There was once a man who inherited a manor house from his uncle. This man was prone to spending large amounts of money on things for himself – holidays abroad, new furnishings and lavish parties – but he soon found himself enormous debt. His family began to complain about never having enough money for purchasing what they needed.
His children grew hungry and sick, but they could not buy food or medicine. So in an act of desperation this man sold some paintings to an antiques dealer, and this gave him money for food to last a short time.
When that money ran out he sold some old books to a bookseller and that money kept them fed for a time, but inevitably it ran out.
One day he came upon a scrap metal merchant who was looking for copper. The man remembered that there were copper pipes in the old detached bathroom, so he gathered them up and sold them to the merchant. The sum he received was even more substantial than before, so he put the money in the bank and only used a small amount to purchase a single loaf of bread and a pint of milk.
The man went back to the bank to check on his savings and something in him began to change when he saw the numbers written down. When he went home he began looking for things he could sell — anything that could bring in some money.
Over the next few days he sold an antique piano, the table and chairs from the dining room, a brass bed his children had been sleeping in, and his wife’s jewellery. He put all the money he made straight into the bank and every few days he would get a statement and marvel at how his savings had grown.
He continued to sell anything he could. He sold his family’s clothing, their dog, the carpets off the floor, and even began to pull the copper wires out of the wall to sell — not even the fruit trees in the garden were safe as they were uprooted and sold off. He began to swoon when he thought of how much money he had already saved up. Then he reduced the single loaf of bread and pint of milk to merely a half-loaf of bread and a half pint of milk, watered down to make it last longer. Then even the milk was cut off.
One evening, as his wife and children lay shivering in the cold, bare shell of the house they had inherited, with no clothes, no food and no heating, the man strode in proudly brandishing the latest bank statement, dressed in a fine Italian suit and wiping the remnants of a delicious red wine sauce from the corner of his mouth.
“Look at these numbers, my darlings,” he said, “I doubt you will ever see a healthier bank account than this. We are surely some of the wealthiest people in the land. Aren’t I so clever!”
His wife struggled to her feet to address her husband.
“What do we care of your savings when we are deprived of what we need to survive? Your children are starving and dying from the cold, your house is a crumbling shell since you picked it clean of everything you could exploit, and yet you brag of how wealthy you are and continue to buy yourself fine things.”
“Well, as I am in charge of the household, it is my right to be well-dressed and well-fed! Who would trade with a ragamuffin? What would they think if I did not present myself as a successful man?”
“But, dear husband, what of us?”
The man stood, baffled.
“Well, what are we to dress ourselves in? What are we to eat?”
“If you are unhappy at your lack of clothing and food, you should simply sell something like I do,” replied the man.
“We have nothing to sell, you have taken everything from us,” replied his wife, “how are we to do as you say without the means?”
The man began to stroke his chin as if deep in thought and looked down at his fine suit, his bank statement and then up at his naked, underfed wife.
“If only there was something that I could do,” said the man.
The beleaguered woman turned her back on her husband and rejoined the children. They huddled together for warmth.
“Ah, see, there you go,” said the man, “who needs clothes when you can cuddle to stay warm?”
The man went to the dining room. Where once had been a grand hall with an ornate table and chandeliers, now there was a dark and empty room. The man strode through the space, admiring his bank statement and then stopped to look at his surroundings. He realised that there was nothing left to sell. He had sold everything except the plaster on the walls and the boards of the floor. It was only then that he began to panic, and he ran from room to room looking for things to sell. He could find nothing.
The last thing he laid eyes on was his poor family, and he considered how fine a woman his wife was. She must be worth a pretty penny, he thought to himself…