What If… by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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What if…

Marley wasn’t dead. He never had been dead and although one day he surely would be dead, he now only wanted everyone he ever knew to think he actually was dead. He had suffered to be sure—how else could he describe all the lost years he had toiled away with that miser of a partner Ebenezer Scrooge (he barely dared utter that name lest someone put two and two together and come up with four) who only burned enough coal in their drafty old accounting shop near the Fleet Street to keep the ink in the pots from freezing—but otherwise, he was far from dead. Very far, in fact. Across an ocean far, to be specific, which was certainly to the good for prior to his admittedly precipitous leave-taking from London, Marley had managed to make away with an overly generous portion of the firm’s not unsubstantial yearly profit.

And now it was seven years ago to that very day in the Year of Our Lord 1836 when Marley, pockets bulging, had fled, spiriting himself away on a schooner bound for Boston under an assumed name, Mr. Wilmer. Despite the lateness of the season (it was first of December when he embarked), the crossing had been pleasant enough (how could it not be pleasant to leave the dreary fogs of London and quarrelsome Scrooge—by God, he would haunt the flinty old fiend if ever given half a chance!—in the ship’s wake?), but at the last, a fierce gale blew the poor ship off course and into the Chesapeake Bay where wind and tide eventually pushed it into the mouth of a wide, navigable river that the captain’s chart showed was called the Chester. The captain was a great believer in fate and so decided to make his way upstream and discharge his cargo of fine teas and his sole passenger (the mysterious Mr. Wilmer) at the small but busy wharf located at Chestertown where he would then take on a load of apricots before making his way down to the warm islands for the winter after which he would would take on a poor man’s fortune in rum and return to England the following spring when the winds were more in his favor.

And so it was that “Mr. Wilmer” arrived on the wharf at a place he had never heard of before or ever intended to visit. But so be it. Here he was and here he would make the best of it, and if he was even farther from his dubious past and old Scrooge, then so much the better. He was truly a new man in a new world!

Marley—or the newly minted Mr. Wilmer—took rooms above a tavern on the High Street and set about making a new life for himself. To his pleasant surprise, it turned out to be a relatively easy endeavor. Despite his admittedly nefarious past, he had been blessed by God with an honest face, a pleasant disposition, a keen mind, and a facility with numbers—he reluctantly credited his years with Scrooge at least that much—and so his accounting business quickly and honestly flourished. The local merchants trusted him and sooner than he ever expected, Wilmer had amassed if not a fortune, at least enough money to enable him to purchase a fine home on the Water Street and to marry a comely widow appropriately named Mrs. Comfort. Within a few months, the Widow Comfort—now the happily wed Mrs. Wilmer—began to show. As for the father-to-be, the tedious (and yes, guilt-ridden) memories of London receded to the point at which he actually believed that he was not only truly gone but also forever forgotten.

That is, until a letter arrived on that first day of December, 1843. It was addressed simply to “Mr. Wilmer of Chestertown.” Curious as to its contents, Wilmer opened the letter that night, read it by candlelight, and dropped dead on the spot. When his wife found him slumped in his chair the following morning, she couldn’t help but read the letter that had fallen to the floor from the poor man’s hand. It was brief to the point of rudeness: “I know who you are” and signed only with an initial: “S.”

I’ll be right back.

 

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Barbara Harrison says:

    Wow!

  2. Hugh Silcox says:

    A Dickensian serial! Zounds!

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