The Cutler & the Cobbler
The cutler sold his business to his apprentice. Then he took the proceeds from its sale to buy a cottage in the country.
By luck and guile, the cutler and his business had prospered throughout the years in the impoverished village which he later abandoned. Such was the shrewdness, discipline and cunning of the bachelor knifemaker who made a small fortune as, still, a relatively young man. So, when the cutler retired to his idle life in the country, it became a question within the village if he owned anything more to the people who’d allowed him to prosper so much.
One day the retired cutler returned to the village. He returned for the services of the cobbler who had been a longtime neighbor to his old business.
The cobbler looked at the cutler’s boots and gave him the cost for repair, as well as the cost for a new pair of boots. Then he said to the cutler, “You know how our nation is preparing for war.”
“Yes. Even in the country I have heard,” the cutler said. “And when the army is in a desperate need of blades – as all armies need knifes and bayonets – then I will return to a village or city – wherever my skills are needed most – to exercise my craft once again.”
“You did not read our president’s pronouncement?” the cobbler asked. “Our army needs bullets. We need bullets more than anything. Without a proper supply of bullets, our young men will die and the war could be lost before it even begins.”
The cutler shook off the suggestion, explaining, “All these years in my cottage I have been awaiting the day of my valiant return as a knifemaker. On the day I left this village, I settled on that as my life’s purpose – to sit in wait on the day my country or village needs me most. And when they call, I will make my heroic return. This is the dream I have cultivated over my years out in the country. And I cannot have my dream upended overnight. It would be too much of a shock. Besides, I am entitled to my dream, given all that I’ve earned in my days supplying this village with all its cutlery.”
“We need you as a bullet maker,” the cobbler said.
“But anyone can be a bullet maker. Not everyone has the expertise to be an artisan cutler. I would serve the country’s cause far better as a knifemaker than a simpleton bullet maker.”
“Some would say this is an excuse for maintaining your life of idleness and leisure,” the cobbler said. “Sitting out there waiting for a call you know is highly unlikely to ever come.”
The knifemaker rebuffed the criticism of his laziness.
“I assure you, when my services are needed, I’ll be here for my countrymen. And I assure you, I worked many years, as hard as any man supplying this village with its need for blades. Blades for dining. Blades for reaping and shearing. Blades for the doctor. Blades for sport. And, unlike most men, I saved. And I ran my business far more efficiently than most other men.”
“You are a noble man,” the cobbler said. “And you have reason to be proud, being so dedicated to serving the needs of your country and community.”
“I accept your praise,” the cutler said. “But most humbly.”
With that, the cutler left, not to be seen again in the streets or shops of the village for a very long time.
Later – after years of war had ravaged their county – the cutler returned to the cobbler’s shop. On his return, the cutler was disheveled and emaciated and dressed slovenly. He’d come to beg the cobbler for a few coins. He explained to the cobbler how he was living in poverty in a ramshackle shack since his cottage and all its contents – including his savings – had burned down during the war.
“The enemy?” the cobbler asked. “They burned down your precious cottage? What a shame.”
But the longstanding rumor, which both the cobbler and cutler understood, was: it was the village – finding it’s opportunity in wartime – not the enemy – that had burned the cutler’s cottage and everything in it to the ground.
“Perhaps,” the disheveled cutler said. “Perhaps it was the enemy.”
Then the old cutler asked his longtime acquaintance to spare a few coins.
“The war was difficult on everyone. I’m afraid I have nothing to offer,” the cobbler told him.
The cutler had a strong suspicion that was a lie. For he had heard, during wartime, the cobbler had supplied boots to the army at a considerable profit.
“But let me look at your boots. I can give you a quote to repair them if they need mending. I am, after all, a master cobbler.”
“I need money for food, not a polishing of my boots,” the cutler pleaded.
“But I am a cobbler, not a lender. My expertise, I’m afraid, is shoes and boots, not the exchange of money or mercy. So, again, I’m afraid I can’t help.”
The cutler turned to leave.
The cobbler called after him, “Perhaps you can go back to making blades.”
“It is too late for that,” the cutler said. “I sold my business long ago and this village needs only one cutler.”
“True,” the cobbler replied. “Very true.”