The Devil's Red Shoes

THE DEVIL'S RED SHOES

This is a cautionary tale for clever little girls and all the rest of us.

There once was a little orphan girl who managed well enough on her own. She was pretty, bright, and of course very resourceful. Under the kindly eye of the local woodsman, she made her humble home in the nearby forest, making daily forays into the village to amuse herself as well as to gather leftovers, hand-me-downs and other scraps that the townspeople had discarded. Her prize possession was a pair of red shoes that she had fashioned for herself. Of course they were odd-looking, having been crudely stitched together by a child from leftover bits of this and that, but to the little girl they were a source of pride and accomplishment. She would skip down the village streets, admiring herself in the store windows as she passed by them, free as a little red bird, living life on her own terms.

One late afternoon, at dusk as the sun was setting, the little girl was making her way home on the dusty road to the forest when she heard a carriage approaching from behind. When the carriage caught up to her, it stopped, and a withered old woman of high birth and a fat bank account leaned out of the window and spoke to the orphan.

"Little orphan girl, come close to the carriage, my eyesight is very poor, and I wish to see you better", she said in a weak voice. The little girl thought about this for a second, then skipped up to the coach.

"Hmm, just as I thought", mused the old Dame. "I know you are an orphan, but you are a pretty little thing, even though you are filthy and unkempt", said she with a shudder. She continued, "It is no good for a nice little girl to live alone in the woods, is it? I am very rich, but all alone is this world, as well. Why don't you come and live with me in my great manor home, and you can have all the pretty things you desire and eat the choicest food! Come and be my little daughter!"

Well, the girl, who was wise beyond her young years, thought this a strange offer, indeed! For all she knew, this old, frail woman could be an evil witch, hungry for the little girl's flesh and thirsty for her blood!

Just then, the good woodsman appeared from the treeline, done with his day's hard labor and ready to head for home. "One moment, if you please, my lady, as I wish to ask my friend and protector for his advice", said our young heroine, managing a quick curtsy as she scampered off towards the man. The woodsman squatted down to her eye level to hear the excited recitation of all that had just transpired between the old woman and the little orphan. As she looked into his broad, honest face, she almost thought she detected a tinge of sadness enter his kind eyes as he replied.

"She is an upstanding lady and well-known in our parts for her vast wealth, child. 'Tis true, the woods is no place for a little maid to dwell alone. You will have a full stomach, toys and grand clothes, and all manner of pretty things if you go with her. Of course there will be rules for you, as there are for all young ladies, and you will have to be obedient to your new mistress, and live according to her wishes. Remember, though, this is your choice, and free you are to make it".

The little girl only heard the words that had followed the bit about the toys and pretty things, but I'm afraid she did not ponder them so much, as it was nearly dark and her stomach was growling. She thanked her friend, hugged him farewell, and flew like a little red bird to the waiting carriage. As soon as she had alighted onto the seat next to the old lady, the door slammed shut.

At the grand house that night, after she had been washed and fed, put into proper nightclothes, and ensconced in a warm, soft bed, our young lady fell into a deep slumber. So soundly did she sleep that she heard not her new "mother" standing in the doorway, pointing a bony finger in disgust at the girl's belongings, strewn on the bedroom floor. She commanded her servants to consign the hand-me-down clothes and her precious, handmade red shoes to the fire, where the old mistress ordered them to be destroyed lest they bring pestilence into the great hall.

The days passed by in a flurry of fittings and visits from curious old friends of Ma-ma. A governess was assigned to teach the young lady her lessons, and the young charge maintained a veneer of compliance, although secretly she was beginning to chafe at all the expectations and routine of her new home. She was especially dismayed to find that all reminders of her old life had been "lost", it seemed. Particularly upsetting was the disappearance of the wonderful red shoes. Somehow all the dainty food had made her very full, but not satisfied. The fine furnishings, toys and lovely clothes distracted her enough it is true and she was just a child, we should remember, but still and all, there seemed something missing. Something she couldn't quite define, and anyways, as the days passed the feeling was dulled into unknowing.

One day, Ma-ma announced that firstly, her daughter would soon be baptized, and secondly, they would leave at once for the county seat, a large town where the grand shops were, in order to purchase a fitting gown and fancy, delicate shoes to match for the special occasion.

The gown had been purchased, luncheon had been taken, and it was early afternoon (the time when the old noblewoman customarily took her nap) when the party arrived at the shoemaker's. I'm afraid Ma-ma , was very tired, not too attentive and could see even less well than usual, so she sat herself down while her charge surveyed the shoemaker's wares. Meandering her way to the back of the shop, our resourceful little girl spotted something wondrous.

There, in a glass case, were the most elegant, sparkly red shoes one could ever imagine! In fact, the little girl, clever as she was, had indeed not ever imagined anything so intoxicatingly desirable! The shoemaker, seeing her interest, quickly came over to speak with her. "Do you see something you fancy, my dear?", he asked cloyingly.

With eyes round and still fixed on the shoes, she replied, "Oh yes, please sir, I will have these!"

"Are you sure they would be appropriate for a baptism, my little lady?"

"Why yes."

Glancing over the bent head of the transfixed child to the old dame sitting on a setee at the front of the store, he queried, "They are rather expensive, you know. Will the lady quite approve?"

