St. Sylvester Night
It had been snowing for hours. The wind was sweeping the country village where Mr. Johnson lived. Not that he cared. He lived in a comfortable house outside the village gate. The fire crackled in the hearth and he was too busy counting his past year earnings. The golden coins glittered under the lamplight. It had been a tough year, trying to get his due from the villagers. Those people thought money grew on trees. They had no idea how much effort and care it took to get rich and, most of all, to stay so.
The tinkling coins were music to his ears. The revenue had been good, yet he could have made more, if that old witch he had lent money to had repaid the agreed interest rate. She had asked for a few weeks. Mr. Johnson would wait reluctantly, not without care and precautions. The tax collector was his faithful informant…
While he was thinking about these matters, a knock on the door brought him back to the living-room. Who could it be? He was unaccustomed to visitors. He had been living alone all his life.
He stood up, left the coins on the table and opened the door. Mrs. June was holding a small empty bowl. She was trembling in the frozen evening air. Would Mr. Johnson be so kind as to give her some milk for Mino, her cat? She had run out of milk, but had realized only in the evening when the milk shop was closed, she apologized.
Mr. Johnson could not believe what he heard. Besides, he needed his own milk, with that sort of weather. ‘I have none left’, he said archly, and closed the door on Mrs. June’s face. He went back to his table, shaking his head. These people would drive him crazy one day. Not only were they always in need of his money, they also wanted his milk for their cats…
He sat at the table again, took his pencil and made the sums on an old notebook. Scarcely had he resumed his accounting, when another rap on the door startled him. This time a pale-lipped urchin smiled faintly, offering him his matches. Mr. Johnson didn’t need any. He had a good fire and a stove. He closed the door hastily, his vexation growing.
He had to get the records straight by that very night, as the day after he would go to the village and demand his due of the people he had helped out: a year had elapsed and agreements were to be honored.
As he started counting his money again, another knock on the door got him in a towering rage. What was the matter this time?
He opened the door wide. A shuddering man covered in rags stretched his arm toward him, begging in silence.
Mr. Johnson was outraged. He had no time to lose and no alms to give, either. A gust of wind swept into the room.
The beggar disappeared.
As Mr. Johnson turned to his table, he stood gaping.
The coins had disappeared too. In their place, a heap of withered leaves.