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Henry Morrstone was proud of the factory he had built up, and with good reason. He had started out as a simple weaver, and slowly added new, better looms and hired additional workers, until he became the owner and manager of a large textile mill. Heaven blessed him with continued success; the family became well-to-do and lived in luxury.
Nonetheless, Henry had a definite problem on his hands when it came to his son, Stanley. An only child, Stanley was, in a word, spoilt. Time and again, his father tried to arouse his interest in the factory, or some other productive pursuit, but to no avail.
“You must start to learn all you can about spinning and weaving and how to buy the best raw materials. You will also need to know how the machinery should be operated, and maintained, or you'll never be able to run the business.
"It took me many years to build it up," Henry reminded the young man, "but it can all be lost, through ignorance and negligence, in just a few short months. You must settle down, forget about horses and hunting, and learn how to manage the mill," declared the senior Morrstone.
The father's words fell on a deaf ear.
"Why should I bother, Father? You make enough money every month for me to enjoy life; I can't take being closed up in a noisy factory all day. You run the business, and leave me to enjoy life with my friends."
Henry would have nothing of Stanley's life of leisure. He had worked hard all his life, and expected his son to follow his example.
After several warnings went unheeded, the determined father told his son that his days of wanton leisure were over. "It is my responsibility to see that you have some way of earning a living. If you show no interest in learning to manage a textile plant, you must learn another trade. I am apprenticing you to Robert Thompson, the shoemaker. You will live with his family, and he will teach you the trade. It will take four years, at least, but, in the end, at least you will be able to feed yourself and stand on your own two feet."
That same morning, Henry took his son to Thompson's shop and left him there under the care of the shoemaker. "Take that broom over there, and sweep out the workshop," the older man ordered the new apprentice. He went out to fetch something from the shed, and left his Stanley to do his job.
It took the young man a moment or two to identify the broom among all the tools and clutter, but eventually, he set to work energetically sweeping the center of the room. Soon he had a pile of debris, tools, and leather scraps to show for his efforts. When Thompson came back in, he was met by a cloud of dust. Stanley had been somewhat overenthusiastic in his sweeping.
"What have you done here? I told you to sweep, not to raise the dead from their graves!" bellowed the shoemaker.
"Now get those nails and scraps of leather out of the heap before you toss everything out!" he ordered the new apprentice gruffly.
So began Stanley's first day in the carpentry shop. It was one misadventure after the other. He had no idea what was expected of him, and Thompson had no patience to start teaching him how to use a broom and a dustpan. Both were relieved when it was time to go home for the noontime meal.
Stanley's relief, however, was to be short-lived. The sight of the rough table and primitive dishes made him squirm in his seat. The food itself was even more discomfiting. He barely touched the coarse bread and simple meal of cooked lentils that the others ate with zest. No one seemed concerned at the thought that he might remain hungry. To the contrary; if he ate less, there was more left over for the others.
The "meal" over and done with, Stanley made his way back to the shop with a rumbling stomach. How would he survive such food, he asked himself?
There was no time to lose himself in self-pity, however. Thompson promptly set him to work clearing up the woodpile. "Stack the large logs over there, and make sure everything is neat and tidy. Leave the smaller wood here for the time being," the shoemaker told Stanley.
The new apprentice had never done such heavy work in his life. Soon his hands were full of scratches. With no starched white handkerchief on which to wipe away the blood, he found himself at a loss, but he was too weary to care about the stains on his clothing. His muscles ached, and he was ravishing hungry. He stopped frequently to drink, but found that water was no substitute for food.
By the time Thompson called him to go home for supper, he felt dizzy and weak in the knees. He trudged slowly back to the house behind Thompson and collapsed into the first chair he found. "If I don't eat, I'll never survive here," he thought to himself.
When the family sat down to a supper of hard bread and coarse cheese, Stanley told himself that he must be practical and eat whatever they put on the table. He did, indeed, manage to down half of a slice of dry, old bread, but it was so rough that he could not bring himself to swallow more.
Then Thompson's oldest son showed him to his bed in a loft above the house. It was but a straw mattress on a rough plank, but Stanley had no strength to object. He stretched himself out, tossed to one side and then the other, aching to fall asleep. He lay first one way, then another. The straw poked into his ribs, scratched his cheek, and made his skin itch. No matter how he tried to ignore the discomfort, he could not relax and drift into the sweet oblivion of slumber.
He stared at the dark and concentrated on the sounds around him. He tried not to think about the home and he comforts he had left behind him. Why had his father done this to him? And what could he do to convince him to let him return to the comfort of home?
