Excerpt: Jacob T. Marley

One last woman stood, looking at him imploringly and knowing the gravity of what she asked him with her pleading eyes. She uttered not a word, but grabbed his hand and stared into his face.

He nodded and turned, running into the building that was more flame than wood.

The minutes passed. Some later said they thought they had seen his feet coming down the stairs, visible now through the widening hole that had been the front door. However, at that moment, St. Crispin’s fell in upon itself, folding its walls, its stories, and its lives into an explosion of heat and burning timbers, claiming Thelonius and the final child for whom he had given his life.

It took three days for the remains of the building to cool. When they could walk across the mass, all searched with but one purpose—to find some sign of the child and Thelonius. Finally, beneath the collapsed stairwell, they found their remains, Thelonius’s body charred, all earthly beauty gone from the man. Within his coat, the lifeless body of a small boy clung to his waist, unburned where Thelonius had tucked him. The child had died from inhalation, not ten yards from the aching arms of his mother.

In time, the debris was cleared and a new building was erected for some different purpose. To any passerby, it was nondescript and housed some element of Portsmouth Common’s shipbuilding economy. However, on the northeast corner, one could find a stone, three up from the ground, with this simple inscription:


The reason for this particularly detailed diversion is to make a singular point—Jacob Marley was given his middle name in honor of the grandfather he never knew. Everyone in the southwest of Britain could recite the story, and when the boy was asked his name, his inevitable reply was Jacob Thelonius Marley, with an air of substantiating his own character, having claimed the bloodline of the great saver of the children of St. Crispin’s.

Jacob found nothing wanting to serve for example and inspiration. Indeed, he carried in the cradle of his name a reminder as his constant companion, a memorial to as good a man as there could be. Yet, it is worthy to note that as the years wore on, Jacob reduced his name to Jacob T. Marley, allegedly to narrow the complexity of a simple introduction. In truth, Jacob had grown tired of the explanation of his name for those who did not know of Thelonius, and of the expectations of him from those who did. As he aged, he would shorten his name still further to Jacob Marley, leaving the T behind him on the shoulder of his particular highway of life. He offered no one an explanation, having no need to justify anything at his station. To himself, he asserted the demand for increased simplicity in the many signatures that were a part of his chosen profession. Yet, deep inside the crusty old miser, he knew that what he hated most was to be reminded of a notion he had taught himself was an unwise transaction—to give too much for too little. The sense of it bothered him, and he expurgated at least part of that from his life by leaving a character in the gutter.

What, then, turned the man? What was so powerful that he discarded that middle name and all that it symbolized? We all ascend or descend in steps, the journey to the high road or the low taken in many increments, the sum total determining our eventual destination. Yet, in the case of Marley, there was a moment, a particular event that transformed Jacob’s future and that of all those with whom he would associate.

It occurred in Jacob’s youth. It was not negative in its intent, being a circumstance in which the motivation had been to bolster the spirits of the young boy. He was but twelve years of age at the time, and in his course of study of mathematics had demonstrated an unusual comfort with the subject. His instructor had given the class one remarkably difficult problem to decipher. Some gave up; most tried and failed. A very few got the right answer—among them, Jacob. But what particularly caused him to stand out were both the speed with which he did it and the method of derivation he used, showing a maturity in his analytical skills beyond the dozen full seasonal turns he had spent on the earth.

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