Excerpt: Jacob T. Marley

However, he was surprised. This woman was not crying, and she most certainly was not afraid of Marley, or, he surmised, of anything. She held her protruding belly beneath one hand as she walked toward Marley, never releasing his stare.

Marley too was afraid of nothing, and though this moment made him uncomfortable, he refused to back away as she drew closer. When she came within a yard of Marley, she stopped and, with her other hand, reached behind her neck and unfastened a thin gold chain. Without ever moving her eyes, she held the necklace up between their faces. From it was suspended a single pearl, small but brilliant. Marley was momentarily startled as its translucence almost seemed to draw in light from the woman and reflect it outward.

“If I give you this, how many additional months would it buy us?” she asked with a firm defiance.

How an average woman such as this had come into possession of a gem this remarkable was beyond his imagination. Swiftly and silently he assayed the value of the tribute, deliberately stifling his facial expression from displaying his impression. He calculated the most conservative price the piece would command, most likely far below what he would be able to gain in negotiations. He calculated that in rent, and then halved that number of days. Then he halved it again. And again, and again. Finally, he halved it one more time.

“Three days,” he replied coldly, never releasing her gaze and never raising a hand toward the pearl.

Cummings gasped, knowing that the value of the necklace was far more than a fraction of a month’s rent. But his wife did not waver in her stare, or in her suspension of the necklace in Marley’s line of sight.

“So be it, then—take it!” She did not move one inch to make it easier for Marley to grasp the necklace. With an only slightly perceptible regret in her voice, she said, “It was a gift from my brother.”

Marley did not miss that minute fluctuation. Weakling, he thought. For a moment, he had actually admired her resolve.

He reached up and took the necklace, placing it in his coat pocket. With that, he removed a watch and, looking at it, said, “It is a quarter to two. At a quarter to two on Thursday, you need to be out. I will be here at that time. If you are not gone, I will return at a quarter past two with the constable. He will deal with you appropriately.”
He tipped his hat incongruously to the couple he had just condemned, and then he stepped out into the cold.

As he walked to his carriage, he heard not a sound from the house—no wailing, no curses. Of course, had there been any, he would not have paid them any attention. He was oblivious to all such: the emotions, the pain, the concern. Oblivious to the final plea implicit in the simple comment that “it was a gift from my brother.” Rather, he was rapidly calculating his gain on the necklace.

At twenty minutes before two on Thursday, Marley’s carriage worked its way across the cobblestones to what, in five minutes’ time, would be the previous home of the Cummings family. A loaded cart stood by the door, the husband emerging with a last item to be placed on the meager pile of their possessions.

The carriage driver leapt down, opened the door for Marley, and placed a step beneath it to help him out into the raw wind and driving mixture of sleet and snow. Marley stepped into the apartment, followed by Mr. Cummings, tipped his hat in the slightest possible manner, and then began speaking without bothering to look at the couple.

“I will inspect the house. Any damage done, filth left, or inconvenience created by remaining possessions will result in assessments. You will pay me before departing. Do you understand?”

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