TWO OLD MEN is a popular short story by Leo Tolstoy.Two old men namely Efim Tarasich Sheveley and Elisha Bodrov who live in the same village have long back taken a vow to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem but somehow have not been able to keep it so far.Efim apparently is a rich man , serious natured, without any vices and always remains busy with domestic affairs. Elisha though not as rich as Efim is not poor either and is of a cheerful disposition.
One day Elisha proposes to Efim that together they proceed to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage to keep the vow taken long back and to have God's grace.Efim , involved as he is in his domestic affairs expresses his inability inter alia for the reason that he is short of money as he has already spent a lot on the construction of a new hut.But Elisha by his strong persuasion brings him round and they decide to go.Both arrange money, make necessary preparations, equip themselves with suitable dresses , shoes and necessary items , not without leaving instructions to family members to run the household.They start the long journey on foot.
They stay for the night at different places. At some places they find hospitable people who welcome them at their homes and entertain them with food etc.Efim is a fast walker and Elisha finds it difficult to keep pace with him.At a place Elisha feels a desire to have a drink and tells Efim to keep walking . Efim continues to move alone hoping that soon Elisha will catch up with him.Left behind, Elisha knocks on a door not once but many times but there is no response. At last he opens the door and enters inside.What he sees is simply appalling. This is a family of 5-6 members, literally awaiting death by starvation. Failed crop and famine seem to have taken toll on the kids, the young and the old. There is not even a drop of water in the home , not to speak of anything to eat.
Sensing the difficulty the poor family is in, Elisha opens his bag , takes out the loaves of bread, fetches water from a nearby place and feeds them .He also prepares porridge for them . With food entering their starved bodies , they slowly regain strength and are able to speak. Their plight moves him. He purchases sufficient food items for them, repays their debt to redeem their small piece of land ,buys them a horse and some implements. Seeing that they are on their own and are able to work and fend for themselves, he leaves the place silently without telling his name etc.
Having spent the money on these noble deeds, with money left only sufficient for return journey, he drops the idea of proceeding further and undertakes the back journey.
Reaching home after some days he is welcomed by all. The family members have looked after the household well and everything is fine and in order.
When asked about early return, he cooks up a story that his money got stolen.
Efim on the other hand continues alone also thinking of Elisha and hoping to meet him. Continuing the journey on foot, after many days he reaches at a place from where he boards a ship .The journey is not so smooth and literally the passengers sail through troubled waters.Meanwhile Efim had found a companion,a pilgrim who had purportedly lost his money. He had now become dependent on Efim who only half believes him, worrying all the time that he might steal his money.
Finally the ship reaches Constantinople and they disembark.Efim visits many holy places and on two three occasions finds Elisha,sitting in the front row with his back towards him. Despite efforts to meet him , in the rush and crowd of people,Efim is unable to trace him.
Having visited all places of pilgrimage, Efim proceeds on back journey. Per chance , on return journey he happens to stay at a home where he receives warm welcome and hospitality. The family tells him about a noble soul who had helped them enormously and seen them out of trouble.The description of the man resembling that of Elisha, it takes Efim no time to judge what he had seen at the holy place.
At last Efim also returns home but things at his home are not as good as he had left him.When the two old men meet again and Efim tries to broach the topic, Elisha changes it and the matter remains a secret between them only.
Efim knows that Elisha's pilgrimage has been better.
A wonderful story !