Tell Me a Story by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson

THE ELVES AND THE SHOEMAKER (a German tale)

Once upon a time there lived a shoemaker who through no fault of his own had become poorer and poorer. He was at his wits' end. Now he had only enough leather left to make one more pair of shoes, and he would have to tell his family that they had no money for food. He paced around his workshop, worrying and wondering what to do, and then, without an answer, he lay the last pieces of leather upon his workbench. "I shall make these in the morning," he said, and he softly closed the door behind him and walked upstairs where the family lived. "Tomorrow morning I will decide what to do next," he whispered to himself as he prepared for bed.

The next morning he went downstairs into his workshop. He still had no idea how he would make more money, but when he opened the door to the workshop, he stared in wonder. There, upon the workbench where he had placed his leather, stood a beautiful pair of shoes, sewn with the tiniest and most delicate of stitches, shined until they glowed. He had never seen such shoes.

"Who could have done this?" he whispered, and he peered around, checking the corners and beneath tables and chairs. But no one was about. Puzzled, the shoemaker placed the new shoes in his window, and within moments a wealthy merchant rushed into the shop. "Those shoes," said the merchant. "I must have those shoes. I will pay you anything you wish. They're magnificent."

The shoemaker was not a greedy man, but he sold the shoes for a handsome price, and then, his heart lighter, he closed the shop and walked into the village to purchase some more leather to make more shoes, and to buy, too, a feast for his family. They had not eaten a good meal for far too long.

That afternoon he cut the leather for two more pairs of shoes, and this he laid upon his workbench. He thought he might begin to make the shoes, but when he remembered the sweet potatoes and the ham he had bought in the village, his mouth began to water. And so he closed the shop and ran upstairs.

"How can we afford such delicacies?" his wife asked when she saw the ham, and the shoemaker happily told his wife of the magical appearance of the shoes.

His wife laughed. She did not believe a word he said. She was certain that her husband had himself gone into the workshop at midnight so that he might surprise his family with a treat. He worked far too hard, she knew, and she hoped that perhaps this meant their luck was about to change.

Sure enough their luck had changed, for the next morning when the shoemaker walked into his workshop, he saw in the place where he had lain the leather two sparkling pairs of brand-new shoes, again with that delicate stitching. These he placed in the window, and within minutes, both pairs were sold. Again the shoemaker went to the village and purchased more leather, and again, the next morning, there were, magically, another several pairs of shoes. And so it went on. Whatever he cut out in the evening was sewn by morning. Soon the shoemaker was earning enough money to feed his family well, and before long his shop was the talk of the town. No one made such beautiful shoes. Soon the shoemaker was a wealthy man.

One evening shortly before Christmas, the shoemaker said to his wife, "We must find out who makes our shoes," and she agreed. So that night they lighted a candle and hid in the coats cupboard and waited until all was quiet.

At midnight they heard a sound. A moment later two tiny elves crept beneath the door. They were small and bare, and worked nimbly using their own set of miniature tools.

When the elves had finished sewing the shoes, they slipped beneath the door and disappeared.

"The little elves have made us rich! We must find a way to thank them," said the shoemaker. "They have been like Christmas angels to us."

His wife nodded. "Christmas is coming. They deserve a magnificent gift. They must be cold. Let us make them some clothes and boots."

So the shoemaker and his wife went to work at once. They sewed beautiful suits, and they made shoes, and the shoemaker's wife knitted hats and socks. Then they cooked a miniature feast of meats and breads and cakes, and that night they lay their gifts upon the workshop table and hid, once again, in the cupboard.

When the elves appeared, the shoemaker whispered, "I hope they like their gifts."

"Shhh," his wife whispered, but the elves did not appear to hear. They pounced upon the gifts, trying on their new suits and heartily enjoying the feast. Then they hopped and danced about over the chairs and table and sang, "Now we're boys so fine and neat, why cobble more for others' feet?" And they danced out the door and disappeared!

"We have been blessed," said the shoemaker, and he and his wife hugged each other.

The elves never returned to the workshop, but the shoemaker's business prospered still, and he and his wife and children never forgot the elves, and every Christmas they toasted their tiny friends and hoped that others, everywhere, would be so fortunate.

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