“And what, dear Uncle, do you require in return?” the Nephew asked, glancing impatiently at his phone.
His Uncle reached over for his pipe, tapped it twice on the ashtray, and then sitting back in his rocking chair, replied, “Merely that you keep me company, my dear boy. That’s all. Just visit with me a bit each day and check on me at night before I retire. Not too much to ask for a rent-free cottage and a small monthly allowance now, is it?”
With no prospects of a job, no car and with no savings, the Nephew was in no shape to negotiate with the old man. But the thought of being stuck out here ‘in the sticks’ with no car and no friends was a bitter pill. “I don’t suppose I have a choice, do I, Uncle?” he replied with no enthusiasm.
“No,” the Uncle replied, loading his pipe slowly, “I don’t suppose you do, Nephew.” Striking up a match, the old man puffed away on his pipe as he stared stoically at his young visitor for a moment, and then added, “But we can find interesting things to do together, I'm sure.”
“Things to do, Uncle? Out here? Like what, for instance?’ the Nephew asked.
“Well, for one, we can go through my spoon collection. You know, clean-up the documentation, organize it, shine it up a bit. How does that sound, Nephew?” the old man said, watching him closely. “In fact, we can start right now if you don’t have anything important to do, Nephew?”
Trapped, he thought to himself. This is what he feared that his life would come to. Tied to a dreary old man and all of that old man’s dreary stuff. Jesus, a spoon collection. “No, Uncle, I’d love to help you with your spoon collection,” he replied, again with no enthusiasm.
The old man smiled and gripping his pipe in one hand slowly pushed himself up and out of his rocking chair and went over to the nearby sideboard. Opening one of its drawers, he extracted something wrapped in blue velvet cloth and returned to his rocking chair.
Sitting down with an effort, the old man sat still for a moment with the wrapped object in his lap as he caught his breath. Then, putting his pipe in his mouth, he opened the velvet cloth to reveal a black wooden box.
“What’s that, Uncle? One of your spoons?” the Nephew wondered.
“Not just one of my spoons, Nephew. The most important spoon!” the Uncle explained, his voice clear. “And one day it will be yours . . . after I pass.”
The Nephew showed no emotion as the old man carefully opened the wooden box and beckoned him with his hand. “Here, come closer.”
Leaning down, the young man saw what was lying in the wooden box. It was just an old silver spoon, blackened by age, probably a tablespoon by the look of it. Nothing special, the Nephew thought. “What’s so important about this one, Uncle?” he ventured.
“Ah, silver spoons were used by royalty centuries ago to foil attempts at poisoning them, Nephew. In the presence of silver, Sulphur and arsenic and many other compounds would turn the spoon black,” the Uncle explained.
The Nephew was now getting interested. “So, this spoon was a poison tester for some King? Is that what you’re telling me, Uncle?”
“Yes, Nephew. And its provenance is flawless!”
“What King?” the Nephew asked breathlessly.
“Here, look at the stem,” the old man said, handing his Nephew a magnifying glass.
Taking the magnifying glass in hand, the young man held the spoon in one hand and peered at the writing on the stem. “It’s in French, with a royal crest and a date, Uncle! This must be priceless!”
The Uncle took the spoon back from his Nephew and replied, “Yes, it’s very valuable. I was lucky to come across it years ago, Nephew.”
The Nephew’s head was now swimming with visions of imminent wealth, visions which until now had just been fantasies. “You must keep this spoon safe, Uncle! Are you sure it’s safe?”
“Way out here, Nephew? Oh, yes, it’s safe. Here, put it back in the sideboard, if you will. I’m feeling a bit tired and wish to retire,” the old man replied. “We’ll do more with my spoon collection tomorrow night, if that meets with your approval.”
Beaming, the Nephew took the velvet wrapped box and replaced it in its drawer and quickly returned to sit next to his Uncle. “Yes, I look forward to that, dear Uncle,” he said earnestly. “Now, let me help you to your bed.”
The two slowly moved together from the rocking chair towards the small rear bedroom, each lost in his own thoughts. The Nephew was thinking about that little red Porsche roadster he’s always wanted. On the other hand, the old man was reflecting on how much money he was saving by not having to pay for an expensive retirement home.
He was lucky to have a gullible young Nephew who could be fooled so easily by a common pewter spoon and some black paint.
And tomorrow night, who knows, maybe he’d pull out his counterfeit set of sixteenth century Apostle Spoons to show to the Nephew. And, just for added measure, he’d let it slip that he hadn’t long to live.
That should keep the Nephew around for at least a year or so longer. After that, who knew?
There was always the widow on the farm next door. She was a wily one, he thought, but desperate. Maybe he could arrange for her to ‘discover’ some hidden cash buried near his garden. Just a taste, but enough to keep her interested and in his service.