From the Archive-Stories from Near and Far: The Red Leather Shoes (149)
Today’s story, The red leather shoes, is about a shoemaker who extends kindness to someone in need. And what she gets in return, she never saw coming!
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Long, long ago, in a small village in a sprawling kingdom, there lived a shoemaker.
Customers travelled from all corners of the kingdom to order shoes from the shoemaker. For everyone agreed the woman had a gift for making the most beautiful, comfortable footwear, and making it fast.
Children, which colour are your favourite shoes?
Everyone was in awe of her skill and speed.
Eventually, though, things began to change.
The shoemaker was growing older — so her eyes were growing weaker, her fingers were growing stiffer, and her work was growing slower.
But, the shoes she made were still as beautiful and comfortable as ever, but her customers were growing annoyed about how long they had to wait. Soon, the customers found a cobbler in the capital city, a young fellow who could churn out shoes like they were pancakes on a griddle, but certainly, the craftsmanship suffered and was no way close to the shoemakers.
Unfortunately, before long, the shoemaker in the village had no customers. And with no customers, she had no income. She couldn’t afford the material to make new shoes… or food to fill her belly!
Children, what do you think will happen to her now?
One morning, as she sat down for a meager breakfast of rice and tea, she glanced around her dusty shop. The shoemaker frowned as she sipped her tea. If she didn’t get any customers soon, she’d be in trouble! She kept thinking that there must be something she could do. Then, all of a sudden, something caught her eye. She shuffled to the kitchen, stretched up her creaky arms, and brought a box down from the shelf. It was a wooden box made from a walnut tree, with elaborate, intricate designs carved along the sides and top.
When the shoemaker lifted the box’s dusty lid, her eyes lit up. “There you are! I’d almost forgotten about you!”
Children, do you have a special box in which you keep your most prized possessions?
Let’s listen ahead to find out what she found in the box.
The shoemaker reached inside and unfolded a big piece of leather. She rubbed the material between her fingers. It was as smooth as the petals of a rose and as red as a pomegranate.
The leather had been a gift from her mother, a brilliantly talented shoemaker who passed all of her skills down to her one and only child. And years and years ago, just before the old woman cobbled her final pair of shoes and let out her final breath, she pulled her daughter aside and placed the leather in her hand.
The shoemaker recalled her mother’s words, “This leather will make a marvelous pair of shoes, but do not be hasty in using it, wait for the right time.”
The shoemaker knew the time had come. At last, she would use her beloved red leather to make a magnificent pair of shoes — so magnificent that she could make a pretty penny selling them!
The shoemaker fetched her cobbling tools and got to work. Day after day, week after week, month after month, she stooped down at her table, until at last the red leather shoes were finished. She excitedly placed the shoes in the front window of her shop expecting someone to buy it.
And sure enough, it wasn’t long before she heard the door chime ring. A customer entered and asked her the price of that pair of shoes.
The shoemaker proudly said, “ They’re fifty silver coins.”
“Fifty silver coins? The cobbler in the capital city would charge way less than that!” the customer yelled out in surprise.
The shoemaker explained, “But the cobbler in the capital city would never craft ….”
Before even she could finish her sentence, the customed stomped out, “I’m sorry. But fifty silver coins sounds way too steep to me. Good luck with the shoes.”
Well, as it turned out, the shoemaker needed far more than luck. All those who walked in, walked out saying that it was way too expensive compared to the one in the capital city. Much to the old shoemaker's dismay, all of them made a beeline for the door.
Well, it wasn’t long before the shoemaker’s cupboards were bare, her pockets were empty, and she was left with little more than a heavy heart and a hungry belly.
Then one evening, as a ferocious storm raged outside, the shoemaker sat huddled by the fire. She was rubbing her bony hands and trying to ignore her grumbling belly when all of a sudden she heard a knock. ...
Children, who could be at the door?
The shoemaker heaved herself to her feet and waddled to the door. Shivering outside was a haggard man. His face was smudged with soot. Raindrops pelted down on his long, shabby coat and tattered hat.
