Where Love Is, God Is
(Leo Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace, tells this story that is a reworking of an old Christian folk tale. Its charm lies in its simplicity, and it remains a favorite Tolstoy selection.)
In a little town in Russia there lived a cobbler, Martin Avedvitch by name. He had a tiny room in a basement, the one window of which looked out on to the street. Through it one could see only the feet of those who passed by, but Martin recognized the people by their boots. He had lived long in the place and had many acquaintances. There was hardly a pair of boots in the neighborhood that had not been once or twice through his hands, so he often saw his own handiwork through the window. Some he had re-soled, some patched, some stitched up, and to some he had even put fresh uppers. He had plenty to do, for he worked well, used good material, did not charge too much, and could be relied on. If he could do a job by the day required, he undertook it; if not, he told the truth and gave no false promises. So he was well known and never short of work.
Martin had always been a good man, but in his old age he began to think more about his soul and to draw nearer to God.
From that time Martin's whole life changed. His life became peaceful and joyful. He sat down to his task in the morning, and when he had finished his day's work he took the lamp down from the wall, stood it on the table, fetched his Bible from the shelf, opened it, and sat down to read. The more he read the better he understood, and the clearer and happier he felt in his mind.
It happened once that Martin sat up late, absorbed in his book. He was reading Luke's Gospel, and in the sixth chapter he came upon the verses:
He thought about this, and was about to go to bed, but was loath to leave his book. So he went on reading the seventh chapter about the centurion, the widow's son, and the answer to John's disciple-and he came to the part where a rich Pharisee invited the Lord to his house. And he read how the woman who was a sinner anointed his feet and washed them with her tears, and how he justified her. Coming to the forty-fourth verse, he read:
He read these verses and thought: "He gave no water for his feet, gave no kiss, his head with oil he did not anoint. . . . " And Martin took off his spectacles once more, laid them on his book, and pondered.
"He must have been like me, that Pharisee. He too thought only of himself-how to get a cup of tea, how to keep warm and comfortable, never a thought of his guest. He took care of himself, but for his guest he cared nothing at all. Yet who was the guest? The Lord
himself! If he came to me, should I behave like that?"
"Martin!" He suddenly heard a voice, as if someone had breathed the word above his ear.
He started from his sleep. "Who's there?" he asked.
He turned around and looked at the door; no one was there. He called again. Then he heard quite distinctly: "Martin, Martin! Look out into the street tomorrow, for I shall come."
Martin roused himself, rose from his chair and rubbed his eyes, but did not know whether he had heard these words in a dream or awake. He put out the lamp and lay down to sleep.
The next morning he rose before daylight, and after saying his prayers he lit the fire and prepared his cabbage soup and buckwheat porridge. Then he lit the samovar, put on his apron, and sat down by the window to his work. He looked out into the street more than he worked, and whenever anyone passed in unfamiliar boots he would stoop and look up, so as to see not only the feet but the face of the passerby as well.
A house-porter passed in new felt boots, then a water-carrier. Presently an old soldier of Nicholas's reign came near the window, spade in hand. Martin knew him by his boots, which were shabby old felt once, galoshed with leather. The old man was called Stepinitch. A neighboring tradesman kept him in his house for charity, and his duty was to help the house-porter. He began to clear away the snow before Martin's window. Martin glanced at him and then went on with his work.
"What if I called him in and gave him some tea?" thought Martin. "The samovar is 'ust on the boil."
He stuck his awl in its place, and rose, and putting the samovar on the table, made tea. Then he tapped the window with his fingers. Stepinitch turned and came to the window. Martin beckoned to him to come in, and went himself to open the door.
"Come in," he said, "and warm yourself a bit. I'm sure you must be cold."
"May God bless you!" Stepinitch answered. "My bones do ache, to be sure." He came in, first shaking off the snow, and lest he should leave marks on the floor he began wiping his feet. But as he did so he tottered and nearly fell.
"Don't trouble to wipe your feet," said Martin. "I'll wipe up the floor-it's all in the day's work. Come, friend, sit down and have some tea. "
Filling two tumblers, he passed one to his visitor, and pouring his own tea out into the saucer, began to blow on it.
