A NEW KIND OF SCROOGE
"Hello, Mr. Witten," Ted Allen greeted Donald Witten as Witten walked into Jane's Coffeehouse in Cardinal City.
"Hi, Ted," replied Mr. Witten.
"Why so gloomy?" Ted asked.
"Oh, I keep thinking about what Ezra Kiper cheated me out of twenty years ago tomorrow."
Everyone in Cardinal City knew who Ezra Kiper was - the most miserly, avaricious man in the town. Kiper had worked for the Lenson Furniture factory for many years until, roughly twenty years ago, it had burned to the ground. He and Witten, the owner, had retired. But for two decades, Donald L. Witten had contested that he deserved the entire share of money left over from the plant, and that Kiper had taken an unearned half. However, the fire had apparently destroyed the financial records of Lenson Furniture, for they had never since been found; although the entire town (except Kiper) sided with Witten.
"How exactly did it happen?" Allen asked.
Witten ordered coffee, sat down in the bench across from Allen, and began to relate the account.
"Kiper was having financial troubles when I moved here thirty years ago. Business was decreasing, and Lenson was losing more money every year. I offered to buy the entire factory, and, having heard of and authenticated my impressive business ability, he sold it to me. Ten years later, Lenson began losing money again, and then when the fire happened, I decided to shut down the factory altogether. Kiper had remained in a high position, but he agreed that Lenson should be closed. He dishonestly insisted that he take half of the money left over. Content with my share, not wanting to argue, and having no proof of ownership with the financial records gone, I complied."
"He hoarded his money, while you generously lavished yours upon the community." Ted agreed. "As we all know, the only manual labor he's done in twenty years has been installing burglar alarms around the entire perimeter of the house," he joked. "Why didn't anyone else know that you had full ownership?" Ted continued thoughtfully.
"Because Kiper and I were the only ones who knew the inside goings-on of Lenson.” Witten looked toward the door. “Look, here's your wife. I have a city council meeting to get to. I'll see you later."
"I think something ought to be done about it."
"No, don't bother."
Witten left the coffee shop and hurried to his destination.
Ted's wife, Jesse, voiced a greeting, "Hello, Ted." The couple had been married almost a month and met in the coffee shop every weekday morning, while Ted, who worked from very early morning until noon, had a breakfast break.
Jesse went to the counter, ordered a mug of hot chocolate and a donut, and waited for it. Her requested items were given to her, and she sat down on the bench across from her husband.
"Jesse, can you round up some ladies to picket Ezra Kiper's house tomorrow?"
She looked up from the Cardinal City Daily, startled by Ted's unexpected question.
"What's this all about?" she queried.
Ted shared what Witten had told him, and gradually his young wife came to see the situation from his point of view. They agreed to hold a protest demonstration in front of Kiper's house the next day.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"No, Jimmy, don't go over there," a youthful mother chided her son. A group of ladies had, indeed, congregated on Ezra Kiper's front lawn in-between the sidewalk and the road. But this mother's two-year-old child had wandered past the sidewalk and near Kiper's house. Suddenly the burglar alarm sounded! The crowd waited anxiously for Mr. Kiper to appear. Soon Kiper arrived at his front door. He looked questioningly at the gathering on his yard. Then he sighed.
"Well, I guess we ought to get this over with," Kiper muttered. He pushed his way through the crowd only to run into none other than Donald Witten himself. The people gasped. But Kiper peacefully sidestepped Witten and continued on his way.
"Where do you think he's going?" Ted, who had joined his wife and the ladies, asked Witten.
"I'm not sure, but my guess is the old Lenson ruins," Witten replied.
"Why weren't they destroyed and built over?"
"Being the owner of the property, I didn't want to destroy the plant that had held so many memories for me for ten years. I still go there sometimes just to remember the thrill of making furniture there. Ted, really, I don’t think this was a good idea. Nothing needs to be done. I’m fine with what I have.”
“I understand that, but I think it’s only fair that he give you your money.”
“Well, all right. The old miser has taken away a lot of money that I would have given to the community.”
The crowd waited for an hour before Kiper returned. In his hands he held a book with yellowed pages.
"These are the financial records for all thirty years of Lenson Furniture's existence," Kiper announced.
Everyone gasped. Everyone except for Donald Witten, that is. He fainted.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"How's Mr. Witten?" Ted asked the local doctor approximately two hours later.
Dr. Anthony replied, "Much better, but he'll be staying in the hospital for a while."
Ted turned to Ezra Kiper. The two were in Kiper's house, at his table, and Dr. Anthony had just walked in to tell them about Witten. "What really happened at Lenson?" Ted asked Kiper.
Kiper peered over the book of financial records. "Thirty years ago, I experienced financial difficulty at Lenson. Then Donald came along, forged a résumé, and forced me to put him in a high position. But I never sold him the plant." Kiper pointed to the book, which showed when Witten was employed, but showed no sale of the plant.
"Why didn't Witten remove the records from the safe?" Ted queried. Kiper had found the records in a fireproof safe at the ruins.
"The safe and lock were still intact, and, being the owner, I was the only one who knew the combination."
"Why was Witten so generous to the community?"
"If he gave his money away, he would be more popular and richer than before the fire, and I would not be able to get my money back from him."
"But why were you so miserly?" Ted further pried.
"I had lost my chance to get another job, because everyone thought I was dishonest. I wanted to keep the little money I had."
"Why didn’t you tell everyone this earlier?"
"No one would have believed me, and I didn't need his money anyway. If I had taken the money, the community wouldn't have gotten it,” Kiper sat up in his chair. “Well, now I've decided to be generous as well.
"I hope you've learned not to jump to conclusions about people now. But let's forget about the mistake now, if, that is, you've learned your lesson," Kiper finished, grinning.
"I have,” Ted replied.