Excerpt: Jacob T. Marley

The only feature that bothered him was in the bedroom. Here, the fireplace had been adorned with tiles, each depicting one of the many familiar stories of the Holy Scriptures. Done in the blue and white delft style of the Dutch artisans, the artwork was superb. In other circumstances this room might have been reserved for a guest room and the commodious hearth would have been an inspiration and conversation piece. But to Marley, who had no guests, each tile called to him, a faint cry from the past when these stories had been the foundation upon which he was raised. He needed none of it! He had found his gift and he was using it and had no room for the introspective condemnation of his ways.

After he took residence in the cold, lonely house, he paid a workman to come and remove the tiles. At first, when the man examined the hearth, he stated that he needed additional tools. When he was due to return, he seemed to conveniently forget the location. Next, when he finally did arrive, he told Marley that the tiles were inset in a way that would ruin the entire fireplace if he tried to remove them. Not accustomed to failure in any endeavor, Marley raised his voice at the worker: “If you are not skilled enough at your trade to remove these infernal tiles, I must find someone who is.”

The man did not flinch. He only looked at the hearth and then turned and calmly received the darts of Marley’s stare.

“I can remove them, Mr. Marley,” he said softly. “What I cannot do is preserve them in the process. Someone far greater than me made these. See here, sir,” he went on, as he pointed out the fine points of each picture. “These were done by master craftsmen. There are many imitations today, but they lack the depth of feeling in each image. If these were lost in the removal, I could not redo them.”

“I don’t want them redone and I don’t want them preserved! Of what matter is that?” Marley stammered in frustration and growing anger.

The man waited, his pondering being a function not of wondering what to say, but rather, of giving himself an assurance he said the next thing most correctly. “Once a thing is created, Mr. Marley, I believe it has purpose to it. If I could improve upon these, I would readily remove them. But I cannot. The hand that made these had talents I do not even understand. For me, the loss would be a tragedy, and I fear I would frustrate the intent of their creator.”

“You had better leave,” Marley ordered.

“Sir, I would also tell you that when these are taken off, with care or with force, you will need to replace all the facing here about. It will be the cost of an entire new fireplace.”

Marley was, in the balance, a skinflint. He had accepted many a disagreeable option for the sake of saving a farthing. This was the case with his fireplace, and he finally decided to suffer the daily encounter with Elijah calling fire down on idol worshippers rather than part with any coin.

Time went by and Marley labored. One by one, his parents and siblings abandoned their frustrated pleadings for a relationship. His brothers went on to trades of modest but honest work. None of them achieved any kind of wealth or significance in the worldly sense, but all were happy. This fact annoyed Marley. It was not his own lack of joy in comparison to his siblings that bothered him. It was their total ignorance of their own condition that set his anger afire. They clearly understood nothing about how poor they were. They wasted money on trips to the seashore and children and turkeys at Christmas, and other things for which no investment could be compounded.

His father passed, and Marley could not justify the trip to the funeral, based on the business that demanded his attention. Soon thereafter his mother lay on her deathbed, surrounded by her children, her final words a plea for Jacob’s soul. His sister sent him a post upon their mother’s passing, telling him of such and imploring him to come to her memorial service. She also asked for his help to secure a decent coffin and place of rest. Marley did cover the cost of the funeral and the coffin and the plot and the flowers.

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