[Part 3 of Ruben Saillens’ le Père Martin, translated from French.]
A few homeward bound revellers passed by, but the old shoemaker barely glanced at them. The marketplace vendors came with their small carts. He knew them too well to pay much attention to them.
After an hour or two, his attention was drawn to a young, poorly dressed woman, carrying a child in her arms. She was so pale, so thin, that the old man’s heart was touched. Perhaps she made him think of his daughter. He opened the door and called her.
“Hey, you there!”
The poor woman heard him call and turned in surprise. She saw Papa Martin beckoning her to come.
“You don’t appear to be doing well, ma belle.” (“Ma belle” is the most commonly used expression in old Marseilles. It is used indiscriminately for the fishwives of the Vivaux market, for laundry women, and all women, young or old, rich or poor, who have anything to do in these quarters.)
“I’m going to the hospital,” replied the young woman. “I hope they will admit me with my child. My husband is out at sea and I have been waiting for him for three months.”
“Like I wait for my son,” thought the shoemaker.
“He doesn’t come and now I don’t have a sou left and I’m sick. I really need to go to the hospital.”
“Poor woman,” said the old man tenderly. “You’ll have a bit of bread while you warm up, won’t you?”
“At least a cup of milk for the little one. Take this, I haven’t touched it yet. Warm yourself and let me take the little bundle. I have cared for babies in my day, I know how to handle them. He is good looking, your boy. What! Didn’t you put any shoes on him?”
“I don’t have any,” sighed the poor woman.
“Wait then. I have a pair that will just suit him.”
And the old worker, amidst the protestations and thanks of the mother, went to find the shoes that he had looked at the night before and placed them on the feet of the child. They were just the right size.
Martin stifled a sigh however, in letting go of his best workmanship, the best he had done in his life.
“Bah!” he said, “I have no more need of them for anyone now.” and he returned to the window. He searched the street in such an anxious manner that the young woman was surprised.
“What are you looking for?” she asked.
“I am waiting for my Master,” replied Martin.
The young woman did not understand, or did not care to understand.
“Do you know the Lord Jesus?” he asked.
“Certainly,” she replied while crossing herself. “It’s not such a long time ago that I learned my catechism.”
“It is Him that I am awaiting,” said the old man.
“And you believe He is going to pass by here?”
“He told me so.”
“Impossible! Oh, how I would like to stay with you to see Him myself, if it’s true. . . But you must be mistaken. And then, I need to go to be admitted to the hospital.”
“Can you read?” asked the shoemaker.
“Well then, take this little book,” he said, placing a portion of the gospel in her hands. “Read it carefully, and it will not be exactly the same as if you would see Him, but it will be nearly the same thing, and perhaps you will see Him later.”
The young woman looked doubtful, but took the book and left, saying thank you, and the old man returned to his place before the window.
— to be continued