I knew him from the days of my
extreme youth, because he made my
father’s boots. He lived with his elder brother in
his shop, which was in a small by-street in a
fashionable part of London.
The shop had a certain quiet distinction. There
was no sign upon it other than the name of Gessler
Brothers; and in the window a few pairs of boots.
He made only what was ordered, and what he
made never failed to fit. To make boots—such
boots as he made—seemed to me then, and still
seems to me, mysterious and wonderful.
I remember well my shy remarks, one day, while
stretching out to him my youthful foot. “Isn’t it
awfully hard to do, Mr Gessler?" And his answer,
given with a sudden smile from out of the redness
of his beard: “Id is an ardt!’’
It was not possible to go to him very often—
his boots lasted terribly, having something
beyond the temporary, some essence of boot
stitched into them.
One went in, not as into most shops, but
restfully, as one enters a church, and sitting on
the single wooden chair, waited. A guttural sound,
and the tip-tap of his slippers beating the narrow
wooden stairs and he would stand before one
without coat, a little bent, in leather apron, with
sleeves turned back, blinking — as if awakened
from some dream of boots.
And I would say, “How do you do, Mr Gessler?
Could you make me a pair of Russian-leather
Without a word he would leave me retiring
whence he came, or into the other portion of the
shop, and I would continue to rest in the wooden
chair inhaling the incense of his trade. Soon he
would come back, holding in his hand a piece of
gold-brown leather. With eyes fixed on it he would
remark, “What a beaudiful biece!" When I too
had admired it, he would speak again. “When
do you wand dem?" And I would answer, “Oh!
As soon as you conveniently can." And he would
say, “Tomorrow fordnighd?" Or if he were his
elder brother: “I will ask my brudder."
Then I would murmur, ‘’Thank you! Good
morning, Mr Gessler." “Good morning’" he would
reply, still looking at the leather in his hand. And
as I moved to the door, I would hear the tip-tap
of his slippers going up the stairs: to his
dream of boots.
I cannot forget that day on which I had
occasion to say to him, “Mr Gessler, that last pair
of boots creaked, you know."
He looked at me for a time without replying,
as if expecting me to withdraw or qualify the
statement, then said,“ld shouldn’d’ave greaked.’’
“It did, I’m afraid."
“You god dem wed before dey found demselves."
“I don’t think so."
“At that he lowered his eyes, as if hunting for
memory of those boots and I felt sorry I had
mentioned this grave thing. “Zend dem back,"
he said, “I will look at dem."
“Zome boods," he continued slowly, “are bad
from birdt. If I can do noding wid dem I take dem
off your bill."
Once (once only) I went absent-mindedly into
his shop in a pair of boots bought in an emergency
at some large firm. He took my order without
showing me any leather and I could feel his eyes
penetrating the inferior covering of my foot. At last
he said, “Dose are nod my boods."
The tone was not one of anger, nor of sorrow,
not even of contempt, but there was in it
something quiet that froze the blood. He put his
hand down and pressed a finger on the place
where the left boot was not quite comfortable.
“Id ’urds’ you dere," he said, “Dose big virms
’ave no self-respect." And then, as if something had
given way within him, he spoke long and bitterly.
It was the only time I ever heard him discuss the
conditions and hardships of his trade.
“Dey get id all," he said, “dey get id by
advertisement, nod by work. Dey take id away
from us, who lofe our boods. Id gomes to dis —
bresently I haf no work. Every year id gets less.
You will see." And looking at his lined face I saw
things I had never noticed before, bitter things
and bitter struggle and what a lot of grey hairs
there seemed suddenly in his red beard!
As best I could, I explained the circumstances
of those ill-omened boots. But his face and voice
made so deep an impression that during the next
few minutes I ordered many pairs. They lasted
longer than ever. And I was not able to go to him
for nearly two years.
It was many months before my next visit to his
shop. This time it appeared to be his elder brother,
handling a piece of leather.
“Well, Mr Gessler," I said, “how are you?" He
came close, and peered at me. “I am breddy well,"
he said slowly “but my elder brudder
And I saw that it was indeed himself but how
aged and wan! And never before had I heard him
mention his brother. Much shocked, I murmured,
“Oh! I am sorry!"
“Yes," he answered, “he was a good man, he
made a good bood. But he is dead." And he
touched the top of his head, where the hair had
suddenly gone as thin as it had been on that of
his poor brother, to indicate, I suppose, the
cause of his death. “Do you wand any boods?"
And he held up the leather in his hand. “ld’s a
I ordered several pairs. It was very long before
they came—but they were better than ever. One
simply could not wear them out. And soon after
that I went abroad.
It was over a year before I was again in London.
And the first shop I went to was my old friend’s. I
had left a man of sixty; I came back to one of
seventy-five, pinched and worn, who genuinely,
this time, did not at first know me.
“Do you wand any boods?" he said. “I can
make dem quickly; id is a zlack dime."
I answered, “Please, please! I want boots all
I had given those boots up when one evening
they came. One by one I tried them on. In shape
and fit, in finish and quality of leather they were
the best he had ever made. I flew downstairs,
wrote a cheque and posted it at once with my
A week later, passing the little street, I thought
I would go in and tell him how splendidly the new
boots fitted. But when I came to where his shop
had been, his name was gone.
I went in very much disturbed. In the shop,
there was a young man with an English face.
“Mr Gessler in?" I said.
“No, sir," he said. “No, but we can attend to
anything with pleasure. We’ve taken the shop
“Yes. yes," I said, “but Mr Gessler?"
“Oh!" he answered, “dead."
“Dead! But I only received these boots from
him last Wednesday week."
“Ah!" he said, “poor old man starved himself.
Slow starvation, the doctor called it! You see he
went to work in such a way! Would keep the shop
on; wouldn’t have a soul touch his boots except
himself. When he got an order, it took him such a
time. People won’t wait. He lost everybody. And
there he’d sit, going on and on. I will say that for
him—not a man in London made a better boot.
But look at the competition! He never advertised!
Would have the best leather too, and do it all
himself. Well, there it is. What could you expect
with his ideas?"
“That may be a bit flowery, as the saying is—
but I know myself he was sitting over his boots
day and night, to the very last you see, I used to
watch him. Never gave himself time to eat; never
had a penny in the house. All went in rent and
leather. How he lived so long I don’t know. He
regularly let his fire go out. He was a character.
But he made good boots."