The night passed in agony. Occasionally, Stanley dozed off, only to be abruptly awakened by his aching bones and empty stomach. He scratched and itched, and tried to settle down into the mattress, but nothing brought him relief. When at last the first light of dawn began to show through the cracks in the roof, he did not know whether to be relieved or alarmed. What was worse? Another day in the workshop, or a sleepless night on his bed of torture?
The young apprentice pulled himself onto his feet and prepared for another day of misery. Breakfast consisted of a hot drink of some sort, which he downed quickly at Thompson's urging. Then the two set out for the workshop. As they passed through the main square of the town, Stanley suddenly saw his father approaching from the opposite direction. Before Thompson knew what was happening, Stanley shot like an arrow over towards the senior Morrstone, and burst into tears.
"Father! Please! Take me away from this torture! I cannot eat their food, and I could not sleep all night! Why did you send me there?"
Henry Morrstone looked at his son as though he were a stranger and just walked away.
"Where are you going?" Thompson yelled as he caught up with the runaway. Grabbing him with a rough arm, he dragged Stanley with him and turned in the direction of the shop. "If you want to talk to your father, don't do it when you are meant to be working for me!" he barked at the tearful lad.
Henry Morrstone carried on his way without even looking back.
His father's reaction cut into Stanley's heart; he was not sure which was worse – the rough life at the cobbler's shop or his father's cold alienation from his plight. Listlessly, he followed the shoemaker and resigned himself to his fate.
Inside the shop, Thompson set the boy to work making a row of holes in a strip of leather. He quickly demonstrated what needed to be done, handed the awl to Stanley, and pointed to a heap of straps: "Do that pile over there the way I showed you, and mind that you keep your holes on the line drawn down the middle of each one!"
Stanley mumbled "Yes, sir," and looked around for a chair, or at least a stool, but found none. "Where shall I sit, sir?" he asked in surprise.
"Sit?" echoed the shoemaker in disdain. "Do you think your father sent you here to sit? You are here to work and to learn a trade! Now get busy with those straps, and be sure you make a decent job of it. I'll be back to inspect your work shortly."
With that, he went out the door and left Stanley on his own. With a heavy sigh, the unwilling cobbler-in-the-making took the awl in hand, laid the strap flat on the worktable, and tried to pierce it just as Thompson had shown him. It took all his strength just to make a small dent in the strap. A hole? It seemed impossible. He tried rotating the awl, he tried pressing harder, how he struggled – and all he had to show for his efforts was a dent in the leather.
Fear made him persist, until, his hands sore and his knees weak, he managed to wear away enough of the thick leather to make a small opening in the strap.
Just then, the shoemaker came back. "How many straps have you done, there? Let me see your work," he said, taking the awl from Stanley.
"That hole's too small! Look, watch how I do it!" he told Stanley, as he pushed him aside and tackled the strap himself. Before the younger man knew what was happening, there was a fine round hole in the leather instead of the little prick hole he had managed to make.
"You've got the hands of a woman and the muscles of a newborn babe!" grumbled Thompson. "How am I to make a cobbler out of you?
"Now get on with it, and do it the way I showed you. Hold each one up to the light and check to see that the openings are as large as the one I just did."
How Stanley struggled with the awl that morning! His hands grew red and swollen, and the muscles in his arms ached from the strain. Now he understood why the job had to be done while standing; he needed to put all his weight onto the awl in order to make it pierce the heavy leather. Twice he had not been precise, and one of the holes was not exactly on the line down the center of the strap. Thompson "reminded" Stanley with a hearty whack of his hand that he was there "to learn a trade, not to ruin a good piece of leather."
By noontime, Stanley had managed to finish the holes in only three straps. "At this rate, you'll be a grandfather before you're a cobbler," moaned Thompson. "I suppose that's better than having to toss your work into the dustbin."
The meal Mrs. Thompson served was no improvement over the previous day's fare, but Stanley managed to down more of it before leaving the table in disgust.
Then it was back to the workshop. Thompson may have taken pity on his apprentice's red, blistered hands; he sent him to deliver a bundle to Harley's bakery. "Mind you collect the payment from Master Harley, and don't lose it on your way back here. It should not take you more than half an hour to make your way there and back," instructed Thompson.
Relieved not to take up the awl again, Stanley took the parcel and went on his way. The weather was pleasant, and he welcomed an opportunity to be outdoors and on his own. He knew the way to Harley's, and had no difficulty finding it. Apparently, the delivery was expected; he pocketed the money Harley gave him, and left to make his way back to the shoemaker's.
