The Cobler and the Elves

Fenton's father had just taken another factory, but there was talk of a strike, and some of what father fondly called his "able‑bodied bodies" were threatening to quit!  Such defiance of father quite puzzled Fen­ton.  He knew that unions had tried this sort of thing, but father was free to prohibit them.  Clearly none of the house staff could ever quit ‑‑ where would they live?  Yet that is precisely what these workers were threatening to do.  Would they walk out on father?

It being her turn, Mother arranged a sit‑down with Fenton and told him the story of the cobblers and the elves.

"Once there was a cobbler," she began, "who lived in a little house with his wife who helped but not enough for they were dirt poor." (Fenton stifled a smile at the expres­sion "dirt poor," reminding him as it did of the humorous discussion he and father had on this su­bject in which Fenton learned that it was possible to work in dirt and not be poor provid­ed you owned the dirt ‑‑ or as father said, if you owned enough dirt.  Father always chuckled great­ly at that last, and Fenton had fantastical visions of owning all the dirt there was and laugh­ing broadly at being, as father put it, "dirt rich.­")  

"In fact," continued mother, warming to the story, "they were so poor that they had but enough leather to make but one pair of boots and enough soup for but one bowl of soup.  The cobbler sadly laid the leath­er on the work table and retired for the night.

"That even­ing, a number of elves came prancing into the shop and set to work tran­sforming the leather into a most wondr­ous pair of boots.  Before the cobbler (and his wife) awoke, the elves did their last merry little jig, sang their last merry little song, and scampered off to the woods.

"You can imagine the cob­bler's joy when he saw the boots sparkling on the workbenc­h!  And you can imagine his feel­ings when a handsome noblem­an pur­chased them at top dollar!

"'At last, old cobbler's wife,' he exalted 'we can buy leather to make more boot­s!'

"Without delay, he purchased more leather, and being a smart cob­bler for one so poor, he laid it on the workt­ab­le, shared a full meal with his wife, and retir­ed early to test the magic.

"Sure enough, the elves sang and danced their merry way through many beautiful boots which were snatched up by the good people of the community who could afford them.  This happy circumstance continued, so the cob­bler prospe­red and his wife insisted that they reward the elves with a full set of clothes.  

"Upon seeing the clothes, the elves went into a frenzy of dancing, hugging and kissing.  All at once they sang, 'Oh, since we are no longer poor, cobblers we need be no more!' Then, taking a last look 'round the shop, they raced into the woods never, ever to return.                    

"'Who will make the boots?' wonder­ed the cob­bler's wife to her­self.  'Who will make the boots?'

       This was a serio­us question, as the cob­bler's years of labor had left him with what Father calls "E­mmanu­al's  disease" where a per­son's hands become bony and stiff be­cause they can't read English.  Without new boots to sell, his fortune and his friends were soon gone, and he lived out his days in sickness and poverty.  So great was his anger that he never again spoke to his wife, though she spoke to him until shortly after his death when she, too, died, alone and poor."

Fenton was visibly upset by the direction the story had taken.  Sometimes, he felt, it was better to dis­pense with uncertainty and get right to the point.  But his parents liked to draw out these stories.  Or so it seemed to him.  Mother smiled, sens­ing Fenton's discom­fort.          

"Now down the road, anoth­er cobbler had prospered from a similar elfin visit.  But he was smart—like father."  Fenton beamed.    

"When his meddling wife sug­gested that they provide a  full set of clothes for the elves, he retorted that the elves 'are a proud people, who are good with their hands­.'

"So he laid out just the right amount of leather and  retired for the night.  Upon seeing the leather, the elves fell into their wild dance until one of them real­ized that it was not enough to fully clothe them all.          

"The next night the cobbler laid out almost enough mate­ri­al to make ties for the elves."   

"But," broke in Fenton, "wouldn't the cobbler even­tually have to lay out enough mater­ial to fully clothe all the elves?"      

"Of course, dear," replied his mothe­r.  "but by then the initial material would have become thread­bare and worn—hardly the cloth of your in­dependent elf.  The genius of the smart cobbler was to keep just enough mater­ial dangled in front of the elves to keep them coming back." 

"Did they still dance their little jigs and sing their little songs?" asked Fenton.

"No," sighed mother, ringing for help, "but they showed up nights and worked their elfin butts off."              

They shared a brief smile, mother and Fenton.