat, wrapped up her little child in it; and, as she started to take leave, she thanked Avdyeitch again.
“Take this, for Christ’s sake,” said Avdyeitch, giving her a twenty-kopek piece; “redeem your shawl.”
She made the sign of the cross, and Avdyeitch made the sign of the cross and went with her to the door.
The woman went away. Avdyeitch ate some shchi, washed the dishes, and sat down again to work. While he was working he still remembered the window; when the window grew darker he immediately looked out to see who was passing by. Acquaintances passed by and strangers passed by, and there was nothing out of the ordinary.
But here Avdyeitch saw that an old apple woman had stopped in front of his window. She carried a basket with apples. Only a few were left, as she had evidently sold them nearly all out; and over her shoulder she had a bag full of chips. She must have gathered them up in some new building, and was on her way home. One could see that the bag was heavy on her shoulder; she tried to shift it to the other shoulder. So she lowered the bag on the sidewalk, stood the basket with the apples on a little post, and began to shake down the splinters in the bag. And while she was shaking her bag, a little boy in a torn cap came along, picked up an apple from the basket, and was about to make his escape; but the old woman noticed it, turned around, and caught the youngster by his sleeve. The little boy began to struggle, tried to tear himself away; but the old woman grasped him with both hands, knocked off his cap, and caught him by the hair.
The little boy was screaming, the old woman was scolding. Avdyeitch lost no time in putting away his awl; he threw it upon the floor, sprang to the door,—he even stumbled on the stairs, and dropped his spectacles,—and rushed out into the street.
The old woman was pulling the youngster by his hair, and was scolding and threatening to take him to the policeman; the youngster was defending himself, and denying the charge.
“I did not take it,” he said; “What are you licking me for? Let me go!”
Avdyeitch tried to separate them. He took the boy by his arm, and said:
“Let him go, babushka; forgive him, for Christ’s sake.”
“I will forgive him so that he won’t forget it till the new broom grows. I am going to take the little villain to the police.”
Avdyeitch began to entreat the old woman:—
“Let him go, babushka,” he said, “he will never do it again. Let him go, for Christ’s sake.’
The old woman let him loose; the boy started to run, but Avdyeitch kept him back.
“Ask the babushka’s forgiveness,” he said, “and don’t you ever do it again; I saw you take the apple.”
The boy burst into tears, and began to ask forgiveness.
“There now! that’s right; and here’s an apple for you.”
And Avdyeitch took an apple from the basket, and gave it to the boy.
“I will pay you for it, babushka,” he said to the old woman.
“You ruin them that way, the good-for-nothings,” said the old woman. “He ought to be treated so that he would remember it for a whole week.”
“Eh, babushka, babushka,” said Avdyeitch, “that is right according to our judgment, but not according to God’s. If he is to be whipped for an apple, then what ought to be done to us for our sins?”
The old woman was silent.
And Avdyeitch told her the parable of the master who forgave a debtor all that he owed him, and how the debtor went and began to choke one who owed him.
The old woman listened, and the boy stood listening.
“God has commanded us to forgive,” said Avdyeitch, “else we, too, may not be forgiven. All should be forgiven, and the thoughtless especially.”
The old woman shook her head, and sighed.
“That’s so,” said she; “but the trouble is that they are very much spoiled.”
“Then we who are older must teach them,” said Avdyeitch.
“That’s just what I say,” remarked the old woman. “I myself have had seven of them, only one daughter is left.”
And the old woman began to relate where and how she lived with her daughter, and how many grandchildren she had. “Here,” she says, “my strength is only so-so, and yet I have to work. I pity the youngsters my grandchildren but what nice children they are! No one gives me such a welcome as they do. Aksintka won’t go to anyone but me. ‘Babushka, dear babushka, loveliest.’”
And the old woman grew quite sentimental.
“Of course, it is a childish trick. God be with him,” said she, pointing to the boy.
The woman was just about to lift the bag up on her shoulder, when the boy ran up, and said:—
“Let me carry it, babushka; it is on my way.”
The old woman nodded her head, and put the bag on the boy’s back.
And side by side they passed along the street.
And the old woman even forgot to ask Avdyeitch to pay for the apple. Avdyeitch stood motionless, and kept gazing after them; and he heard them talking all the time as they walked away. After Avdyeitch saw them disappear, he returned to his room; he found his eye-glasses on the stairs, they were not broken; he picked up his awl, and sat down to work again.
After working a little while, it grew darker, so that he could not see to sew; he saw the lamplighter passing by to light the streetlamps.
“It must be time to make a light,” he said to himself; so he got his little lamp ready, hung it up, and betook himself again to his work. He had one boot already finished; he turned it around, looked at it: “Well done.” He put away his tools, swept off the cuttings, cleared off the bristles and ends, took the lamp, set it on the table, and took down the Gospels from the shelf. He intended to open the book at the very place where he had yesterday put a piece of leather as a mark, but it happened to open at another place; and the moment Avdyeitch opened the Testament, he recollected his last night’s dream. And as soon as he remembered it, it seemed as if he heard someone stepping about behind him. Avdyeitch looked around, and saw there, in the dark corner, it seemed as if people were standing; he was at a loss to know who they were. And a voice whispered in his ear:—
“Martuin—ah, Martuin! did you not recognize me?”
“Who?” exclaimed Avdyeitch.
“Me,’ repeated the voice.”It was I;’ and Stepanuitch stepped forth from the dark corner; he smiled, and like a little cloud faded away, and soon vanished.
“And it was I,” said the voice.
From the dark corner stepped forth the woman with her child; the woman smiled, the child laughed, and they also vanished.
“And it was I,” continued the voice; both the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped forward; both smiled and vanished.
Avdyeitch’s soul rejoiced; he crossed himself, put on his spectacles, and began to read the Evangelists where it happened to open. On the upper part of the page he read:—
“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”
And on the lower part of the page he read this:—
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”—Matthew 25.
And Avdyeitch understood that his dream had not deceived him; that the Saviour really called on him that day, and that he really received Him.