"Quite". Finally, she tore her gaze away from the jewel-like, firey red shoes and looked up at the shoemaker, who had the same look about him, it seemed to her, as some of the forest creatures, one of the weasley, ferret-type ones. She stared into his tiny eyes. "Oh, but do wrap them first, before you take them up front".

He winked at her as he took the shoes in hand to wrap them. "Certainly, and right away, miss".

The day of the baptism came. Underneath the floor-length white gown were the red shoes. Just before she left her bedroom, she stopped to admire herself in the large mirror, raising her gown a few inches to admire the hypnotically beautiful slippers, red as blood and with sparkles sharp as shards of glass. She remembered, for a moment, her old, handmade scrip-scrap shoes and wistfully recalled how free and proud she had felt, skipping up the streets of the old village in them. Why had she felt that way? Staring at her new self in the mirror, it was hard to remember. Anyways, these shoes were so much better. In fact, they invoked far different feelings in her. They excited her in a way that was actually quite strange.

Around the church, carriages were parked everywhere. The edifice was packed and the old lady was made much over as she arrived with her new little daughter. She entered the church like Caesar arriving in Rome after a successful campaign of subduing barbarians and claiming their land. Just before she entered, the little girl saw an old sailor man standing next to the front door. He winked at her and leaned in to whisper in her ear, "May your red shoes be dancing shoes", he said in a raspy whisper, followed by a guttural laugh.

She looked up at him and just then, a feeling came over her, or more to the point, over her feet and legs. Involuntarily she began to dance a little jig. The old lady, a few feet ahead of her, looked back in surprise and then pointed a bony admonishing finger as she ordered her to stop and behave properly in church. The little girl looked back at her, both puzzled, yet strangely elated as she danced down to the front of the church and jigged and reeled like the best Celtic clogger, right there at the altar!

The congregants began to murmur as they viewed this weird display of footwork. The old priest, puzzled, then angry, soon began to see that this was involuntary. "The work of Satan!" he shrieked, as on and on the little girls feet moved in a frenetic, uncontrollable dance.

"Stop, stop, stop!!!", the crowd screamed, but to no avail. The girl, now clearly frightened, wheeled around as in a folk-dancey way and stared at them in horror.

"I cannot! Somebody help me! Please!!", she cried. A few brave parishioners came out of the pews and, bending down around the terrified child, attempted to hold down the legs, the feet, but unsuccessfully did they try to stop the dancing. Finally a large man wrapped his arms around her from behind, and in a reverse bear-hug, lifted her from the floor. "Pull the shoes off her", he boomed, in a voice as large as he.

Do you think they were able to remove the shoes? They were not. Finally, the man released her and when she touched the floor, off she went as her dancing shoes commanded her. Out the door and down the lonely road she danced. All day long she danced. Over hill and dale, in field and lane, with face and gown dirty and dusty as the anguished tears flowed down, she danced.

Through unbearable exhaustion she danced towards the forest, at dusk, just as it was getting dark. "Oh Woodsman, oh my friend, where are you? Please, please oh please be here!!" she implored through sobs. The gentle woodsman, having finished for the day, had just hoisted his trusty axe upon his shoulder to head for home when he heard the poor, miserable creature crying out to him, just inside the treeline.

Following the cries, he soon found her in a little clearing, dancing a murderous little jig! "For the love of Joseph and Mary, my little child, what has happened to you?!!", he implored. She explained through tears and sobs, the whole story, including how the wizened sailor man, old Satan, as he truly was, must have put a curse on her and the shoes.

"Please, I beg you, Woodsman, help me!!" she moaned in exhaustion. The woodsman, try as he might, could not hold her still, nor could he remove the shoes. Helpless and useless, he began to cry as well.

At last, the little orphan, resourceful to the end, looked up at him and with steady gaze, though her voice was faltering, implored him. "Then, for the love of God and His holy angels, cut them off."

The woodsman, horrified, stood frozen as he looked into her face. Finally he whispered, "No, no, I cannot".

"Yes, my friend, if ever you were my friend, take your axe and chop my feet off".
She could hardly whisper herself, now, so tired to the point of death was she.

He crossed himself, he prayed, and then he did the merciful deed.

The ensuing years found the girl, turned woman, now crippled, only just able to hobble short distances on her little crutches that the woodsman fashioned, through his tears, for her. She found pity and some provision from the nearby convent of sisters, who provided shelter and did what they could, although they were poor themselves. Thus, much diminished, she spent the rest of her sad life in the little village, until the angels themselves came and took her home.

The moral of the story is this: Remember, the devil's pretty things always come with a curse. Your little handmade life, cleverly self-sustained, is worth more than all the fine homes, the built-in sprinklers, the new car smell and all the other frippery that can be borrowed or appropriated with plastic or resume-inflation. What is honestly yours brings no care or strife with it, and you can always work to improve your situation, gradually, from scrips and scraps, if need be.

If you can only afford to rent one room in someone's house, do it with pride because you know you are actually living as a free agent, within your means. My grandparents, having come upon hard times, actually had to do this, with four children, no less. But they found a way past that, and they eventually made things better for themselves.

Don't let fear have its way with you. We are all God's children and He will always help us if we ask him humbly and are willing to do what He says.

Don't believe all the blame-placing hype you are hearing. Never mind who is at fault for this crumbling economy, this boom-boom life that has now gone bust. Control your own self and your expenditures, and you will be truly free. Work on your relationships, both old and new. Investing in them always brings a profitable return.

"Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife." Proverbs 17:1 NIV


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