Excerpt: Jacob T. Marley

Mr. Cummings gently said to Marley, “I assure you, Mr. Marley, there is no damage, what little we have is gone, and the home is clean.”

His wife walked up to Marley and, with a steady voice and fire in her eyes, said, “Cleaner by a great deal more than when we moved in.”

Marley looked back at her and then mumbled, “Good. As it should be.” Then, turning to the man, he said, “Nonetheless, I will inspect it and notify you if I see a problem. Wait here.”

He left the couple standing in the entryway as he surveyed the home. His practiced eye made quick work of the environment, knowing what problems typically were created and, of those, which ones he would levy the greatest penalty for. He was frustrated to find nothing.

“All right, then,” he said. “Out and be gone with you!”

The threesome stepped out into the cold, dreary storm. Marley watched as the woman took her place between the pull shafts to help her husband haul the small collection of their things to who knew where. Her husband gently took her hands off the rails, kissed her on the cheek, and then lifted her to sit on the front of the cargo box in a spot that he had obviously prepared for her.

“Fool,” Marley muttered. “Doesn’t he even understand that putting her there will make his job harder?”

Cummings put a harness around his shoulders and lifted the handles. Then, straining against the weight, the resistance on the wheels from the ruts of frozen snow, and the thousand stings of the driving weather, he pulled.

Marley began walking back to his carriage.

There are times in our lives when we remember things for no known purpose, the memory sitting in our pocket like a lonely button fallen from some unknown garment that we save in the anticipation of one day having a flash of inspiration, “This belongs to my old black coat!” For some reason, this day, Marley heard in the back of his mind the departing words of the Cummingses, and they stuck with him.

“John, will you be all right?”

“Sure, I am good enough. Hold tight so you don’t fall, Fan. Here we go.”

It was of so little consequence at that moment that, although he took note of it as he put his hand on the carriage door, he had forgotten about it by the time he was seated. Raising his voice, he rudely commanded his driver to hasten back to his office.

Later that day, Marley sat quite still at his desk. His elbow rested upon the broad surface as he dangled the pearl necklace in front of him. Several times in the last hour, he had concluded to visit his favorite precious stones dealer and sell the pearl. It should be pointed out, so as not to mislead anyone with regard to Marley having a favorite anything, that this man was just so approbated not because he was particularly good at his trade, and certainly not because Marley cared for him, but in reality because he was most likely to succumb to Marley’s withering protestations in a negotiation.

Yet, each time he would make an effort to push his chair back and rise to the task, he paused, bumping into some force of uncertainty he could not quantify. The market was good enough, he had the time this afternoon, and he certainly would have liked to dispose of any reference to this -strong--willed woman who had left him so unsettled. But he could not move. Thus repelled, he stared now at the little innocent gem, attempting to draw from its luster a cause for the hesitation, as though it might surrender some reason to his practiced gaze. No insight revealed itself.

Finally, he yielded. Marley opened the writing tray in his desk. It was particularly thick, but should someone remove it from its rollers, he would find it to be surprisingly light. Marley triggered a small clasp on its underbelly and lifted out the inside of the drawer, revealing a shallow but secure and secret compartment nested in what should have been solid wood. Therein lay a few papers, a key, and some other items Marley did not want to deposit in the usual places. He took a blank ledger page and folded it into an envelope around the pearl necklace, pushed it to the back of the compartment, and shut the top.

“In time,” he said aloud to himself.

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