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The Cobbler and the Brownies

One good turn deserves another... and then some.

Hadithi Afrika · The Cobbler and the Brownies

Long, long ago in a village not far from here, there was once a cobbler who worked hard making and mending the villagers' shoes, yet no matter how hard he worked he never seemed to prosper. One evening, tired and defeated, he took his last piece of leather and neatly cut out a pair of shoes and laid the pieces neatly on his bench, intending to finish them in the morning. “There,” said he to his wife; “that is my last piece of leather, and I will have no money to buy more until those shoes are made and sold.” The next morning he went to his shop early to begin work. He made himself a cup of black tea with no sugar (for they were down to their last provisions) and settled down to work when to his surprise he discovered, on his workshop table a fine pair of shoes right where he left the pieces of leather. He took them up and examined them keenly; they were superbly finished and not a fault to be found with them. The stitches were perfectly even and he could not find a stray thread. Indeed, it was much better work than the cobbler would have done. Not even the king’s shoemaker could have done better. The cobbler placed the shoes on his shop window and sat hoping that anyone would find them good enough to buy. He didn't have long to wait for not long after the door swung open for his first customer. He could tell by the gentleman's fine clothing that he was a very rich man. “This is a very fine pair of shoes,” said the rich man after he had examined them closely. “I will take them, and you may make me two more pairs.” He then paid the cobbler a large wad of cash then departed carrying the shoes with him. The cobbler was overjoyed but soon realised the magnitude of the task before him. He knew that if he succeeded he would be paid even more. But he doubted if his skill could match the mysterious cobbler. He set about the village to get the best materials money could buy and only got home late in the evening. Tired and hungry he carefully cut out two more pairs of shoes more spectacular than the first. Seeing that it was late he thought it best to leave the pieces lying on the bench as before hoping to resume early the next morning when his mind was sharp and fingers were nimble. When he came to the shop the next morning, he found both pairs finished and standing side by side on the bench, and they were just, if not better, than the other pair. When the rich man arrived in the morning he was delighted with both pairs even more than the first. This time he brought along his rich friend, who was so impressed with the shoes that he did not delay in placing an order for two more pairs of shoes. So on and on it went. Day in day out, week after week. Soon the cobbler had all the customers he could attend to, and they were always willing to pay high prices for his shoes, no matter what he charged them, for they were better than could be bought anywhere else. But the cobbler was completely puzzled about who was helping him. No matter how late he sat up, nor how early he rose in the morning, he never saw anyone, and he never heard a sound. At last he determined he would watch all night and find out who was doing the work. So when his wife went off to bed he hid himself behind some clothes that were hanging in the corner, and stayed there as still as a mouse. No one would have known there was anybody in the room. The moon shone in through the window and all the house was still. Suddenly he saw two little brownies quietly slip into the room from the shadows though he could not tell where they had entered from. Though it was the rainy season with bitter cold winds neither of them wore a warm coat or nice shoes or long trousers. They immediately picked up the pieces of leather, examined them closely then sat down cross-legged and began to work. They fitted and sewed and hammered, so fast yet so gently that in a short time all the shoes were done. The two little brownies set them neatly in a row on the bench, and nodded to each other as though they were well pleased, and then they went as they came, without a sound, and the cobbler could not tell what had become of them. The next day the cobbler told his wife all that he had seen the night before. The two talked it over. “We ought to do something to show our gratitude to the little brownies,” said his wife. “How would it be if I made a little shirt and a suit for each of them, and you can make them each a pair of shoes.” "What a wonderful idea! They deserve more than that. Perhaps we could also give them something to eat. You could fry some tasty yams in coconut oil and serve it with a gourd of soured goats milk." They set about only too eager to thank the kind brownies. The cobbler went out and bought some fine cloth and yarn, and buttons and also some soft thin leather. Then his wife set to work and made two little shirts and two little suits all complete, even to the pockets and buttonholes, and the cobbler made two tiny pairs of shoes. That evening the house glowed from the aroma of tasty fried yams and soured goats milk. When all was finished, they laid the clothes out on the bench, alongside the tasty meal and that night they left a light burning and hid themselves in the corner behind the clothes, to see what would happen. For a while all they heard was the ticking clock but just as suddenly as they had appeared last time they saw the two little brownies there in the room, moving quietly about, though how they had come there neither the cobbler nor his wife knew. The little brownies went to the bench where the leather was generally laid out, and there, instead of leather pieces were the two little garments and the two little pairs of shoes and beside them was a bowl of tasty yams and a gourd of soured goat's milk. The brownies took up the clothes piece by piece and examined them; they held them up and turned them this way and that then put them on. Last of all they quietly munched away as they chatted in muted tones. After they were done the got up and began to dance about singing as they did: "From out little we have got Something tasty, something hot. Helping strangers all for free, Spreading cheer, extending glee!" So singing they danced about over tables and chairs and benches and so into the shadows they vanished never to be seen again. But the cobbler prospered, and having refined his trade, he became a very rich man.

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