Advice in the Extremity of Need

This is an old story from the West Country of England. A very rich man falls sick and on his deathbed tells his only son that he will get all the property. Then he passes to him a strong leather belt with a big metal buckle, and says, “Son, promise me that you will always keep this in memory of me and where it often. Replace the belt as it wears out but keep the buckle. If you are ever in dire distress, get iron smith to open the buckle and in it you will find a piece of advice for you in that extremity of need”.

The son obediently makes the promise. He knows quite well what the advice will be: “This too will pass” or “I am the captain of my soul”, or something like that.

When he inherits he lives sensibly for a time but then takes to drinking and gambling; he is exploited and soon the property is frittered away. Things go from bad to worse and soon he has nothing but the clothes he stands up in including the belt. A feeling of remorse comes over him and he thinks of his father. The impulse to open the buckle and he begs an ironmonger to do it for him free. The craftsman contemptuously tells him to wait till the business of the day is finished and then breaks into the buckle.

There is a silence and then the ironmonger says respectfully “I shall have to charge you for this sir” he shows him the opened buckle inside folded up very small is a one thousand pound Bank of England treasury note, then a small fortune in itself.

There is nothing else but the son realises the unspoken advice to the Prodigal Son.

No words were needed.

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