This chapter was begun with UFOs (Unfinished Objects) in mind: Debi was particularly keen on my writing about this subject, as I had told her a few stories I knew from different parts of the world, about how evil spirits and vampires will have to stop and count seeds, broom straws, threads, or discarded pins if they are left on the floor. I also recalled Scottish Tales of "Brownies" (Imps, Wee Folk or Faeries) finishing any sewing, spinning, or carding left undone if they were "attached" to the house, especially if gifts of milk or bread, or cheese were left out for them.
Debi felt better about her UFOs when she learned that they were protecting us from vampires and other nasty beasties (we don't subscribe to the ridiculous, pouting teenage version being hawked these days). That said, I'm sure that at times, we all wish we had little helpers finishing our projects for us.
Although my favourite source (W.Y. Evans Wentz) has a few such tales, I've decided to tell a favourite from my childhood, and so here is
|Illustration: Rie Cramer "The Elves Began to Stitch, Sew, and Hammer." Grimms Fairy Tales. 1927|
Once upon a time there was a shoemaker who lived on a small dirt road between a tiny village and a Royal Burgh. In earlier days, the road had been the main thoroughfare to the Burgh, which had a grand palace, but a newer and straighter road had been built to the east, and the traffic past the cobbler's house and shop had slowed to a mere trickle. Although he had once been very successful, soon he was unable to sell enough shoes to purchase new materials as well as food, and he was finally left with only enough leather to make one pair of shoes. He cut the pieces of each shoe with care, as he'd always done, but he soon grew weary and dejected, and decided to climb upstairs to bed to rest. He would begin the work in the morning.
He awoke early to his wife praising his work - dazed, he descended the stairs into the workshop by the kitchen, where his wife had the kettle on.
"These shoes, these shoes!" She exclaimed, "I've not seen you make a pair this fine since you were young! How did you make them so quickly? You came to bed earlier than usual last night!"
The cobbler was amazed. Even in his younger days his work was never this fine - he was very skilled but the stitching on this pair of shoes was remarkably intricate; so fine was the work that it seemed as if the thread was simply wrapped around the shoe rather than stitched. They were dyed a wonderful, deep oxblood colour and polished to a brilliant shine. The laces were tightly braided in a pattern he didn't know how to reproduce, and the soles were adorned with strange curvilinear patterns.
"I must admit, my dear," he said, scratching his head through his tartan nightcap, "I did not make these shoes. They are far beyond my skill."
"But who could have made them?" His wife asked as the kettle began to whistle.
"Who indeed?" He replied, dazedly dropping some tea leaves in the acorn-shaped strainer, and setting it in the pot.
Just then, a splendid carriage came down the road and stopped before the cobbler's house. The cobbler's wife quickly grabbed the shoes from the workbench and put them in the display window. No sooner had she done so than a finely dressed gentleman knocked on the door.
"Those shoes!" He exclaimed, "I've never seen a finer pair! I must have them! I am riding to the Palace and these shoes will make me the talk of the Court!"
And with that, he took seven gold coins out of his purse and gave them to the cobbler. Stunned, as this was many times what his shoes usually merited, his wife took the shoes out of the display window, as the cobbler pulled up a chair for the dandy young man to sit in. When the shoes were on, the man stood up, bouncing a bit on his heels.
"These shoes are the most comfortable I've ever worn! I will be back in three days: I want seven more pairs in different colours!"
And with that, he was gone, leaving the cobbler and his wife to marvel at the great inexplicable turn their fortunes had suddenly taken.
The cobbler set out to the tanner's just after breakfast, and was able to buy enough leather to make more shoes. Again, he began to carefully cut out the pieces for the shoes but by the time he finished, he was far too tired to continue, and felt that with a good night's sleep, he would be able to make the shoes in the next two days.
But in the morning, he and his wife awoke to find seven pairs of shoes, even finer and more colourful than the first pair; with fancy frills and intricately-tooled designs on the toes and heels. As promised, the gentleman returned and delighted with their craftsmanship, paid handsomely for the shoes.
The gentleman's shoes had been greatly admired at Court, and the cobbler now had many customers coming up the old road to purchase his shoes. Every night, he cut out the patterns from the leather, and every morning he awoke to find expertly-crafted shoes and boots ready to put in the window.
After a while though, the cobbler suggested to his wife that they stay up and see who their mysterious helpers were. That night, after cutting out pieces of shoes, they secreted themselves in a corner of the room behind a curtain and waited.
At midnight two little brown men wearing nothing but ancient-looking, tattered aprons came and started sewing the shoe pieces together, singing merrily; their laughter sounding like glass bells. The two elves did not stop until the shoes were completed and then they vanished as quickly as they had come.
Now the cobbler and his wife knew who were making the shoes. The wife suggested,
"The wee men have brought us such wealth and happiness, we must show them our gratitude. They must be cold, wearing such flimsy, threadbare garments. I will sew them little shirts and trousers, waistcoats and jackets, and you make them hats. I'll knit them a pair of stockings while you make their shoes." The cobbler readily agreed, and they put the kettle on and set to work.
They were quite excited to give their gifts to the two elves. They hid behind the curtain again, but this time they laid out the little outfits for the elves to find instead of work.
That night, the two elves ran in as usual, but did not find anything to work on. All they found were the sets of clothing. They were delighted. They put on all the clothes and then said:
"Now we are boys so fine to see,The elves danced out the doors and they never came back. The shoemaker and his wife continued to make fine shoes and garments, and were well-off and happy the rest of their lives.
Why should we longer cobblers be?"
Main Source: Grimms Fairy Tales. 1927. Olcott, F.J.(ed). Philadelphia: The Penn Publishing Co.