Stepinitch emptied his glass and, turning it upside down, put the remains of his piece of sugar on the top. He began to express his thanks, but it was plain that he would be glad of some more.
"Have another glass, " said Martin, refilling the visitor's tumbler and his own. But while he drank his tea Martin kept looking out into the street.
"Are you expecting anyone?" asked the visitor.
"Am I expecting anyone? Well, now, I'm ashamed to tell you. It isn't that I really expect anyone, but I heard something last night which I can't get out of my mind. Whether it was a vision, or only a fancy, I can't tell. You see, friend, last night I was reading the Gospel, about Christ the Lord, how he suffered, and how he walked on earth. You have heard tell of it, I dare say."
"I have heard tell of it," answered Stepinitch. "But I'm an ignorant man and not able to read. "
"Well, you see, I was reading how he walked on earth. I came to that part, you know, where he went to a Pharisee who did not receive him well. Well, friend, as I read about it, I thought how that man did not receive Christ the Lord with proper honor. Suppose such a thing could happen to such a man as myself, I thought, what would I not do to receive him! But that man gave him no reception at all. Well, friend, as I was thinking of this, I began to doze, and as I dozed I heard someone call me by name. I got up, and thought I heard someone whispering, 'Expect me. I will come tomorrow.' This happened twice over. And to tell you the truth, it sank so into my mind that, though I am ashamed of it myself, I keep on expecting him, the dear Lord!"
Stepinitch shook his head in silence, finished his tumbler, and laid it on its side, but Martin stood it up again and refilled it for him.
"Thank you, Martin Avedvitch," he said. "You have given me food and comfort both for soul and body."
"You're very welcome. Come again another time. I am glad to have a guest," said Martin.
Stepinitch went away, and Martin poured out the last of the tea and drank it up. Then he put away the tea things and sat down to his work, stitching the back seam of a boot. And as he stitched he kept looking out of the window, and thinking about what he had read in the Bible. And his head was full of Christ's sayings.
Then a woman came up in worsted stockings and peasant-made shoes. She passed the window, but stopped by the wall. Martin glanced up at her through the window, and saw that she was a stranger, poorly dressed, and with a baby in her arms. She stopped by the wall with her back to the wind, trying to wrap the baby up though she had hardly anything to wrap it in. The woman had only summer clothes on, and even they were shabby and worn. Through the window Martin heard the baby crying, and the woman trying to soothe it, but unable to do so. Martin rose, and going out of the door and up the steps he called to her. "My dear, I say, my dear!"
The woman heard, and turned around. "Why do you stand out there with the baby in the cold? Come inside. You can wrap him up better in a warm place. Come this way!"
The woman was surprised to see an old man in an apron, with spectacles on his nose, calling to her, but she followed him in.
They went down the steps, entered the little room, and the old man led her to the bed.
"There, sit down, my dear, near the stove. Warm yourself, and feed the baby."
Martin shook his head. He brought out a basin and some bread. Then he opened the oven door and poured some cabbage soup into the basin. He took out the porridge pot also, but the porridge was not yet ready, so he spread a cloth on the table and served only the soup and bread.
"Sit down and eat, my dear, and I'll mind the baby. Why, bless me, I've had children of my own; I know how to manage them."
The woman crossed herself, and sitting down at the table began to eat, while Martin put the baby on the bed and sat down by it.
Martin sighed. "Haven't you any warmer clothing?" he asked. "How could I get warm clothing?" said she. "Why, I pawned my last shawl for sixpence yesterday." Then the woman came and took the child, and Martin got up.
He went and looked among some things that were hanging on the wall, and brought back an old cloak.
"Here," he said, "though it's a worn-out old thing, it will do to wrap him up in. "
"Take this for Christ's sake," said Martin, and gave her six- pence to get her shawl out of pawn. The woman crossed herself, and Martin did the same, and then he saw her out.
After a while Martin saw an apple-woman stop just in front of his window. On her back she had a sack full of chips, which she was taking home. No doubt she had gathered them at someplace where building was going on.
The sack evidently hurt her, and she wanted to shift it from one shoulder to the other, so she put it down on the footpath and, placing her basket on a post, began to shake down the chips in the sack.
