Welcome to Pippington, where motorcars bump down old, city lanes, elegant shoes appear by magic, and an ordinary shoemaker can become a hero.
Peter Talbot could use a little magic. Cheap factory-made shoes are putting his shop out of business, his nagging sisters will never let him rest, and his efforts to find true love are constantly thwarted by worldly fickleness. However, the gift of a wild primrose and a shipment of rare griffin skin are about to change everything. When beautiful, handmade shoes begin appearing in his shop every morning, Peter is determined to find his secret helper. What he finds introduces him to adventure and the hidden world of magic in Pippington.
The True Bride and the Shoemaker is the first of The Pippington Tales, based on The Elves and the Shoemaker and other fairy tales.
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When Peter Talbot lifted the mound of dirt carrying a wild primrose, he was not thinking of magic and fairytales. His mind was filled with the fine curvature of Miss Adeline Winkleston’s arches, of her small and delicate toes, of her dainty foot dangling from her fine ankle, of her smooth and perfectly proportioned heel. There were few pleasures greater than molding a shoe to cushion and support her feet.
The primrose’s delicate petals swayed and danced in the wind as he patted the dirt into a pot and added water. Peter steadied his bowler hat over his thinning hair as he rose and looked out at the meadow. The field of daffodils was a pleasant sight, but hardly matched the lone primrose’s fragile beauty. The flower would now have a better home on Adeline Winkleston’s window sill, if the lady accepted it.
Peter meandered along the dirt path leading out of the meadow and onto the cobblestone streets of Pippington. New automobiles puttered along while horses trudged on, pulling old, warped carts. The roar of a crowd echoed from the arena as men far braver than Peter raced dragons around the track. Even if Peter could afford a ticket, he preferred to avoid such spectacle. Though, today, racing a dragon seemed easier than approaching Adeline’s door.
Peter kept on his path and walked past factories lining the edge of town, then by the old brick apartments and shops filling the southern region of the city. This was far from the northern bluffs, with mansions and high-rise penthouses rising over Chalice Lake. The cliffs dipped down and became the wharf and docks filled with barges, fishing boats, and the common sort of people Peter understood.
Adeline herself was better than common. Her doorstep lay on Nightingale Lane, in the midst of Midtown, among the rows of tightly packed houses mixed in with banks, boarding schools, and professional firms. Each step of his polished shoes brought him closer to knocking on her door and speaking the words his sisters, Mary and Molly, had suggested: How are you Miss Winkleston? The weather sure is pleasant enough for a walk. Would you like to come? Any new hats catch your eye?
The last question had been suggested by Mary, whose husband owned Tevinson’s Fine Hats. Peter was surprised Molly, whose husband owned Chancey’s Dresses and Suits, didn’t mention anything about clothing.
At last, Peter’s feet pressed to the walkway outside Adeline Winkleston’s house. He wiped sweat from his forehead and held the potted primrose in the crook of his arm. To the flower, he said, “We’ll have to do our best, I suppose.”
Hoping he had not smudged anything on his finest dark coat and trousers, he approached the door. Molly had given his clothes a full examination before he left, including straightening his collar and polishing his buttons. A fine lady like Adeline would notice anything amiss.
Tensing the muscles of his face into something like a smile, he knocked on the door. He stepped back, holding his hat in his hand just as Mary had demonstrated. His cheeks ached as he kept his face in position as footsteps and giggling approached. He wished the hot summer day would turn cold so he could excuse his shaking legs.
Adeline Winkleston opened the door, her porcelain face aglow. A genuine smile began to warm Peter’s cheeks, when the base tones of a man’s voice echoed from the parlor. It was not her father’s voice.
“Oh, good afternoon, Mr. Talbot,” Adeline said. “Doing a bit of gardening, I see?”
“J-just passing through the neighborhood on my way home. Thought I’d make a house call to see if your new shoes are up to snuff.”
Adeline’s laugh rang out, sweet and light. She lifted her foot, the hem of her skirt slipping, revealing her ankle.
“I’m wearing them right now.” She erupted into a batch of giggles that pelted Peter. “My fiancé, Nathaniel Bronhart, was just complementing the soft point of the toe. They are excellently made, as always, Mr. Talbot. We will surely be coming to you for…” She held a hand to her mouth as her eyes brightened. “The wedding.”
“Congratulations.” Peter’s stomach attempted to join his feet on the ground. “Give my regards to Mr. Bronhart.”
“Of course. Thank you, Mr. Talbot. Good afternoon.”
The door shut, leaving Peter alone with his bowler hat and potted flower. He considered knocking and offering the plant as an engagement present. A burst of laughter from inside deflated the idea.
Peter’s shoulders drooped as he kept hold of the potted flower as he ambled along the lanes until he turned onto Dabbler Street. He came to a friendly, aged building bearing a sign with a fine, sturdy gentleman’s shoe with painted letters reading Talbot’s Boots and Other Footwear. We do repairs.
Once inside with the door locked, having wasted a Sunday Afternoon, Peter surveyed the empty shop. About a dozen pairs of his best boots sat on display in the window. Other shoes lay in various stages in the workroom downstairs. He walked past piles of leather and tools on his way to the cramped kitchen. He leaned his elbow on the counter and set down the flower. It was a delicate thing, too fine for the worn grooves of the wood it sat on. Perhaps one of his little nieces might like it and care for it.
He wandered upstairs, slumped on the edge of his child-sized bed, and stared at the door of his room since boyhood. When his father had died nearly a year ago, his sisters had told him to take the master bedroom and treat his room like the closet it was. However, the bedroom was where his mother and father had shared their lives. It was not his. His sisters’ old room was now cluttered with pieces of junk. Going through the piles of broken chairs and rusted tools only brought ghosts of memories, days of working alongside his father. Someday, when he was ready, he’d take up his father’s left over tasks. For now, he needed to keep the shop running.
As he slipped off his best suit and hung it up, he wished his mother hadn’t died so long ago. He had been twelve and too young for her to explain women to him. His sisters reminded him daily of his promise to be married and have children to carry on the Talbot name. Yet, all he could talk to a lady about were her shoes and feet.
Evening ended its slow approach, and he ventured downstairs. Skimming through the newspaper, he ate the leftover soup and bread one of his sisters had left in the icebox. Judging by the burnt flavor, it was from Mary. He went ahead and ate as the clock ticked loudly on the windowsill. He left his dirty dishes in the sink. It was Molly’s turn to look in on him tomorrow. She would give him a stern lecture about flies and mice coming because he didn’t clean up after himself, and how he needed a wife to really take care of him. He’d stand there, his head scrunched toward his shoulders, waiting for the lecture to be over. Then, she would wash the dishes, do a quick sweep of the floors, and carry out Monday’s washing.
Dinner complete, and the day ended, he returned to his room. Lying in bed, he hoped tomorrow would bring enough work to keep his mind off Adeline Winkleston’s fine arches.