The 'Headers In Life & Legend
by Russell W. Knight

The Money Merchant

He was big, fat and sluggish.

And each day, it was his custom to place a chair near the door of his store and greet whoever entered its musty quarters. There, the drowsy Buddha-like figure remained from morning till closing time.

Was it nails the customer wanted? If so, the customer would find them on the third shelf, next to the rear window, to the right of the nuts and bolts.

Paint? The customer would discover it in the far corner to the left of the back door. A shovel? The customer would locate it tucked away in the attic, under the eaves.

"Just pick out what you need and bring it to me," the money merchant would say. "I'll weigh it, price it and bag it for you. That way, you can't complain.

"And by getting it yourself," he would add, "you save me a lot of steps, me being way overweight, old and worn to a frazzle."

It was a primitive form of self-service, but it worked and worked well. Year-in and year-out, the ramshackle store drew scores of yachtsmen, summer residents and newcomers who were eager to meet the store's colorful character. They came, served themselves and departed, leaving him a cash register crammed with greenbacks and silver. Only on Fridays did his routine change; on that day, each week, he would trudge to a nearby bank and withdraw several thousand dollars in various denominations.

After he returned to his store, he would don a multi-pocketed "duster" and bide his time. For Friday was payday, the day when all town employees received their paychecks.

The rush began at noon. And one by one, they trooped in and placed in his moist palms the checks they had just received. From then on, things happened - swiftly, accurately and awesomely.

One hand would flit here, one hand would dart there, each hand soft, unsullied, greedy and grasping. As one dipped into a bulging lower pocket, the other would plumb the depths of its mate.

Time and time again, they would cross and recross, rise and fall, snag a bill and withdraw. Moving with the speed of light, their probing fingers would pluck a dollar from this pocket, and five from that pocket, a ten or twenty from yet another. By late afternoon, the capacious pockets of his duster no longer bulged with greenbacks. They now bulged with a sheaf of crumpled checks.

The next morning, the Money Merchant would wend his way to the bank and deposit in his account the checks he had cashed.

Understandably, this practice of exchanging hundreds of dollars for a few dozen checks every Friday, week after week, had aroused the curiosity of the townspeople.

Yet, none dared to question him, for he was a testy soul. And so, it remained an enigma until a brash newcomer, a real Paul Pry, dared ask the obvious question:

"Tell me, sir," the newcomer asked, "why do you go to the bank every Friday, withdraw several thousand dollars, and then use it to cash the checks of the town employees? None of them ever spends so much as a dollar in your store. And because I happen to know you don't charge them a penny for cashing their checks, where's your profit?"

"Well," the Money Merchant replied, complacently stroking his ample paunch. "There ain't none. There never was, and there never will be.

"But, I can tell you this," he added. "I sure do enjoy fondling all that money every week!"

* * *

He was a man of substance, a townie who had made good in a big way. But driven by an insatiable lust for riches, he rarely spent a cent on himself. The clothes he wore were ragged and old, and his cracked and shoddy shoes were fit only for the dump.

Yet, when urged by a friend to loosen his purse strings lest his wealth be squandered by his heirs, this man of substance merely shrugged.

"If they get as much pleasure spending my money as I get counting it each day, it's alright with me!"

The Old Timer, who recalled the incident, also observed that a miser... Makes a wonderful ancestor!

Next... || Previous

Table Of Contents