All around, the paragons stood proud, their faces stony and stiff. The sculptures were finally complete. The artist smiled proudly at each of the newly-installed stone pieces. The museum around them was beautiful, and only accented their craftsmanship. Plaques of gold adorned the high stand of each sculpted paragon, explaining the significance of each.
The artist’s aching fingers slowly flexed as he walked to the curator. “Master Matthew, may I invite my family in to see the sculptures?” he asked slowly.
“Bertram.” The curator looked at him. “What are you still doing here? I paid. Go away. You’re too filthy to be here.” The curator’s disgust was clear. “Go, before I call security. Be thankful you have been here as long as I have allowed it thus far.” His sneer was insulting.
Bertram flinched away from his cruel gaze. “Please, Master Matthew. We’ll not harm anything. I just want them to see how well you arranged them.” He bowed his head and looked up imploringly.
“No.” Matthew looked around. “Security, please escort the artist out.” He pulled a cloth from a pocket and held it near his nose as he sniffed it.
Bertram sighed and held a hand up to the guards. “I’ll go on my own.” He assured quietly as he turned to walk away. This was the second time the curator denied him a chance to let his family see his work. With a sigh, he exited the museum and looked back at the grand facade.
His family was too poor to visit.
In defeat, he hung his head and began the long walk home.
He was only halfway there when a sharp pain blossomed in his back. He collapsed onto the bag of coins he held tightly, and simply trembled.
Someone flipped him into his back and pulled the money bag away. Bertram looked up. The thief was a grinning young boy. Bertram reached for him and managed to grip the boy by his arm. “Wait.” His voice sounded wet. “My family needs that,” he choked out. “Please, don’t steal it.”
Uncaring, the boy kicked Bertram below the ribs and dashed off as the man coughed and tried to breathe.
Once in an alley, the boy grinned and looked inside. It was filled with shining yellow gold.
He dashed off into the twilight and left the dying artist in the street as he ran for the safety of his own home: a hovel beside the museum. In its shadow, he counted the coins. There were more than he knew the numbers for. Greedily, he dug a deep hole and threw the bag inside. He kept only ten of the shining gold coins in hand when he left to go to a store and exchange them for lesser coins.
The shop-keeper’s greed led to his demise, and the boy emerged with more than the worth of his coins before the shopkeeper noticed their true worth and tried to chase him.
The boy was far too quick, however, and quickly found his way to a food stall about to close on the market way. He haggled, and parted company with the laughing young stall attendant with more food than his coins were worth. Tomorrow, he decided, he would make himself a rich man, age be damned.
He returned to his hovel and ate, then slept. Come morning, a kick to his ribs woke him as Master Matthew once more demanded the child leave. Instead, the boy spat at the dour curator and grinned as the man tried to hit the more agile youth.
With nimble feet, he avoided the angry curator and stuck his tongue out. “Shove off, old man! You can’t catch me!” He made a rude gesture with two fingers and wiggled his tongue. “Go look at your stupid rocks or something!”
The man snarled, then looked to one of the guards. “I want him thrown from the premises!” he growled, just as every morning. The man saluted, and Matthew walked into the museum.
The guard looked at the young thief. “I think he means it this time, Jeffy.” He shook his head, and fully expected the boy to simply go back to sleep.
“Yeah. I think I’ll listen this time.” Jeffy grinned widely and stretched, then began to dug. “Lemmie get my shit together first.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to live with my family?”
“No way! Your wife is weird. She rubs her spit on my face.” The boy grimaced.
“She’s just washing dirt off. It’s not that bad.”
“Well, I don’t want to have spit rubbed on my face. I know where I’m going, besides.” The boy grinned and nodded. “Don’t worry, I’ll write or something!” With that, he hefted a sack onto his back, filled with coin and rag, and began to walk off. The sack was heavy! He carried it despite this, and soon arrived at the home-seller’s office.
He took a deep breath when he was outside the door and walked in. “I want to buy a house.” the boy blinked as he spotted the tiny, bespectacled man.
“Well, aren’t you a sight?” The home-seller murmured. He looked unsurprised, and simply smiled. “What do you have in mind?”
Jeffy, at a loss for words, managed to speak. “I have money. I want to use half to buy a house outright, even if it’s small.” He walked to the man’s hastily-cleared desk and dumped his sack out. He sorted the rags out and grinned hopefully.
The man stared at the coins for a few moments. “My. I think you can afford something.” He began to count the heavy gold coins, and separated them in half, then into fourths. “Even this much will buy you a house that is rather nice.” He tilted his head. “Been saving?”
“Yes, sir. My pa’s pa’s pa started saving, and none ever stopped.” He lied smoothly.
“Well, my boy, first thing’s first, I will take you to a bank, and you will deposit this money there, where it will be safe. After, I will give you a tour of the homes available for one fourth of your money or less.”
“You have enough there to buy a home that is two or three floors tall, boy.”
Jeffy tilted his head. “What’s half of a fourth? Can I get a nice house for that much?”
“Certainly. It will be one or two floors tall, unless it is in one of the more expensive, nice parts of town.” The man nodded.
“I’ll have a house for that much, then. If I spend too much at once, that’s bad, isn’t it?”
“Certainly.” The tiny man smiled. “I think you might do well after all. Just stop stabbing people, get a job, and perhaps invest.” He stood and walked out. “Gather your coin and follow me, boy.”
Jeffy gaped for only a moment before he quickly gathered the coins up into his sack and followed.