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Excerpt: Jacob T. Marley

“Melinda,” he wrote simply, “I have given to this messenger all the funds required to properly lay our mother to rest. Should there be any extra, you and the others may split it equally, or unequally, as you decide.”

In reading this, Melinda’s heart rejoiced. Perhaps an angel had shown compassion for Clarissa’s appeal in Jacob’s behalf and there would be a chance to redeem her brother back from the darkness in which he lived. However, her brief cause for hope was dashed as quickly as it came.

“In return for this, I ask one thing of you and our brothers. I am a busy man. I have no time for frivolities. I request that none of you attempt to contact me again. We are all adults and must make our own ways in the world. Should you not possess the industry, thrift, or intelligence to cover your expenses in this life, that is your pit into which you have dug yourself and one you must climb out of on your own, or be content to lie within. Family gatherings to me are a nuisance [which was an odd observation, given that Marley had never attended one] and of no contribution to my condition. I take my leave of you, and wish you would do so of me as well. Signed, J. Marley.”

Though his family members honored his request, they mourned. No communiqué was ever offered again. Melinda and her brothers carried Jacob’s absence as a weight upon their hearts for the rest of their lives, a sorrowful corner of their otherwise happy existence. In visits with one another, they occasionally spoke of Jacob in hushed tones and offered prayers in his behalf. “Uncle Jacob” was no more than a figment of the imagination to their children, a character from a book who came to life only in the exaggerated tales they told one another of his evil ways.

Marley, however, once he had sealed the note and handed it to the courier, never thought of them again.

He had no friends, only acquaintances built in the course of business. There were no women in his life. There was not sufficient recompense in such a relationship to justify it.

So Marley went his way in the world, confining himself to the narrow environment of the Exchange, his countinghouse, and his investments. With each entry in his ledgers, his purse became richer, and the rut of his life deeper.

He was indeed an unpleasant man, wearing his greed in his countenance. Those with a shred of goodness in them went to any length to avoid him. Even those aligned with Marley in their self-absorbed version of morality despised him, for he turned their common iniquity against them. As necessary to conduct a deal, they wore a mask of pleasantries to spend time with him, convincing neither themselves that they were fooling him, nor him that they meant any of it.

One particular specialty of Marley and his countinghouse was that of rent assessment for his clients. Though landlords were terrified of him, they saw in his compassionless dedication to collections a means to assure their own income, and enjoyed the benefit while remaining at arm’s length from his heartless deeds. Thus, he built quite a portfolio of properties. It was said that when delinquent tenants saw Marley’s carriage approaching, they simply began to pack. Most of the properties were closer to dereliction than quaintness. Marley found the lessees of these residences to be the worst payers, a condition he had turned to his advantage. When someone fell behind on their payments, he would negotiate a division with the owner, keeping for himself the greater portion of what he could collect rather than the standard percentage he was normally allowed in the contracts. Accustomed to getting nothing at all from desperate tenants, his clients took the deal as readily as Marley took them.

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