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Two Old Men
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Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2017
Copyright © 2017 Sovereign
All Rights Reserved.
TWO OLD MEN
TWO OLD MEN
‘The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father... But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers.’
—John iv. 19-21, 23.
There were once two old men who decided to go on a pilgrimage to worship God at Jerusalem. One of them was a well-to-do peasant named Efím Tarásitch Shevélev. The other, Elisha Bódrof, was not so well off.
Efím was a staid man, serious and firm. He neither drank nor smoked nor took snuff, and had never used bad language in his life. He had twice served as village Elder, and when he left office his accounts were in good order. He had a large family: two sons and a married grandson, all living with him. He was hale, long-bearded and erect, and it was only when he was past sixty that a little grey began to show itself in his beard.
Elisha was neither rich nor poor. He had formerly gone out carpentering, but now that he was growing old he stayed at home and kept bees. One of his sons had gone away to find work, the other was living at home. Elisha was a kindly and cheerful old man. It is true he drank sometimes, and he took snuff, and was fond of singing, but he was a peaceable man, and lived on good terms with his family and with his neighbours. He was short and dark, with a curly beard, and, like his patron saint Elisha, he was quite bald-headed.
The two old men had taken a vow long since and had arranged to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem together: but Efím could never spare the time; he always had so much business on hand; as soon as one thing was finished he started another. First he had to arrange his grandson’s marriage; then to wait for his youngest son’s return from the army, and after that he began building a new hut.
One holiday the two old men met outside the hut and, sitting down on some timber, began to talk.
‘Well,’ asked Elisha, ‘when are we to fulfil our vow?’
Efím made a wry face.
‘We must wait,’ he said. ‘This year has turned out a hard one for me. I started building this hut thinking it would cost me something over a hundred roubles, but now it’s getting on for three hundred and it’s still not finished. We shall have to wait tin the summer. In summer, God willing, we will go without fail.’
‘It seems to me we ought not to put it off, but should go at once,’ said Elisha. ‘Spring is the best time.’
‘The time’s right enough, but what about my building? How can I leave that?’
‘As if you had no one to leave in charge! Your son can look after it.’
‘But how? My eldest son is not trustworthy—he sometimes takes a glass too much.’
‘Ah, neighbour, when we die they’ll get on without us. Let your son begin now to get some experience.’
‘That’s true enough, but somehow when one begins a thing one likes to see it done.’
‘Eh, friend, we can never get through all we have to do. The other day the women-folk at home were washing and house cleaning for Easter. Here something needed doing, there something else, and they could not get everything done. So my eldest daughter-in-law, who’s a sensible woman, says: ‘We may be thankful the holiday comes without waiting for us, or however hard we worked we should never be ready for it.’
Efím became thoughtful.
‘I’ve spent a lot of money on this building,’ he said ‘and one can’t start on the journey with empty pockets. We shall want a hundred roubles apiece—and it’s no small sum.’
‘Now, come, come, old friend!’ he said, ‘you have ten times as much as I, and yet you talk about money. Only say when we are to start, and though I have nothing now I shall have enough by then.’
Efím also smiled.
‘Dear me, I did not know you were so rich!’ said he. ‘Why, where will you get it from?’
‘I can scrape some together at home, and if that’s not enough, I’ll sell half a score of hives to my neighbour. He’s long been wanting to buy them.’
‘If they swarm well this year, you’ll regret it.’
‘Regret it! Not I, neighbour! I never regretted anything in my life, except my sins. There’s nothing more precious than the soul.’
‘That’s so; still it’s not right to neglect things at home.’
‘But what if our souls are neglected? That’s worse. We took the vow, so let us go! Now, seriously, let us go!’