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What to Do With a Miser in the Neighborhood. We had no Russian counts or magicians, but a miser - him we had

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HE was a burly, square-shouldered man with large eyes sunk deep in shadowy hollows, a down-turning, dejected nose, and a long black beard streaked with white, like a sky trying to break the habit of darkness, of gloominess. Heaven help you if you encountered him on the narrow little sidewalk of our block. You had to make room for him; he wouldn't you. He was a miser. He was, even, our miser. Our block, a level row of mostly old houses that looked like one another, the doughty, unified way old faces look like one another, did not boast of anyone illustrious. We did not have an exiled Russian count peering from his attic window with droshky-haunted eyes, his nose tickled by the feather of a snowy memory. We did not have a magician in a sequined cape floating from rooftop to rooftop like a cloud of spangled bubbles, nor a soprano whose voice made even the birds whisper ``Shh!'' to one another and listen. But destitute of these wonders as we were, a miser, yes, him we had. He lifted us a bit above the ordinary, if only in a lamentable way.

And how did we know that this man, about whom we had such contradictory feelings of abhorrence and thankfulness, was truly a miser? We had only to observe him, not just his stingy behavior on the sidewalk, but other things.

Once, when he was taking a shortcut across a vacant lot, as if he grudged even distance its rightful due, he suddenly stopped and stood staring at something on the ground. His eyes grew larger and keener. Then, glancing about defiantly as if to dare anyone to watch him, he swooped down with one hand and snatched up a wallet, somebody's lost wallet, and put it in his pocket. In that motion was all the skill and sorry conceit of a predatory bird. Then on he walked, without even a backward look. Somewhere perhaps, at that very moment, someone had just touched an empty pocket bereft, and, with a gasp, surmised misfortune.


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