Farmer Boy (Chapter 23)
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mother was worrying and scolding because the cobbler had not come.
Almanzo’s moccasins were worn to rags, and Royal had outgrown last year’s boots. He had slit them all around to get his feet in them.
Their feet ached with cold, but nothing could be done until the cobbler came. It was almost time for Royal and Eliza Jane and Alice to go to the Academy, and they had no shoes. And still the cobbler didn’t come.
Mother’s shears went snickety-snick through the web of beautiful sheep’s-gray cloth she had woven. She cut and fitted and basted and sewed, and she made Royal a handsome new suit, with a greatcoat to match. She made him a cap with flaps that buttoned, like boughten caps.
For Eliza Jane she made a new dress of wine-colored cloth, and she made Alice a new dress of indigo blue. The girls were ripping their old dresses and bonnets, sponging and pressing them and sewing them together again the other side out, to look like new.
In the evenings Mother’s knitting-needles flashed and clicked, making new stockings for them all. She knitted so fast that the needles got hot from rubbing together. But they could not have new shoes unless the cobbler came
He didn’t come. The girl’s skirts hid their old shoes, but Royal had to go to the Academy in his fine suit, with last year’s boots that were slit all around and showed his white socks through. It couldn’t be helped.
The last morning came. Father and Almanzo did the chores. Every window in the house blazed with candle-light, and Almanzo missed Royal in
Royal and the girls were all dressed up at breakfast. No one ate much. Father went to hitch up, and Almanzo lugged the carpet-bags downstairs. He wished Alice wasn’t going away.
The sleigh-bells came jingling to the door, and Mother laughed and wiped her eyes with her apron. They all went out to the sleigh. The horses pawed and shook jingles from the bells. Alice tucked the lap robe over her bulging skirts, and Father let the horses go. The sleigh slid by and turned into the road. Alice’s black-veiled face looked back and she called:
Almanzo did not like that day much. Everything seemed large and still and empty. He ate dinner all alone with Father and Mother. Chore-time was earlier because Royal was gone. Almanzo hated to go into the house and not see Alice. He even missed Eliza Jane.
After he went to bed he lay awake and wondered what they were doing, five long miles away.
Next morning the cobbler came! Mother went to the door and said to him:
“Well, this is a pretty time to be coming, I must say! Three weeks late, and my children as good as barefoot!”
But the cobbler was so good-natured that she couldn’t be angry long. It wasn’t his fault; he had been kept three weeks at one house, making shoes for
The cobbler was a fat, jolly man. His cheeks and his stomach shook when he chuckled. He set up his cobbler’s bench in the dining-room by the window, and opened his box of tools. Already he had Mother laughing at his jokes.
Father brought last year’s tanned hides, and he and the cobbler discussed them all morning.
Dinner-time was gay. The cobbler told all the news, he praised Mother’s cooking, and he told jokes till Father roared and Mother wiped her eyes. Then the cobbler asked Father what he should make first, and Father answered: “I guess you better begin with boots for Almanzo.”
Almanzo could hardly believe it. He had wanted boots for so long. He had thought he must wear moccasins until his feet stopped growing so fast.
“You’ll spoil the boy, James,” Mother said, but Father answered:
“He’s big enough now to wear boots.”
Almanzo could hardly wait for the cobbler to begin. First the cobbler looked at all the wood in the woodshed. He wanted a piece of maple, perfectly seasoned, and with a straight, fine grain.
When he found it, he took his small saw, and he sawed off two thin slabs. One was exactly an inch thick; the other was a half inch thick. He measured, and sawed their corners square.
He took the slabs to his cobbler’s bench, and sat down, and opened his box of tools. It was divided into little compartments, and every kind of cobbler’s tool was neatly laid in them.
The cobbler laid the thicker slab of maplewood on the bench before him. He took a long, sharp knife and cut the whole top of the slab into tiny ridges. Then he turned it around and cut ridges the other way, making tiny, pointed peaks.
He laid the edge of a thin, straight knife in the groove between two ridges, and gently tapped it with a hammer. A thin strip of wood split off, notched all along one side. He moved the knife, and tapped it, till all the wood was in strips. Then holding a strip by one end, he struck his knife in the notches, and every time he struck, a shoe-peg split off. Every peg was an inch long, an eighth of an inch square, and pointed at the end.
The thinner piece of maple he made into pegs, too, and those pegs were half an inch long.
Now the cobbler was ready to measure Almanzo for his boots. Almanzo took off his moccasins and his socks, and stood on a piece of paper while the cobbler carefully drew around his feet with his big pencil.
Then the cobbler measured his feet in every direction, and wrote down the figures.
He did not need Almanzo any more now, so Almanzo helped Father husk corn. He had a little husking-peg, like Father’s big one. He buckled the strap around his right mitten, and the wooden peg stood up like a second thumb, between his thumb and fingers.
He and Father sat on milking-stools in the cold barnyard by the corn- shocks. They pulled ears of corn from the stalks; they took the tips of the dry husks between thumb and husking pegs, and stripped the husks off the ear of corn. They tossed the bare ears into bushel baskets.
The stalks and rustling long dry leaves they laid in piles. The young stock would eat the leaves.
