There once was an elderly silversmith who had three apprentices. One was called Flynn, the other Chester, and the last Poe. They were three good natured boys, with an appetite for work. The silversmith was very pleased with his apprentices and their performance. They had been working for him for 5 years, and had learnt and perfected the tricks of the trade.
One day, the silversmith decided that it was time for his retirement. He would hand over the practice to one of his boys, and the other two would remain on as assistants. But he did not tell them directly, instead decided to test them. He went to the living room, close to the shed where the boys would work, and announced in a loud voice to his wife, “Jane, I shall hand over the shop to one of the lads, whoe’er proves it most.” All three boys heard this loud and clear.
They looked at each other a moment and scurried back to work before you could say “Hey-oh!” Natually, all three of them wanted it badly. They were resolute to win the position of proprietor.
Flynn, while almost finished with his current project, a finely made cutlery set with gold edges, decided to ask the master for some help and guidance. “Oh, Master,” he said, “how should I improve this set further? I feel that it is lacking somewhat. Might I have your expert guidance?” Though surprised at this question – no five year apprentice would ask this – the silversmith agreed to go over the pieces made. He found everything to be well enough, the finishing done quite beautifully. And he said so. Flynn beamed, and said, “But sir, there must be something. If at all anything, please do tell me. You have such a trained eye. You cannot miss anything.” The silversmith nodded and smiled politely at him.
Chester was, in the meanwhile, lagging in his work. He was in the process of annealing, when by now he should have finished his project, a bowl with intricate carvings. As he knew that he would soon be inspected, he quickly grabbed an old piece, one Poe had painstakingly slaved over, so that the silversmith wouldn’t chide him for being behind in his work. Soon enough, as the silversmith came to his workbench, Chester said, “Here, Master. I made this bowl, around last week. And now I am in the process of making another one. Annealing is in process, soon I shall finish the next one as well.” But the master was no fool. With one look at the bowl he realized that it was not Chester’s work. Every silversmith has their own signature method of design. And this was not Chester’s. But the silversmith did not say anything, nodded and moved on.
Poe was also lagging in his work. He was in process of making a beautiful trident. Casting was done up to now, and he had yet to solder and rivet the pieces together. But he still worked diligently and peacefully. When the silversmith approached him, he said, “Master, I am not yet done.” The silversmith was shocked at this reply. “What do you mean, not done?” Poe, with an apologetic look said, “I still have to solder and rivet the pieces. The casting had to be changed, you see. If I had shown you the final product as-is, you would have appreciated it but Mr. Stone, our customer would not have. Hence, my work remains incomplete.” The silversmith appreciated Poe’s honest answers. He gave Poe a pat on the back and said, “Very good, lad. The only qualities I wanted were honesty and diligence. You have showed me both. You will be the one to take over my practice.”
Flynn and Chester were outraged. “But, Master! I have completed my project before his, and better!” said Flynn. Chester chimed in, “Sir, I have completed mine and am doing extra as well, for the customer, as you said!”
The silversmith turned to both of them. “Flattery and cheating will get you only so far. It is honesty and hard work that only ever matter.”