The shoemaker had for ages suffered from a heart condition and five years ago, after an attack, it had appeared as though he would either have to sacrifice his business upon the auction block and live on a pittance thereafter, or put himself at the mercy of some unscrupulous employee who would in the end probably ruin him. But just at the moment of his darkest despair, this Polish refugee, Sobel appeared one night from the street and begged for work. He was a stocky man, poorly dressed, with a bald head, a severely plain face and soft blue eyes phone to tears over the sad books he read. Though he confessed he knew nothing of shoemaking, he said he was apt and would work for very little if Feld taught him the trade. Feld took him on and within six weeks the refugee rebuilt as good a shoe as he, and not long thereafter expertly ran the business for the shoemaker.
Feld could trust him with anything and did frequently, going home after an hour or two at the store, leaving all the money in the till, knowing Sobel would guard every cent of it. The amazing thing was that he demanded so little. His wants were few; in money he wasn’t interested- in nothing but books, it seemed – which he one by one lent to Feld’s daughter, Miriam together with his profuse queer written comments, manufactured during his lonely evenings, which his daughter, from her fourteenth year, read page by sanctified page, as if the word of God were inscribed on them.
Feld’s conscience bothered him for not insisting that his assistant accept a better wage than he was getting, though Feld had honestly told him he could earn a handsome salary if he worked elsewhere, or maybe opened a place of his own. But the assistant answered, somewhat ungraciously, that he was not interested in going elsewhere. Feld frequently asked himself what kept him there, why did he stay? He finally told himself that the man, no doubt because of his terrible experiences as a refugee, was afraid of the world.