What Men Live By
A shoemaker named Simon, who had neither house nor land of his own, lived with his wife and children in a peasant’s hut, and earned his living by his work. Work was cheap, but bread was dear, and what he earned he spent for food. The man and his wife had but one sheepskin coat between them for winter wear, and even that was torn to tatters, and this was the second year he had been wanting to buy sheep-skins for a new coat. Before winter Simon saved up a little money: a three-rouble note lay hidden in his wife’s box, and five roubles and twenty kopeks were owed him by customers in the village.
So one morning he prepared to go to the village to buy the sheep-skins. He put on over his shirt his wife’s wadded nankeen jacket, and over that he put his own cloth coat. He took the three-rouble note in his pocket, cut himself a stick to serve as a staff, and started off after breakfast. “I’ll collect the five roubles that are due to me,” thought he, “add the three I have got, and that will be enough to buy sheep-skins for the winter coat.”
He came to the village and called at a peasant’s hut, but the man was not at home. The peasant’s wife promised that the money should be paid next week, but she would not pay it herself. Then Simon called on another peasant, but this one swore he had no money, and would only pay twenty kopeks which he owed for a pair of boots Simon had mended. Simon then tried to buy the sheep-skins on credit, but the dealer would not trust him.
“Bring your money,” said he, “then you may have your pick of the skins. We know what debt-collecting is like.” So all the business the shoemaker did was to get the twenty kopeks for boots he had mended, and to take a pair of felt boots a peasant gave him to sole with leather.
Simon felt downhearted. He spent the twenty kopeks on vodka, and started homewards without having bought any skins. In the morning he had felt the frost; but now, after drinking the vodka, he felt warm, even without a sheep-skin coat. He trudged along, striking his stick on the frozen earth with one hand, swinging the felt boots with the other, and talking to himself.