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Excerpt: Jacob T. Marley

Marley stuck out his hand from the folds of his coat and presented an envelope, sealed with a wax stamp. “Here is the eviction notice. You are to be out by end of day today. You may take your possessions, but if you wish to leave them, you will be assessed—”

“Mr. Marley,” Cummings said with some alarm, “I know that we have not met our obligations and that we are due our consequences, but my wife . . .” His voice trailed off as he gestured to the chair by the table, where, unnoticed up to this point by Marley, sat the most pregnant woman he had ever seen. She was indeed swollen, and, to Marley’s perspective, it was with an illness. It was the malady contracted by so many newlyweds that, in love or foul misjudgment, yields the sickness of noise, discomfort, unnecessary expense, and trouble. Marley was no fool. He knew the race depended upon the continued addition of new generations, but what a bothersome, inconvenient way to bring them into the world! And, it seemed to him, most couples selected the most inopportune time financially to take on this investment burden that would never repay them.

“Mr. Marley,” Cummings continued, “my wife is in no condition to pack our things and even worse to find herself in the cold. She is but one or two weeks from bearing our baby, maybe even less.” He looked at her with concern, then back at Marley with pleading in his eyes. “We need only a month; we can find arrangements when we have gotten a week past the birth. She is proud and has not wanted to share our condition with her family. But I believe she will now reconsider. I give you my word we will be out thirty days from now.”

Marley felt his rage rise within him. He shook the letter at the couple. “Your word. Your word,” he said slowly, trying to draw out the phrase in disgust. “This envelope is the evidence of how you keep your word! And her pride! So, I must bear the loss in the selfish display of her pride? I would suggest that a little humility is long overdue at this point. Do not make me to suffer at the sin of her pride!”

“But, Mr. Marley, you know my position was eliminated—”

“None of my affair,” Marley said brusquely. “I have no interest in your personal business. You made a contract with me. I kept up my end of it. You did not. You forfeited, per the language of the agreement. In fact, if you read it carefully, you will see I have already given you two extra days.”

“Two days, Mr. Marley, is appreciated, but is not enough. She is so fragile. This pregnancy has been long in coming and difficult in its progression. I fear for her health and our baby’s.”

Marley’s eyes narrowed to slits as he glared at Cummings. “Fears you should have considered when you decided to have a child. Surely the term of a pregnancy was no surprise to you—-a simple calculation would have told you that this baby would be here in the cold of February. You made either a bad choice or no choice—-both of which you, not I, are responsible to resolve.”

“But sir, I did not choose to change the factory, to put in the machines that did our work. I was employed well—-you even said so when we signed the agreement. It was not—”

“Enough!” barked Marley. “There is no end to this discussion that will lead to any outcome other than one of two options. The first is your producing all your back payments and, according to the agreement in the case of late arrangements, paying two months forward for my security; the second is your being out by the end of today. I trust you do not have the payments?” he asked with a sarcastic sneer.

With that, the room was silent. Marley had avoided the gaze of the pregnant wife. She slowly stood, and the movement caught him off guard, causing him now to reactively turn and look in her direction. As he met her eyes, he knew through his years of managing the affairs of the indolent what he would see. There would be tears, pleading in her face. Nothing but manipulative emotions designed to separate Marley from the fixed and appropriate outcome of his settlement.

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