Gateway to the Classics: For the Children's Hour by Carolyn S. Bailey
For the Children's Hour by  Carolyn S. Bailey

The Elves and the Shoemaker

T HERE was once a shoemaker who worked very hard and was very honest; but still he could not earn enough to live upon, and at last all that he had in the world was gone, except just leather enough to make one pair of shoes. Then he cut them all ready to make up the next day, meaning to get up early in the morning to work. His conscience was clear and his heart light amidst all his cares; so he went peaceably to bed, left all his cares to heaven, and fell asleep.

In the morning, after he had said his prayers, he set himself down to his work, when, to his great wonder, there stood the shoes, already made, upon the table. The good man knew not what to say or think of this strange event. He looked at the workmanship; there was not one false stitch in the whole job, and all was neat and true.

The same day a customer came in, and the shoes pleased him so well that he paid a very high price for them, and the poor shoemaker, with the money, bought leather enough to make two pairs more. In the evening he cut out the work, and went to bed early, that he might get up betimes in the morning to begin his work; but he was saved all the trouble, for when he got up in the morning the work was again all finished. Presently in came buyers who paid him handsomely for his goods, so that he bought leather enough for four pairs more. He cut out the work again overnight, and found it finished in the morning, as before; and so it went on for some time—what was got ready in the evening was always done by daybreak, and the good man soon became thriving and prosperous again.

One evening, about Christmas-time, as he and his wife were sitting over the fire chatting together, he said to her: "I should like to sit up to-night and watch, that we may see who it is that comes and does my work for me."

So they left the light burning, and hid themselves in the corner of the room behind a curtain that was hung up there, and watched to see what would happen.

As soon as it was midnight, there came two little naked dwarfs; and they set themselves upon the shoemaker's bench, took up all the work that was cut out, and began to ply with their little fingers—stitching, and rapping, and tapping at such a rate that the shoemaker was all amazement, and could not take his eyes off for a minute. And on they went until the job was quite finished, and the shoes stood ready for use on the table. This was long before daybreak; and then they bustled away as quick as lightning.

The day before Christmas the wife said to the shoemaker: "These little elves have made us rich, and we ought to be thankful to them, and do something for them in return. I am quite vexed to see them run about as they do; they have nothing upon their backs to keep off the cold. I'll tell you what, I will make them each a shirt, and a waistcoat, and a pair of trousers into the bargain; do you make them each a little pair of shoes."

The thought pleased the shoemaker very much; and, one evening, when all the things were ready, they laid them on the table instead of the work that they used to cut out, and then they went and hid themselves, to watch what the little elves would do. About midnight they came in, and were going to sit down to their work as usual; but when they saw the clothes lying there for them they were greatly delighted. They dressed themselves in the twinkling of an eye, and danced and capered and sang as merry as could be, till at last they danced out of the door over the green, and the shoemaker saw them no more; but everything went well with him from that time forward as long as he lived.

— Adapted from Grimm by Charles Eliot Norton,
"Heart of Oak," Book III

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