When they had husked all the corn they could reach, they hitched their stools forward, and slowly worked their way deeper into the tasseled shocks of corn. Husks and stalks piled up behind them. Father emptied the full baskets into the corn-bins, and the bins were filling up.
It was not very cold in the barnyard. The big barns broke the cold winds, and the dry snow shook off the cornstalks. Almanzo’s feet were aching, but he thought of his new boots. He could hardly wait till supper-time to see what the cobbler had done.
That day the cobbler had whittled out two wooden lasts, just the shape of Almanzo’s feet. They fitted upside-down over a tall peg on his bench, and they would come apart in halves.
Next morning the cobbler cut soles from the thick middle of the cowhide, and inner soles from the thinner leather near the edge. He cut uppers from the softest leather. Then he waxed his thread.
With his right hand he pulled a length of linen thread across the wad of black cobbler’s wax in his left palm, and he rolled the thread under his right palm, down the front of his leather apron. Then he pulled it and rolled it again. The wax made a crackling sound, and the cobbler’s arms went out and in, out and in, till the thread was shiny-black and stiff with wax.
Then he laid a stiff hog-bristle against each end of it, and he waxed and rolled, waxed and rolled, till the bristles were waxed fast to the thread. At last he was ready to sew. He laid the upper pieces of one boot together, and clamped them in a vise. The edges stuck up, even and firm. With his awl the cobbler punched a hole through them. He ran the two bristles through the hole, one from each side, and with his strong arms he pulled the thread tight.
He bored another hole, ran the two bristles through it, and pulled till the waxed thread sank into the leather. That was one stitch.
“Now that’s a seam!” he said. “Your feet won’t get damp in my boots, even if you go wading in them. I never sewed a seam yet that wouldn’t hold water.”
Stitch by stitch he sewed the uppers. When they were done, he laid the soles to soak in water overnight.
Next morning he set one of the lasts on his peg, the sole up. He laid the leather inner-sole on it. He drew the upper part of a boot down over it, folding the edges over the inner sole. Then he laid the heavy sole on top, and there was the boot, upside-down on the last.
The cobbler bored holes with his awl, all around the edge of the sole. Into each hole he drove one of the short maple pegs. He made a heel of thick leather, and pegged it in place with the long maple pegs. The boot was done.
The damp soles had to dry overnight. In the morning the cobbler took out the lasts, and with a rasp he rubbed off the inside ends of the pegs.
Almanzo put on his boots. They fitted perfectly, and the heels thumped grandly on the kitchen floor.
Saturday morning Father drove to Malone to bring home Alice and Royal and Eliza Jane, to be measured for their new shoes. Mother was cooking a big dinner for them, and Almanzo hung around the gate, waiting to see Alice again.
She wasn’t a bit changed. Even before she jumped out of the buggy she cried:
“Oh, Almanzo, you’ve got new boots!” She was studying to be a fine lady; she told Almanzo all about her lessons in music and deportment, but she was glad to be at home again.
Eliza Jane was more bossy than ever. She said Almanzo’s boots made too much noise. She even told Mother that she was mortified because Father drank tea from his saucer.
“My land! how else would he cool it?” Mother asked.
“It isn’t the style to drink out of saucers any more,” Eliza Jane said. “Nice people drink out of the cup.”
“Eliza Jane!” Alice cried. “Be ashamed! I guess Father’s as nice as anybody!”
Mother actually stopped working. She took her hands out of the dishpan and turned round to face Eliza Jane.
“Young lady,” she said, “if you have to show off your fine education, you tell me where saucers come from.”
Eliza Jane opened her mouth, and shut it, and looked foolish.
“They come from China,” Mother said. “Dutch sailors brought them from China, two hundred years ago, the first time sailors ever sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and found China. Up to that time, people drank out ofcups; they didn’t have saucers. Ever since they’ve had saucers, they’ve drunk out of them. I guess a thing that folks have done for two hundred years we can keep on doing. We’re not likely to change, for a new-fangled notion that you’ve got in Malone Academy.” That shut up Eliza Jane.
Royal did not say much. He put on old clothes and did his share of the chores, but he did not seem interested. And that night in bed he told Almanzo he was going to be a storekeeper.
“You’re a bigger fool than I be, if you drudge all your days on a farm,” he said.
“I like horses,” said Almanzo.
“Huh! Storekeepers have horses,” Royal answered. “They dress up every day, and keep clean, and they ride around with a carriage and pair. There’s men in the cities have coachmen to drive them.”
Almanzo did not say anything, but he did not want a coachman. He wanted to break colts, and he wanted to drive his own horses, himself.
Next morning they all went to church together. They left Royal and Eliza Jane and Alice at the Academy; only the cobbler came back to the farm.
Every day he whistled and worked at his bench in the dining-room, till all the boots and shoes were done. He was there two weeks, and when he loaded his bench and tools in his buggy and drove away to his next customer, the house seemed empty and still again.
That evening Father said to Almanzo:
“Well, son, corn-husking’s done. What say we make a bobsled for Star and Bright, tomorrow?”
“Oh, Father!” Almanzo said. “Can I—will you let me haul wood from the timber this winter?”
Father’s eyes twinkled. “What else would you need a bobsled for?” he,asked.