The Merry Cobbler and his Coat by Unknown

Spare, the merry cobbler, of whom we read in the last story, was treated like a prince at the King’s court; and the news of his good fortune reached his brother Scrub in the moorland cottage one first of April, when the cuckoo came again with two golden leaves.

“Think of that!” said Fairfeather. “Here we are spending our lives in this humdrum place, and Spare making his fortune at court with two or three paltry green leaves! What would they say to our golden ones? Let us make our way to the King’s palace.”

Scrub thought this excellent reasoning. So, putting on their holiday clothes, Fairfeather took her looking-glass and Scrub his drinking-horn, which happened to have a very thin rim of silver, and, each carrying a golden leaf carefully wrapped up that none might see it till they reached the palace, the pair set out in great expectation.

How far Scrub and Fairfeather journeyed we cannot say, but when the sun was high and warm at noon they came into a wood feeling both tired and hungry.

“Let us rest ourselves under this tree,” said Fairfeather, “and look at our golden leaves to see if they are quite safe.”

In looking at the leaves, and talking of their fine prospects, Scrub and Fairfeather did not perceive that a very thin old woman had slipped from behind the tree, with a long staff in her hand and a great wallet by her side.

“Noble lord and lady,” she said, “will ye condescend to tell me where I may find some water to mix a bottle of mead which I carry in my wallet, because it is too strong for me?”

As the old woman spoke, she pulled out a large wooden bottle such as shepherds used in the ancient times, corked with leaves rolled together, and having a small wooden cup hanging from its handle.

“Perhaps ye will do me the favor to taste,” she said. “It is only made of the best honey. I have also cream cheese and a wheaten loaf here, if such honorable persons as you would not think it beneath you to eat the like.”

Scrub and Fairfeather became very condescending after this speech. They were now sure that there must be some appearance of nobility about them; besides, they were very hungry, and, having hastily wrapped up the golden leaves, they assured the old woman they were not at all proud, notwithstanding the lands and castles they had left behind them in the North Country, and would willingly help to lighten the wallet.

The old woman was a wood-witch; her name was Buttertongue; and all her time was spent in making mead, which, being boiled with curious herbs and spells, had the power of making all who drank it fall asleep and dream with their eyes open. She had two dwarfs of sons; one was named Spy, and the other Pounce. Wherever their mother went, they were not far behind; and whoever tasted her mead was sure to be robbed by the dwarfs.

Scrub and Fairfeather sat leaning against the old tree. The cobbler had a lump of cheese in his hand; his wife held fast a hunch of bread. Their eyes and mouths were both open, but they were dreaming of great grandeur at court, when the old woman raised her shrill voice:

“What ho, my sons! Come here, and carry home the harvest!”

No sooner had she spoken than the two little dwarfs darted out of the neighboring thicket.

“Idle boys!” cried the mother. “What have ye done to-day to help our living?”

“I have been to the city,” said Spy, “and could see nothing. These are hard times for us—everybody minds his business so contentedly since that cobbler came. But here is a leathern doublet which his page threw out of the window; it’s of no use, but I brought it to let you see I was not idle.” And he tossed down Spare’s doublet, with the merry leaves in it, which he had been carrying like a bundle on his little back.

To explain how Spy came by it, it must be said that the forest was not far from the great city where Spare lived in such high esteem. All things had gone well with the cobbler till the King thought that it was quite unbecoming to see such a worthy man without a servant. His Majesty therefore appointed one of his own pages to wait upon him. The name of this youth was Tinseltoes, and nobody in all the court had grander notions. Nothing could please him that had not gold or silver about it, and his grandmother feared he would hang himself for being appointed page to a cobbler. As for Spare, the honest man had been so used to serve himself that the page was always in the way, but his  merry leaves came to his assistance.

Tinseltoes took wonderfully to the new service. Some said it was because Spare gave him nothing to do but play at bowls all day on the palace green. Yet one thing grieved the heart of Tinseltoes, and that was his master’s leathern doublet, and at last, finding nothing better would do, the page got up one fine morning earlier than his master, and tossed the leathern doublet out of the window into a lane, where Spy found it.

“That nasty thing!” said the old woman. “Where is the good in it?”

By this time Pounce had taken everything of value from Scrub and Fairfeather—the looking-glass, the silver-rimmed horn, the husband’s scarlet coat, the wife’s gay mantle, and, above all, the golden leaves, which so rejoiced old Buttertongue and her sons that they threw the leathern doublet over the sleeping cobbler for a jest, and went off to their hut in the heart of the forest.

The sun was going down when Scrub and Fairfeather awoke from dreaming that they had been made a lord and a lady, and sat clothed in silk and velvet, feasting with the King in his palace hall. It was a great disappointment to find their golden leaves and all their best things gone. Scrub tore his hair, and vowed to take the old woman’s life; while Fairfeather lamented sore. But Scrub, feeling cold for want of his coat, put on the leathern doublet without asking whence it came.

