The bell jangled to let Scratchit know that someone had entered the Counting House. He glanced over the heaped ledgers on his desk and quickly looked down again, anxious to appear busy.
“Scratchit!” The new arrival shouted. “You’ve been putting more coal on this fire, haven’t you?”
“Yes Mr Smooge. But it was so cold, and I only put one lump on.”
“Be that as it may, I’ll be taking the cost of the coal out of your wages.”
Scratchit gave a silent moan. His wages, such as they were, amounted to so little already. At this rate he would have to send Tiny Tim out to work.
“Were there any callers?” Smooge called over his shoulder as he walked towards the inner office, his own private space.“None, Sir.”
“Damn and blast. At this rate I’ll be down to my last million before long. There’s no profit in banking anymore, you know, Scratchit. Why, the government are even threatening to cap the interest rates on loans at a level that are affordable. What nonsense. How’s a hard working usurer supposed to make a living with that sort of attitude. If someone’s such a wastrel that they need to borrow money it should come as no surprise that they’ll pay highly for the privilege and for the risk I take in lending it to them without security.”
Ending the familiar rant Smooge slammed his office door behind him, shutting out Scratchit’s reply. The younger man rose from his desk, pulling his heavy coat tighter around him, half as protection from the cold and half as a form of defence against his employer.
He tapped on the door.
“Go away.” The reply came from within. Scratchit dared to tap again. There was a grinding of chair legs as Smooge stood up, followed by the thump of his boots across the bare floor. Scratchit cowered against the wrath he knew was coming. The door flew open.
“I fucking said go away.” Smooge, barely taller than his employee, seemed to tower over him.
“I’m sorry Mr Smooge, but I have a favour to ask.”
“You can ask as much as you like but I don’t have to grant it.”
“It’s just that its Christmas tomorrow.” Scratchit trembled, and not just with the cold. “I wondered if I might be granted the day off.”
“What?” If Smooge had been asked to lend money at low interest rates he could not have looked more angry. “You not only take my wages but you now want to rob me of a day’s work as well.”
“It is Christmas, Sir.”
“It is Christmas, Sir.” Smooge whined back in imitation. “Bah humbug is what I say to Christmas. A waste of time and a waste of money. You know that if there wasn’t Christmas there would be far less poverty in the world. All that money wasted on presents that no one wants and that they need even less. Bah humbug I say.” Smooge lowered his voice a little, realising that ranting at Scratchit would only raise his own blood pressure to dangerous levels and he was damned if he was going to give himself a stroke so that Scratchit could use it as an excuse to ask for time off to visit him in hospital.
“I suppose there is some benefit. At least we’ll make a fortune out of all the loans we make in January. When I say we, I do of course mean me.” Smooge allowed himself the rarest of all treats, a short, barking laugh of satisfaction.
“Yes, Sir. Thank you Sir. So was that a yes then Sir?”
“Damn your eyes, Scratchit. I suppose so. But I’ll be docking you a day’s pay and I want you in even earlier the next day. Clear?”
“Of course, Mr Smooge.”
The bell jangled and Scratchit took the opportunity provided by the distraction to scurry back to his desk.
“What Ho, Uncle.” The new arrival called, clearly in a good mood.
“You, you damned wastrel. What do you want? You’ll get no money from me. Not while I breathe.”
“And nor do I wish for any, Uncle, either now or in the future. I have simply come to wish you the joy of the season and to invite you to join myself and my darling wife for the enjoyment of Christmas.”
Smooge glared at the neatly dressed young man. He noted with some satisfaction that the collar and cuffs of his shirt were frayed and that he had a patch on the elbow of one sleeve of his coat.
“Why is everyone so obsessed with wishing me joy and inviting me to enjoy myself? A dozen times I had it between the corner of the street and the front door. I shall spend Christmas in any fashion I wish.”
“Quite right too, Uncle, but I do plead with you to consider joining myself and my family to spend it with your loved ones.”
“I have no loved ones. I have taken great care to make sure that I have no loved ones. Loved ones are parasites, sucking the life and money out of a man. Now, Sir, I’ll thank you to be gone so that I may continue with something that I do enjoy; The making of money.”
“As you wish, Uncle. However, the invitation remains open. If you change your mind then you will find a welcome at our hearth.”
“Stuff your welcome up your arse. Now be off with you and stop making free with the heat from my fire.”
The young man shook his head in sadness at his Uncle’s bad temper and turned to leave the Counting House. As he passed Scratchit’s desk he dropped a small leather bag onto it. It jingled with the promise of coins.
“A Merry Christmas to you and yours, Mr Scratchit.” The nephew offered. “A little something for your children. How many are there now?”
“Just the dozen, Mr Justin Sir. Still just the dozen.”
“Well done, Sir. And on the wages my Uncle pays you. It’s a marvel how you and Mrs Scratchit manage.”
Scratchit was just about to tell him that they didn’t manage when the cheerful young man was gone, leaving only an icy blast of wind and a flurry of snow to mark his passage.
To be continued….
Robert has always been keen on writing and has tried his hand at various projects over the years, but the need to earn a crust had always interfered with his desire to be more creative. After serving with the RAF, working as a logistics planner for Royal Mail and as a Civil Servant with the Ministry of Defence, Robert took up writing full time writing in 2012 and produced two works of fiction in rapid succession. In truth these had been “works in progress” while he had still been in full-time employment and just needed finishing off. Since publishing these books on Amazon he has focused on a new book. The Girl I Left Behind Me which will be published by Ex-L-Ence Publishing Ltd in December 2014, to be followed in the Spring of 2015 by a sequel.
In his spare time Robert enjoys playing golf, is a member of a pub skittles team and is trying, unsuccessfully, to learn to play the ukulele. To find out more about Robert Cubitt and his books or to read his weekly blog please visit his website robertcubitt.com or ‘like’ his Facebook Page. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org