shoon and sheets – the Sutor of Selkirk

A cobbler’s profession is generally not a particularly exciting or scary one. A shoemaker in the early 19th century had an upscale clientel and was a respected citizen. The cobbler of Selkirk (Sutor of Selkirk) brought it to a certain fame but not because of his shoes but his greed and his nosiness.

old gravestone SelkirkHe was called Rabbie Heckspeckle, much of Selkirk wore shoes he made. Rabbie liked to get up early and was often in his shop long before it opened. This way he had more time to gossip during the day. One morning, it was winter and still pitch-dark outside, a stranger entered Heckspeckle’s shop. He certainly looked like a nobleman, though somewhat neglected,  smelled unpleasant, his clothes looked old. He wanted a pair of shoes and Rabbie was only too willing to sell him one. The stranger pointed to a couple he liked, but it was not the right size. Rabbi took measure and promised to make new shoes by next day.

The stranger nodded and insisted on picking up the shoes before the cock crowed. The shoemaker had no problem with that. By the time the sun rose, he had made good progress with the stranger’s shoes, but it was not until late into the night that Rabbie Heckspeckle could finally appreciate his work.

After a few hours of sleep the cobbler was woken by a loud knock. It was the stranger who wanted to pick up his shoes. Heckspeckle rubbed his sleepy eyes, went down to the shop, opened the door for the stranger, and gave him his shoes. The satisfied customer gave him some silver coins from a moldy purse, turned and left.
Curiosity nearly killed Rabbie Heckspeckle . Who was the stranger and where did he live? Something was not quite kosher here. In Selkirk he knew every citizen who could afford his shoes. But who was this customer? Rabbie decided to follow him. It was still dark and he could easily remain unseen. He followed the stranger to the Auld Kirk graveyard, where he lay down on a grave and suddenly disappeared. Horrified, the cobbler came closer, the tomb seemed untouched, the earth was not thrown open. Nobody had dug here, so where was the stranger gone?

With this incredible story to tell, the shoemaker came back from the graveyard. Everyone in the shop and later on the street and in the pub, anyone who wanted to listen was told the story in much detail. Nobody wanted to believe him, of course, but in the end they called the gravedigger, to dig up the grave, otherwise Rabbie would never rest. When the gravedigger opened the coffin in front of witnesses, there was a man in it who looked exactly as the cobbler had described him. The dead man wore brand new shoes.

They decided to close the coffin well and bury it safely. The shoemaker took back the new shoes. After all, they were too expensive to let rot. He could sell them again for a good prize. It was to be the biggest mistake in Rabbie Heckspeckle’s short life.
Next morning, the cobbler’s wife woke by a strange noise in her husband’s shop. Even the neighbours had not missed it. Was it a quarrel that they heard? Or was it a fight? Was that a desperate and muffled cry? Nobody even dared to look out the window. They all hid until the sun rose, then they gathered in front of the Rabbie Heckspeckle’s shop. He was gone, his shop was devastated, dirty footprints led to the graveyard and there exactly to the grave they had dug  open the day before and sealed again.

The gravedigger was called and he dug out the coffin once more. They opened it and the stranger lay in it. No trace of the cobbler. But then they saw the white shirt that Rabbie Heckspeckle had worn. The stranger held the bloodstained and torn fabric in his pale, bony hand. A new pair of shoes shone on his feet.

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