He said, “Good evening, madam. Sorry to bother you, but I spotted the glow of your fire through your front window. I’ve been begging in the streets all day long and I am chilled to my bones! May I please come in and warm myself?”
“Of course!” The shoemaker took the beggar’s arm and led him to the fire. She said, “I would have offered you some food, but I ate my last bowl of rice days ago, and I haven’t been able to …”
The shoemaker stopped short. For her eyes had wandered down to the beggar’s feet. The man wasn’t wearing any shoes or socks, and his toes, soles, and heels were all dirty and wet.
“I’m sorry, sir... but your feet! Have you no shoes to wear?”
“No, madam. I have no shoes. As a poor beggar, I have nothing at all, really! But you.. How is it you’ve fallen on such hard times?
The shoemaker heaved a sigh and told the whole story.
The beggar nodded. Then he gestured toward the front window.
“I couldn’t help but notice those red leather shoes you have on display. They’re utterly spectacular! I’ve never seen anything like them! Are you telling me nobody will buy those?”
Sadly the shoemaker said, “Not even one! Everyone who comes into my shop says the shoes are too expensive.”
“That’s a pity, hope people understand and appreciate the craftsmanship of these splendid shoes. Well, it’s time for me to move on. Thank you for the fire and for the company. It means more than I can say.” The old beggar said.
As the man began trudging toward the door, the shoemaker stopped him
Children, why did the shoemaker stop the beggar?
Well, the shoemaker gave him the red leather shoes from the window.
The old beggar’s eyes twinkled as he slipped the shoes on. They fit like a glove. The old beggar thanked her profusely and disappeared into the dark and rainy night.
By morning, the storm had passed. Outside the shoemaker’s shop, the sky sparkled a brilliant blue, and the sun shone high in the sky.
That day the shoemaker decided that she would sell her cobbling tools to get some money then decide what to do next.
But just as the shoemaker began gathering up her hammers and scissors, her pincers and pliers...there was a knock at the door.
Children, any guesses on who was at the door?
When the shoemaker opened the door, she saw an elegant horse and carriage on the street outside. The finely-dressed driver waved his velvet-gloved hand and grinned. He politely said, “Good morning, madam! Please, come with me. We don’t have a moment to waste. The King wishes to see you immediately!”
The shoemaker was confused. The king? But she did as she was instructed and climbed into the carriage.
When the carriage reached the palace, the shoemaker was ushered into a great hall. The moment she spotted the king sitting on his plush velvet throne, decked out in his lush satin robe, she bowed low to the ground.
The king said, “Good morning, dear madam! Please. You may rise.”
Slowly, she rose to her feet.
The king went on, “ I’ve summoned you to my palace to repay you for the red leather shoes.
The shoemaker blinked her eyes. She was totally confused.
The king explained, “ You see, nobody outside these palace walls knows it, but from time to time, I like to disguise myself, so I may wander about my kingdom unrecognized. I wish to see first-hand how my people live and how they treat each other. Last night I disguised myself as an old beggar. I made my way to your shop in the thunder, wind, and rain and I knocked at your door. And what did you do? You took me in, you sat me by the fire, and you gave me your most prized possession; the red leather shoes.
The shoemaker felt her cheeks flush and said, “Of course I couldn't just leave you out there shivering in the cold!”
The king added, “So you say. But do you know how many of your fellow citizens turned me away as I wandered from house to house? Do you know how many of them slammed their door in my face? And so I’d like to repay you by making you the official royal shoemaker. And in return, you may live in this palace and enjoy all the comforts therein. Do you accept my offer?”
The shoemaker’s heart stuttered and skittered inside her chest. It felt like a dragonfly fluttering its delicate wings.
Humbled the shoemaker said, “Yes, Your Majesty. I accept your offer.”
And so, the shoemaker packed up her shop in the village and moved into the palace, where she spent her days making beautiful, comfortable shoes for the king.
She worked slowly, but the king didn’t mind. For what the shoemaker lacked in speed, she made up for in skill. And even if her hands weren’t quick, her heart was warm, and that’s what mattered most of all.