What Men Live By - Part VIII
Another year passed, and another, and Michael was now living his sixth year with Simon. He lived as before. He went nowhere, only spoke when necessary, and had only smiled twice in all those years—once when Matryona gave him food, and a second time when the gentleman was in their hut. Simon was more than pleased with his workman. He never now asked him where he came from, and only feared lest Michael should go away.
They were all at home one day. Matryona was putting iron pots in the oven; the children were running along the benches and looking out of the window; Simon was sewing at one window, and Michael was fastening on a heel at the other.
One of the boys ran along the bench to Michael, leant on his shoulder, and looked out of the window.
“Look, Uncle Michael! There is a lady with little girls! She seems to be coming here. And one of the girls is lame.”
When the boy said that, Michael dropped his work, turned to the window, and looked out into the street.
Simon was surprised. Michael never used to look out into the street, but now he pressed against the window, staring at something. Simon also looked out, and saw that a well-dressed woman was really coming to his hut, leading by the hand two little girls in fur coats and woolen shawls. The girls could hardly be told one from the other, except that one of them was crippled in her left leg and walked with a limp.
The woman stepped into the porch and entered the passage. Feeling about for the entrance she found the latch, which she lifted, and opened the door. She let the two girls go in first, and followed them into the hut.
“Good day, good folk!”
“Pray come in,” said Simon. “What can we do for you?”
The woman sat down by the table. The two little girls pressed close to her knees, afraid of the people in the hut.
“I want leather shoes made for these two little girls for spring.”
“We can do that. We never have made such small shoes, but we can make them; either welted or turnover shoes, linen lined. My man, Michael, is a master at the work.”
Simon glanced at Michael and saw that he had left his work and was sitting with his eyes fixed on the little girls. Simon was surprised. It was true the girls were pretty, with black eyes, plump, and rosy-cheeked, and they wore nice kerchiefs and fur coats, but still Simon could not understand why Michael should look at them like that—just as if he had known them before. He was puzzled, but went on talking with the woman, and arranging the price. Having fixed it, he prepared the measure. The woman lifted the lame girl on to her lap and said: “Take two measures from this little girl. Make one shoe for the lame foot and three for the sound one. They both have the same size feet. They are twins.”
Simon took the measure and, speaking of the lame girl, said: “How did it happen to her? She is such a pretty girl. Was she born so?”
“No, her mother crushed her leg.”
Then Matryona joined in. She wondered who this woman was, and whose the children were, so she said: “Are not you their mother then?”
“No, my good woman; I am neither their mother nor any relation to them. They were quite strangers to me, but I adopted them.”
“They are not your children and yet you are so fond of them?”
“How can I help being fond of them? I fed them both at my own breasts. I had a child of my own, but God took him. I was not so fond of him as I now am of them.”
“Then whose children are they?”