One night around the midnight hour,
When lamps were burning low,
A merchant ciphered his accounts
Within the murky glow.
The scattered ledgers told a tale
Of what might lie ahead;
Each column balanced with the next
In inks of black and red.
Against the hearthstone's dying flames
A feline form was etched;
She pried awake an amber eye,
Yawned several times, then stretched.
In contemplative mood she watched
The merchant hard at work,
And pondered an upcoming task
She could no longer shirk.
With grand resolve, she mustered strength
And sprang forth in a flash;
She landed firmly in between
Assets and Petty Cash.
"Forgive my bold intrusion, sir,"
But can we talk awhile?
Of late, I've pondered certain thoughts
Which I can't reconcile."
The merchant dropped his quill and sighed,
He had no time to chat;
But it was useless to ignore
This egocentric cat.
"Please keep it brief," the merchant said,
"I have a lot to do;
There's little profit to be made
From wasting time with you."
The cat replied, "I find your tone,
At best, quite condescending,
But hear me out and you'll be rich—
Of this I am depending.
"I've held my tongue a dozen years,
But now I must inquire—
How long before you'll freeze to death
If thrown into a fire?"
"Don't be absurd," the merchant growled,
"Of this there is no doubt:
When opposites are thus compared,
They both are cancelled out.”
"I thought as much," agreed the cat,
"Which brings me to my plight,
I've noticed inconsistencies—
To me, which don't seem right.
"In business you are shrewdly cold,
A scourge among your peers,
Manipulating the naive
And driving men to tears.
"Yet clearly you're a pious man,
Who warms a weekly pew;
You kneel in prayer most every night,
And tithe more than your due.
"Now, this is where I need your help,
Please tell me, if you can,
How opposites, like fire and ice,
Can thrive within one man."
The merchant glowered at the cat,
"How can you dare impart
The stain of impropriety
Upon my blameless heart?
"I don't expect a cat like you
To fully understand
Why business needs an iron fist,
While faith, an open hand."
"I see," replied the wily cat,
"My logic went astray;
I had assumed from watching you
It takes two hands to pray."
The merchant blushed with crimson hue,
Then stammered, "Listen here!
Although it's true I love my work,
My faith is quite sincere.
"The times I've haggled with the weak
And left them worse for wear
Are balanced by my tithes and gifts
And hours of fervent prayer."
The cat cocked back a puzzled ear,
"I didn't realize,
When greed fulfills a common good,
Your God must close His eyes."
"That isn’t so!" the merchant cried,
“God sees our every sin;
He knows the motives of our hearts,
From outside and within.
"But in our work and daily lives
We often must suppress
Some lesser aspects of our faith
To garner our success.”
A frigid silence filled the room,
The desk lamp sputtered out,
The cat's eyes flickered with the flame
Of one dispelled from doubt.
"There hangs a mask around your neck—
The virtues you extol;
When worn, it hides the face of greed
Which smirks within your soul.
"You deal with men and God the same,
With equal disregard;
You take advantage of their hopes,
And leave both bruised and scarred.
"In all, a sad and hopeless plan
To camouflage your fraud—
To bare your fangs for mortal men,
But wear a mask for God!"
The merchant winced and turned away,
Unable to reply;
He mulled the cat's indicting words,
Which he could not deny.
His eyes brimmed over with remorse,
"How could I be so cruel?
While thinking others were impressed,
In truth, I looked a fool.
"From this day forth I'll live by faith,
And never cheat again,
Or try to bribe the LORD my God,
With gold from broken men."
With that, he fell upon his knees,
To make amends and pray...
...the merchant's cat just sat and smiled
with nothing more to say.
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