Scarcely was it buttoned on when a change came over him. He addressed such merry discourse to Fairfeather that, instead of lamentations, she made the wood ring with laughter. Both busied themselves in setting up a hut of boughs, in which Scrub kindled a fire with a flint of steel, which, together with his pipe, he had brought unknown to Fairfeather, who had told him the like was never heard of at court. Then they found a pheasant’s nest at the root of an old oak, made a meal of roasted eggs, and went to sleep on a heap of long green grass which they had gathered, with nightingales singing all night long in the old trees about them.

In the meantime Spare had got up and missed his doublet. Tinseltoes, of course, said he knew nothing about it. The whole palace was searched, and every servant questioned, till all the court wondered why such a fuss was made about an old leathern doublet. That very day things came back to their old fashion. Quarrels began among the lords, and jealousies among the ladies. The King said his subjects did not pay him half enough taxes, the Queen wanted more jewels, the servants took to their old bickerings and got up some new ones. Spare found himself getting wonderfully dull, and very much out of place, and nobles began to ask what business a cobbler had at the King’s table; till at last his Majesty issued a decree banishing the cobbler forever from court, and confiscating all his goods in favor of Tinseltoes.

That royal edict was scarcely published before the page was in full possession of his rich chamber, his costly garments, and all the presents the courtiers had given him; while Spare was glad to make his escape out of the back window, for fear of the angry people.

The window from which Spare let himself down with a strong rope was that from which Tinseltoes had tossed the doublet, and as the cobbler came down late in the twilight, a poor woodman, with a heavy load of fagots, stopped and stared in astonishment.

“What’s the matter, friend?” said Spare. “Did you never see a man coming down from a back window before?”

“Why,” said the woodman, “the last morning I passed here a leathern doublet came out of that window, and I’ll be bound you are the owner of it.”

“That I am, friend,” said the cobbler with great eagerness. “Can you tell me which way that doublet went?”

“As I walked on,” the woodman said, “a dwarf called Spy, bundled it up and ran off into the forest.”

Determined to find his doublet, Spare went on his way, and was soon among the tall trees; but neither hut nor dwarf could he see. At last the red light of a fire, gleaming through a thicket, led him to the door of a low hut. It stood half open, as if there was nothing to fear, and within he saw his brother Scrub snoring loudly on a bed of grass, at the foot of which lay his own leathern doublet; while Fairfeather, in a kirtle made of plaited rushes, sat roasting pheasants’ eggs by the fire.

“Good evening, mistress!” said Spare.

The blaze shone on him, but so changed was her brother-in-law with his court life that Fairfeather did not know him, and she answered far more courteously than was her wont.

“Good evening, master! Whence come ye so late? But speak low, for my good man has sorely tired himself cleaving wood, and is taking a sleep, as you see, before supper.”

“A good rest to him,” said Spare, perceiving he was not known. “I come from the court for a day’s hunting, and have lost my way in the forest.”

“Sit down and have a share of our supper,”  said Fairfeather; “I will put some more eggs in the ashes; and tell me the news of court.”

“Did you never go there?” said the cobbler. “So fair a dame as you would make the ladies marvel.”

“You are pleased to flatter,” said Fairfeather; “but my husband has a brother there, and we left our moorland village to try our fortune also. An old woman enticed us with fair words and strong drink at the entrance of this forest, where we fell asleep and dreamt of great things; but when we woke everything had been robbed from us, and, in place of all, the robbers left him that old leathern doublet, which he has worn ever since, and never was so merry in all his life, though we live in this poor hut.”

“It is a shabby doublet, that,” said Spare, taking up the garment, and seeing that it was his own, for the merry leaves were still sewed in its lining. “It would be good for hunting in, however. Your husband would be glad to part with it, I dare say, in exchange for this handsome cloak.” And he pulled off the green mantle and buttoned on the doublet, much to Fairfeather’s delight, for she shook Scrub, crying:

“Husband, husband, rise and see what a good bargain I have made!”

Scrub rubbed his eyes, gazed up at his brother, and said:

“Spare, is that really you? How did you like the court, and have you made your fortune?”

“That I have, brother,” said Spare, “in getting back my own good leathern doublet. Come, let us eat eggs, and rest ourselves here this night. In the morning we will return to our own old hut, at the end of the moorland village, where the Christmas cuckoo will come and bring us leaves.”

Scrub and Fairfeather agreed. So in the morning they all returned, and found the old hut little the worse for wear and weather. The neighbors came about them to ask the news of court, and see if they had made their fortune. Everybody was astonished to find the three poorer than ever, but somehow they liked to be back to the hut. Spare brought out the lasts and awls he had hidden in a corner; Scrub and he began their old trade, and the whole North Country found out that there never were such cobblers. Everybody wondered why the brothers had not been more appreciated before they went away to the court of the King, but, from the highest to the lowest, all were glad to have Spare and Scrub back again.

They mended the shoes of lords and ladies as well as the common people; everybody was satisfied. Their custom increased from day to day, and all that were disappointed, discontented, or unlucky, came to the hut as in old times, before Spare went to court.

The hut itself changed, no one knew how. Flowering honeysuckle grew over its roof; red and white roses grew thick about its door. Moreover, the Christmas cuckoo always came on the first of April, bringing three leaves of the merry tree—for Scrub and Fairfeather would have no more golden ones. So it was with them when the last news came from the North Country.