What Men Live By, and Other Tales

Lev Tolstoy

ISBN: 9783743709027

Release: 01/1885

What Men Live By, and Other Tales by Lev Tolstoy

A kind and humble shoemaker maker called Simon goes out one day to purchase sheep-skins in order to sew a winter coat for his wife and himself to share. Usually, the little money which Simon earns would be spent to feed his wife and children. Simon decides that in order to afford the skins he must go on a collection to receive the five rubles and twenty kopeks owed to him by his customers. As he heads out to collect the money he also borrows a three-rouble note from his wife's money box. While going on his collection he only manages to receive twenty kopeks rather than the full amount. Feeling disheartened by this, Simon rashly spends the twenty kopeks on vodka and starts to head back home drunkenly stumbling and talking to himself cursing the coat dealer. He states that he is warm without the vodka and that he won't make it through the winter without a fur coat. While approaching the chapel at the end of the road, Simon stops and notices something pale-looking leaning against it. He looks harder and notices that it is a naked man who appears poor of health. At first, he is suspicious and fears that the man may have no good intentions if he is in such a state, believing that he is just a drunk man. He proceeds to pass the man until he sees that the man has lifted his head and is looking towards him. Simon debates what to do in his mind and feels ashamed for his disregard and heads back to help the man. Simon takes off his cloth coat and wraps it around the stranger. He also gives him the extra pair of boots he was carrying. He aids him as they both walk toward Simon's home. Though they walk together side by side, the stranger barely speaks and when Simon asks how he was left in that situation the only answers the man would give are: "I cannot tell" and "God has punished me." Meanwhile, Simon's wife Matryona debates whether or not to bake more bread for the night's meal so that there is enough for the following morning's breakfast. She decides that the loaf of bread that they have left would be ample enough to last until the next morning. As she sees Simon approaching the door she is angered to see him with a strange man who is wrapped in Simon's clothing. Matryona immediately expresses her displeasure with Simon, accusing him and his strange companion to be drunkards and harassing Simon for not returning with the sheep-skin needed to make a new coat. Once the tension settles down she bids that the stranger sit down and have dinner with them. After seeing the stranger take bites at the bread she placed for him on his plate, she begins to feel pity and shows so in her face. When the stranger notices this, his grim expression lights up immediately and he smiles for one brief moment. After hearing the story from the stranger of how Simon had kindly robed the stranger after seeing him in his naked state, Matryona grabs more of Simon's old clothing and gives it to the stranger. The following morning Simon addresses the stranger and asks his name. The stranger answers that his name is simply Michael. Simon explains to Michael that he can stay in his household as long as he can earn his keep by working as an assistant for Simon in his shoemaking business. Michael agrees to these terms and for a few years he remains a very faithful assistant. One winter day a customer who is a nobleman comes in their shop. The nobleman outlines strict conditions for the construction of a pair of thick leather boots: they should not lose shape nor become loose at the seams for a year, or else he would have Simon arrested. When Simon gives to Michael the leather that the nobleman had given them to use, Michael appears to stare beyond the nobleman's shoulder and smiles for the second time since he has been there. As Michael cuts and sews the leather, instead of making thick leather boots, he makes a pair of soft leather slippers. Simon is too late when he notices this and cries to Michael asking why he would do such a foolish thing. Before Michael can answer, a messenger arrives at their door and gives the news that the nobleman has died and asks if they could change the order to slippers for him to wear on his death bed. Simon is astounded by this and watches as Michael gives the messenger the already-made leather slippers. Time continues to go by and Simon is very grateful for Michael's faithful assistance.

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