Monday, 22 December 2014

Telling Tales - The Shoemaker's Son and the One-legged Marquis

It is the season to tell tales. Following the tradition, here is a story that mixes a little of my family history with some well-known fairy tales. The real people featured in a post on my personal blog, The Housekeeper, the Valet and Grand Connections.

The Shoemaker's Son and the One-legged Marquis

Walter Crane [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Once upon a time there was an old shoemaker, or cordwainer, who though he was highly skilled at making very fine boots, had fallen on hard times. He lived with his wife, a wise woman, and young son, Robert, who was just old enough to be apprenticed. The old shoemaker despaired that the young lad would ever learn his trade because he did not listen.

One dark and stormy night there was a loud knock at the door.On opening it the shoemaker found a imposing man who had a wooden leg.The one-legged man, who was well dressed but wet and muddy, introduced himself as the Marquis and explained that his horse was lame having lost a shoe. The shoemaker arranged a room at the inn and stabled the horse while his wife took the Marquis' cloak to wash and dry, and young Robert cleaned the Marquis' boot. Curious about the wooden leg Robert asked why the Marquis only wore one boot. "I left the other boot with my leg on the battle field at Waterloo", said the Marquis, "And have never found another boot to fit". Even though the one boot was old and very worn, Robert had polished it until it shone. The Marquis was pleased and tossed Robert a silver shilling. Robert handed the coin to his mother for safe keeping.

Robert asked his father if he could make a new pair of boots for the Marquis. The shoemaker pondered awhile and took out the leather he had. "There is only enough for one pair of boots", he said "And if they do not fit, we will be ruined". So saying, the shoemaker went to bed.

Two elves who lived under the floorboards had heard and seen all. In those days, shoemakers learned their trade from elves who whispered instructions while apprentices slept. The elves whispered in the shoemaker's ear all night for making the Marquis' boots needed great skill. The following morning the shoemaker was inspired and set to work. When his horse had recovered from its lameness and the Marquis came to collect his cloak, the boots were ready. He was so pleased that he paid handsomely and was so impressed that Robert persuaded the shoemaker to make them that he said, "There is plenty of work in my great London house for such a thoughtful young man. Send him there if you please." Robert was very excited by the prospect as everyone knew the streets of London were paved with gold, the shoemaker thought it an excellent idea, but his wife said nothing. She had been born within the sound of Bow bells, so knew otherwise.

Late at night after everyone else had gone to bed the shoemaker's wife tapped the floor for she wished to receive council from the elves. After listening to her concerns they agreed to help in return for new clothes. They blessed the silver shilling Robert had earned and made a tiny pair of boots from the scraps of leather left over from the Marquis' pair. "He who spends a blessed shilling wisely will prosper if he keeps the boots clean", said the elves. The following morning the shoemaker's wife gave Robert the coin and miniature boots telling him to always keep them clean and to spend the shilling only if he were in dire need.

So prepared, Robert went to London. The butler of the Marquis' great house set Robert to work and all should have been well. But young Robert did not listen to the butler's instructions, so was frequently chastised for not doing his work properly. To make things worse, Robert's attic room was infested with rats and mice, so he could not sleep a wink. That made Robert sleepy and forgetful, which made his work even more sloppy. The other servants did not like such a poor worker, so when they were not telling him off, they shunned him. Poor Robert was very lonely and unhappy!

One day he resolved to run away, so packed his meagre belongings and was creeping past the kitchen when he heard a sweet voice singing. For the first time he truly listened and was enchanted. Instead of running away Robert entered the kitchen and introduced himself to the maid whose voice he had heard. The maid, Mary, had just arrived in London so was pleased to make a friend. When she heard of Robert's woes, she suggested he spend his shilling on a cat and knew that kittens had recently been born at a nearby mill.

Robert brought home a kitten that day. Some say that miller's cats are special, others say anything bought with a blessed shilling is magical. From that day on, rats and mice no longer kept Robert awake. Once he was well rested, Robert paid attention to the butler and other servants, so did his work well. Soon he worked so well and quickly that he had time to see Mary. Both Robert and Mary worked hard and learned everything about running a big house.After some years, Robert became the Marquis' personal valet and Mary became the housekeeper.

When the old Marquis died, Robert and Mary set up a luxurious hotel in Mayfair. We do not know how they raised the money, but some fanciful people say the cat dressed up in boots had something to do with it.


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World Wide Genealogy Team