The Old Shoemaker

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The Old Shoemaker

He had lived a long time there, in the house at the end of the alley, and no one had ever known that he was a great man. He was lean and palsied, and had a crooked back; his beard was grey and ragged, and his eyebrows came too far forward; there were seams and flaps in the empty, yellow old skin, and he gasped horribly when he breathed, taking hold of the lintel of the door to steady himself when he stepped out on the broken bricks of the alley. He lived with a frightful old woman who scrubbed the floors of the rag-shop, and drank beer, and growled at the children who poked fun at her. He had lived with her eighteen years, she said, stroking the furry little kitten that curled up in her neck as if she had been beautiful.

Eighteen years they had been drinking and quarreling together—and suffering. She had seen the flesh sucking away from the bones, and the skin falling in upon them, and the long, lean fingers growing more lean and trembling, as they crooked round his shoemaking tools.

It was very strange she had not grown thin; the beer had bloated her, and rolls of weak, shaking flesh lapped over the ridges of her uncouth figure. Her pale, lack-lustre blue eyes wandered aimlessly about as she talked: No—he had never told her, not even in their quarrels, not even when they were drunken together, of the great Visitor who had come up the little alley, yesterday, walking so stately over the sun-beaten bricks, taking no note of the others, and coming in at the door without asking. She had not expected such an one; how could she? But the Old Shoemaker had shown no surprise at the Mighty One. He smiled and set down the teacup he was holding, and entered into communion with the Stranger. He noticed no others, but continued to smile; and the infinite dignity of the Unknown fell upon him, and covered the wasted old limbs and the hard, wizened face, so that all we who entered, bowed, and went out, and did not speak.

But we understood, for the Mighty One gave understanding without words. We had been in the presence of Freedom! We had stood at the foot of Tabor, and seen this worn, old, world-soiled soul lose all its dross and commonplace, and pass upward smiling, to the Transfiguration. In the hands of the Mighty One the crust had crumbled, and dropped away in impalpable powder. Souls should be mixed of it no more. Only that which passed upward, the fine white playing flame, the heart of the long, life-long watches of patience, should rekindle there in the perennial ascension of the great Soul of Man.