While she was doing this, a boy in a tattered cap ran up, snatched an apple out of the basket, and tried to slip away. But the old woman noticed it, and turning, caught the boy by his sleeve. He began to struggle, trying to free himself, but the old woman held on with both hands, knocked his cap off his head, and seized hold of his hair. The boy screamed and the old woman scolded.
Martin dropped his awl, not waiting to stick it in its place, and rushed out of the door. Stumbling up the steps and dropping his spectacles in his hurry, he ran out into the street. The old woman was pulling the boy's hair and scolding him, and threatening to take him to the police. The lad was struggling and protesting, saying, "I did not take it. What are you beating me for? Let me go!"
Martin separated them. He took the boy by the hand and said, "Let him go, Granny. Forgive him for Christ's sake."
"I'll pay him out, so that he won't forget it for a year! I'll take the rascal to the police!"
Martin began entreating the old woman. "Let him go, Granny. He won't do it again."
"Ask the Granny's forgiveness!" said he. "And don't do it another time. I saw you take the apple."
The boy began to cry and to beg pardon.
"That's right. And now here's an apple for you," and Martin took an apple from the basket and gave it to the boy, saying, "I will pay you, Granny."
"You will spoil them that way, the young rascals," said the old woman. "He ought to be whipped so that he should remember it for a week."
"Oh, Granny, Granny," said Martin, "that's our way-but it's not God's way. If he should be whipped for stealing an apple, what should be done to us for our sins?"
And Martin told her the parable of the lord who forgave his servant a large debt, and how the servant went out and seized his debtor by the throat. The old woman listened to it all, and the boy, too, stood by and listened.
"God bids us forgive," said Martin, "or else we shall not be forgiven. Forgive everyone, and a thoughtless youngster most of all."
The old woman wagged her head and sighed.
"It's true enough," said she, "but they are getting terribly spoiled. "
"Then we old ones must show them better ways," Martin replied.
"That's just what I say," said the old woman. "I have had seven of them myself, and only one daughter is left." And the old woman began to tell how and where she was living with her daughter, and how many grandchildren she had.
"There, now," she said, "I have but little strength left, yet I work hard for the sake of my grandchildren; and nice children they are, too. No one comes out to meet me but the children. Little Annie, now, won't leave me for anyone. It's 'Grandmother, dear grandmother, darling grandmother.' " And the old woman completely softened at the thought.
"Of course, it was only his childishness," said she, referring to the boy.
As the old woman was about to hoist her sack on her back, the lad sprang forward to her, saying, "Let me carry it for you, Granny. I'm going that way."
The old woman nodded her head, and put the sack on the boy's back, and they went down the street together, the old woman quite forgetting to ask Martin to pay for the apple. Martin stood and watched them as they went along talking to each other.
When they were out of sight Martin went back to the house. Having found his spectacles unbroken on the steps, he picked up his awl and sat down again to work. He worked a little, but soon could not see to pass the bristle through the holes in the leather, and presently, he noticed the lamplighter passing on his way to light the street lamps.
"Seems it's time to light up," thought he. So he trimmed his lamp, hung it up, and sat down again to work. He finished off one boot and, turning it about, examined it. It was all right. Then he gathered his tools together, swept up the cuttings, put away the bristles and the thread and the awls, and, taking down the lamp, placed it on the table.
Then he took the Gospels from the shelf. He meant to open them at the place he had marked the day before with a bit of morocco, but the book opened at another place.
As Martin opened it, his yesterday's dream came back to his mind, and no sooner had he thought of it than he seemed to hear footsteps, as though someone were moving behind him. Martin turned round, and it seemed to him as if people were standing in the dark corner, but he could not make out who they were.
And a voice whispered in his ear: "Martin, Martin, don't you know me?"
"Who is it?" muttered Martin. "It is I, " said the voice.
And out of the dark corner stepped Stepinitch, who smiled and vanishing like a cloud was seen no more.
"It is I, " said the voice again. And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms, and the woman smiled and the baby laughed, and they too vanished.
"It is I, " said the voice once more. And the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped out and both smiled, and then they too vanished.
And Martin's soul grew glad. He crossed himself, put on his spectacles, and began reading the Gospel just where it had opened. And at the top of the page he read:
And at the bottom of the page he read:
And Martin understood that his dream had come true, and that the Savior had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed him.
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