Now there were two angels sitting on a cloud one day staring out into the starry heavens. The younger angel, whose name was Alexander looked about him with a discontented expression. 
    “I cannot understand why the Galaxy is allowed to get into this terrible untidy state. Look at that exploding star for instance it's been scattered all over the place last 7 million years to my certain knowledge. A few cherubim with dustpans could have cleared it up in no time.” He signed deeply. “and” he went on, getting quite excited, "look at that dirty little planet down there, it looks like a worn out old tennis ball. I'm sure that could have been dropped into a black hole and it would have been no loss to anyone.” 
    “Good gracious” said his friend, an Archangel whose name was Michael, 
    “you must not on any account touch that planet, God is particularly fond of that one.” 
    “Fond of it, how could anyone be fond of it, nasty dirty little place all cloudy and smoky?” 
    “You are always making snap decisions, Alexander, without really knowing what you're talking about. You don't know anything about the place. Come down a little nearer.” 
Taking Alexander by the hand he flew with him down closer to the planet whose name was Earth. As they approached Alexander could hear a terrible wailing and weeping and the sounds of gunfire from below.
    “What is that terrible noise” he asked. 
    “There seems to be a war going on” said Michael “From time to time the people of earth rise up and start killing each other.” 
    “Well it is even worse than I thought then. How can God possibly be fond of such a terrible place?” 
    “Come nearer” said Michael and they flew down until they could see below them the courtyard of the big castle. The door was thrown open and a fat man with an evil face came out. He shouted at the soldier who was standing to attention by the door.
    " Have those houses been cleared ?” he bellowed. “I want those people out.” 
    "They are being moved, sir, The old woman is ill and...” 
    “Get them out” interrupted the fat man "or the houses will be knocked down with these idle peasants still inside. I want the land cleared today, or there will be trouble.” He went back into the castle, crashing the great door shut behind him. 
    The angels flew on and paused over a small shoemaker's shop in a village street. An old man was sitting on a campstool in the doorway. He had a shoe in one hand and a hammer in the other. But he was not working. He was staring into space and tears ran down his old face. “Oh my son, my son, where can you be?” said the old man out loud, “Why don't you write to me.” He got up and went sadly into the shop.
“This place is much worse than I thought.” said Alexander, “The unpleasant people are rich and powerful - the nice people are poor and sad. How can you say that God has made a proper plan for all these people? If he has, it is simply not working around here!” By this time Michael was becoming rather tired of Alexander and in a quite snappy voice he said “If you really want to find out about Earth The only thing to do is to live there for awhile.” He gave Alexander a push and the surprised angel felt himself falling, to land with a bump in the middle of the village street. His shoulders felt surprisingly light, and feeling round the back, he was horrified to discover that his beautiful great white wings had disappeared. 
    Alexander sat in the street and stared about him in a thoroughly puzzled way, wondering what had happened. 
    “I will come and get you when you have learnt a bit of sense.” said the voice of Michael in his ear. At that moment the door of the shoemakers shop opened and the old man came out. 
    “Hello, hello!” said the old man, “have you had an accident? Let me help you up.” He helped Alexander to his feet and dusted off his white robe. 
    “What happened to you?” 
    “I really don't know, I just found myself sitting here.” 
    “Poor lad. Come into the shop and sit down for a minute and I will make you cup of tea.” 
    So Alexander sat down in the shop and looked about him. All over the bench and shelves were pairs of shoes and boots. Some were brand new, some half finished and some old ones in for repairs. 
    “I've got a tremendous lot of work on at the moment.” said the old shoemaker, 
    “My son, who used to help me, has gone off to the wars.” He gave a sniff and brushed away a tear with the back of his hand, “What are you going to do with yourself my friend? Have you got anywhere to stay tonight?” Alexander scratched his head. 
    “I don't know, I've never been here before.” 
    “I suppose you are not any good at shoemaking by any chance? You can sleep here if you give me a hand with all this work - I couldn't pay you very much.”
    “I've never done any shoemaking, but if you could show me how to do it, I expect I could manage.” 
    So that is how Alexander came to stay with the shoemaker and help him in the shop. The old man was absolutely delighted with the angel. As soon as he had shown how to make shoes, Alexander picked it up amazingly quickly. He cut the soft leather and stitched it up as though he had been doing it all his life.
    “The poor lad may be a bit simple” said the old shoemaker to himself, “goodness knows how he came to be sitting in the middle of the village street. But there is no doubt about it, he is amazingly good with his fingers. His shoes are almost as good as mine, after only a few days training.”
    In actual fact, the shoes were a lot better than those made by the old man, but no-one likes to admit that a stranger can come in and do the job better than they can. Of course if the old shoemaker had known that Alexander was an angel, he would have realised that he was bound to have be more clever than a mortal man.
