by Jessica Murphy
Prompt: He had found something that would mean he’d never be poor again—but there was a catch.
THE HORN OF ENOUGH
Wading through the surf of the Adriatic, on the island of Coscu, he stumbled as his foot hit on a sharp object. He bent down to retrieve it so no other bather would be bothered by it. Through the few inches of sea water he saw a pointed bone-like thing. He dug around in the soft sand, and soon it was released in its entirety—a six inch horn-like shape, with a metal base. He held it up to look more closely and rubbed sand from it. When he touched it, the metal base fell open and Drachmai coins began to spill from it.
They looked like the ones he had been spending. So he picked them up. And so began Sam McCuchkin’s tale of the Cornucopia of Coscu.
After World War II, Sam resigned from the Canadian Navy. He was now a Merchant Marine, sailing from St. John’s Newfoundland. He was serving as the second mate on a freighter that had just landed in Athens to offload its cargo of Durham wheat. The ship’s company had three days shore leave, so Sam, not one for the bars of port towns, had booked a trip on an interisland ferry, and here he was on Coscu.
Sam was perhaps uneducated in the generally accepted sense. But he was smart. He knew the horn was most likely an artifact, a really old one. Perhaps Roman. Perhaps Greek. Whatever, it was treasure, and as such the government of Greece had a claim to it. So he took it to a seedy second-hand shop near the harbour. But a shop with credibility. All of the sailors went there if they found something. The owner, one Ionescu, treated them fairly. As far as they knew.
Ionescu was a small man, dapper in a white linen suit with a bandana tied around his neck. He touched the horn with reverence, opened the base gently, and looked inside.
“Yes…” he breathed. “Lovely. There is an inscription on the reverse of the base.” He nodded into his half-lens glasses. “As there should be.”
“So,” said Sam. “What does it say? And how old is this thing?”
“The verse is written in an ancient form of Greek.” Ionescu smiled. “Or should I say ‘curse’? I love it when I can rhyme in a foreign language.” He smiled even wider. Ionescu was a second hand dealer in a Greek port, but he had enjoyed an extensive liberal arts education and seldom got a chance to exercise that area of his expertise. He really was a frustrated classical scholar.
“I can translate. But to make it meaningful, I will need time.”
“Why?” asked Sam.
“Because poetry needs reflection.”
The next day Sam, with the horn, met with Ionescu. The Greek had worked from a copy of the inscription. “So. I could read you the Greek, ancient as it is. I believe this is a cornucopia—you are familiar with that word?—from the fifth century BCE. But it is a jest. A joke. Cornucopiae were made from the largest bull horns, representing plenty. This is one of the tiniest horns, from the female capra ibex. So delicate.” Then he smiled at Sam slyly. “Small, as in not a horn of plenty. In any case, I have a translation for you. The inscription says, give or take for the oddities of ancient Greek:
‘You, Hornfinder is blessed to be hale and healthy.
You will never be poor. But you will never be wealthy.’
“Ooh,” said Sam.
Ionescu grinned. “Not the worst fortune in the world.”
“And not the best,” said Sam. “Anyway, what do I owe you? I appreciate…” he paused. “Your poetry.”
“To be honest, you should never part with the relic. The inscription is not a curse. And how about $50.00 American?” Then he slapped himself on the forehead. “Wait. Who am I dealing with? $100.00.” He smiled. “You will always be able to afford that…or anything.”
Back in Port McLeod, on the western edge of Newfoundland, Sam McCutchin enjoyed a fine and early retirement. When he drew down his savings account to purchase a cabin on the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, just beyond the township, he paid, and then, within minutes, the money was returned to his account. Depositor unknown. When he handed a five dollar bill to a hobo, he found another in his wallet. So he began giving out twenties, then fifties. He donated to every village charity. He single-handedly ensured that the Christmas hampers were filled beyond their capacity; the local school teams finally had the funds to go to sports finals in St. John’s; the town medical centre became a hospital. And deserving high school graduates had their tuition and related costs paid for their attendance at Dalhousie, in Nova Scotia. Sam always donated anonymously, but the townsfolk knew.
Sam McCutchin was still healthy and active at ninety-eight years old when his heart gave out. The village grieved for its benefactor of some sixty years. In memorium, they named a park that included a children’s playground and the local museum, after Sam.
The little capra ibex horn, with some other memorabilia from Sam’s seafaring days, sits demurely in a case in the McCutchin Museum. Strangely, that museum is always adequately financed through visitor donations.