Here and there, on the way, he paused to watch a curious traveler, or to admire a rider on a well-groomed steed. When he drew near the sign that announced "Robert Thompson, Cobbler", his pace slowed down. He would have preferred to go anywhere but back into that shop! With a sigh, he stepped up to the door, and went inside.
"Where have you been?" shouted Thompson. "How long does it take to go to Harley's and come back?" His muscular arm delivered a hearty blow to Stanley's back. Taken by surprise, the boy fell and landed on the litter of nails and tools scattered on the floor. His hands and arms were cut, making him scream out in pain.
"You're no more than an overgrown babe," chuckled Thompson to himself. "One pat on the back, and he's on the floor bawling like a newborn infant.
"Get back to work before I let you feel what I really can do if you get me angry," Thompson ordered the boy. "Sweep the place out, and tidy up all those tools and lasts."
Without a word, Stanley pulled himself up, rubbed his sore arms, and started to sweep. He was careful not to raise dust as he worked; the last thing he sought to do now was to annoy his employer once again. Within him, he cried to himself and asked again and again: "Why did my father send me here?"
When he was finished, Thompson told him, without even looking up from his work: "Go back home, now. You're of no use to me here, in any case."
Stanley was too broken to be hurt by the insult. In fact, it was a relief to be able to leave a few minutes earlier than usual. He took his time walking back to the Thompson's hovel. As he passed across the square, he looked up and was surprised to see his father standing some distance away, speaking to a stranger. Stanley waited until the two men parted, then raced over to the senior Morrstone and threw himself at his feet.
"Father! Take me away from Thompson! He beats me cruelly! I shall never be a cobbler. What is the point? Why do you make me suffer so?"
But once again, Morrstone was not moved. He merely turned and walked away, leaving his sobbing son at his bitter fate. The local riff-raff, who had gathered around to watch the strange scene, merely laughed to each other. They were amused at Morrstone's rejection of his son's pleas. As one man, they turned on Stanley and scoffed: "Your loving father doesn't want you any more! He's had enough of you! Better go looking for a new father to spoil you with silks and expensive horses!"
Embarrassed and hurt, Stanley rose and ran after his father. "Father, they are making fun of me. They say you have disowned me!"
But Morrstone merely continued on his way, as though it were some stranger's son who was pleading for his attention and mercy.
Stanley realized he had no choice. Quickly, he made his way back to his new "home." At least there, he would not make a public spectacle of himself. After a few bites of the coarse bread and the hot, thin porridge that made up the Thompson's supper, he fell into bed and a restless sleep.
The next day was no better; nor the day that followed. Stanley continued to suffer and silently bemoan his fate. Three days went by, filled with agony for Stanley's body and torment for his soul. Each night, he lay on his straw mattress, tossing and scratching, and asking himself why his father had sent him away, and what he could do to help himself. At last, on the third night, he decided on a plan. The next time he saw his father, he would put it into action.
The following morning, as he accompanied Thompson to the workshop, Stanley watched carefully for any sign of the senior Morrstone. He was disappointed not to see a trace of his father. Another morning of misery passed. At noon, the shoemaker and his apprentice again crossed the town square, and Stanley kept a sharp eye out for his father's carriage, or some of his men, any sign that his father might be at hand.
He was in luck! There was the familiar carriage, at one corner of the square. Not far away, Stanley spotted his father together with two well-dressed men who appeared to be merchants or some sort of business agents. Without so much as a word to Thompson, he dashed over to his father and again fell on his knees before him.
"Father! Take me back home with you! I promise to learn all about your factory, the machines, and how they work. I shall train myself to take it over, as you wish, as a faithful son who will make you proud." The boy's body shook with his sobs, as he poured out his heart to his father, desperately pleading to be allowed to return home.
"This is just what I had hoped you would say!" exclaimed Henry Morrstone, bending over to hug his Stanley, and raise him to his feet. "Now you may come home with me, and be my son, in every way. Know that I sent you away only out of my love for you; now that you have learned your lesson, come home with me, and you shall never know of want or pain again."
G-d wanted the Jewish People to accept His Torah willingly, so that they might refine their character and achieve joy and pleasure in both the physical and spiritual realms.
But how could He arouse their desire for the Torah?
He took them down to Egypt, where they experienced firsthand the life of the slave, whose life is devoted only to material gain, all of his days. The Jewish People were humiliated and taunted by their taskmasters: "Where is your G-d? Has He abandoned you to your fate?"
It was only when the Jewish People were ready and willing to accept the Torah and to serve their Father in good faith, that He redeemed them from their suffering and brought them close to Him to be His chosen nation evermore.