    Alexander stayed for several weeks and helped the old shoemaker in the shop. Although times were very hard, his shoes and boots were so beautifully made that people started to come from far and wide, and the old shoemaker made more money than he had ever done before. In spite of this however, he was becoming very worried and unhappy as he had heard no word from his beloved son who had gone off some months before to join the army. 
    “I'm sure he would have written to me by now, something must have happened to the boy. He Is all I have in the world.” and tears came to the old man's eyes. Alexander felt dreadfully sorry for him but did not know what to say to help. 
    One day in the spring, they heard a terrific commotion in the village street outside and going to the door, they were surprised to see a very large and expensive looking carriage bowling down the village street, with horses, footmen and servants running in front to clear the way. To their amazement the carriage stopped outside the shoemaker's shop. A servant threw open the door and shouted
    “Make way for Lord Graposki.” The bad tempered fat man whom Alexander had seen in the castle courtyard came barging into the shop, knocking over a table displaying several pairs of shoes. The old shoemaker hastily dusted the seat of the chair and invited the rich man to sit down. Lord Graposki beckoned imperiously to a servant who was carrying a roll of beautiful soft leather.
    “Now look here my man, I want some hunting boots made. This leather is extremely expensive - It is made from the skins of young hawawa which roam on the tops of the Alps and they are very rare indeed. If you damage it, it will be the worse for you. I can cause a great deal of trouble if I turn nasty. So WATCH IT!!” 
    The old man looked quite terrified and his hands shook so much he could hardly hold the tape measure to measure the rich man's feet. Alexander stepped forward with a rather strange smile on his face and picked up the leather. 
    “Who do you think you're staring at?' shouted the rich Lord, his face turning from its natural shade of red to an even darker purple. 
    “He means no harm my Lord.” said the shoemaker hastily pushing Alexandra to one side.     “The boy is a bit simple.” 
    “Simple or not, I shall have him whipped if he stares at me like that. I'll be back for my boots in three days and they had better jolly well be ready or else.......” and with this he stormed out of the shop and slammed the door. 
    “What did you want to go and stare at him like that for?” asked shoemaker “He owns the whole countryside, and would have us all thrown into prison for tuppence if he felt like it.”     Alexander did not reply. He still had the strange smile on his face and laying the hawawa leather apon the bench, he picked up the scissors and began to cut. The shoemaker tidied up the shop, picking up the table which had been knocked over and re-arranging the shoes on display. It was several minutes before he went back to see what Alexander was doing and when he did, a look of absolute horror came over his poor old face. He sat down and clutched his throat. 
    “Boy what have you done?” he cried. You have ruined the leather. You have cut it all wrong for boots. All you could make with that now is slippers for the dead.....Oh! what will become of us?..... He rocked to and fro in a frenzy of terror.
The next day there was a knock on the door of the shop and one of the rich man's servants came back in looking much less down-trodden, in fact he looked quite cheerful.
    “Guess what happened. The high and mighty Lord Graposki, choked himself on a ham sandwich. He has had a heart attack and died. His wife has sent me back to tell you not to bother about the hunting boots - make his precious hawawa leather into slippers for the dead.” After the servant had gone the old shoemaker stared at Alexander in amazement. 
    “How did you know? How on earth did you know he would die and need burial slippers instead of hunting boots?” Fortunately, for Alexander, he was spared having to answer this question as a hubbub of shouts and laughter were heard coming down the village street. The shoemaker ran outside in time to see a room of ragged soldiers coming towards them. 
    “It's my son.” he cried “He has come back to me.”
    “The war is over, father.” said a tall, ragged, hungry looking man, putting his arms around the little shoemaker and hugging him. Tears of joy poured down the old man's face. 
    “He doesn't need me any more.” thought Alexander, and he backed away into the shop. He was hardly surprised at all to find Michael standing there.
    “How did you know the rich man was going to die? questioned Michael. 
    “I saw the Angel of death standing behind him in the shop. He winked at me. Of course none of the mortals could see him.” 
    “Well, which you think is the lucky one now, the rich and powerful man from the castle, or the poor old shoemaker in his little shop?” 
    "The shoemaker of course” said Alexander. “I didn't understand.” 
    “Oh well, if you can admit you didn't understand, I suppose that is half the battle. Only God can truly understand everything about his great plan.” 
    Alexander felt a peculiar tingling sensation in his shoulder blades and feeling round behind, discovered that his beautiful white wings were growing rapidly again. “Come on.” said Michael. “let's go home.” And together they flew away into the clear blue sky.
The Angel and the Shoemaker.
By Jo Hewlett
After Tolstoy