The Richest Man in the World

Jared Kilpatrick was an ornery son, even at his best. Few things pleased him more than winning someone over with his mental sparring. When he wasn’t pontificating opinions in his father’s blacksmith shop, he would sit in the market square with the old men and philosophize.

As his mother, I learned early on not to engage in his debates; drawing out his true convictions with a well-phrased question was much more rewarding.

While I had to argue with him every once in a while, usually his father stepped in and bore the brunt of the verbal head butting. As his confidant - not his combatant - I kept my place as a consistent ear throughout the years, even up to this present day.

This is the story of how he became the richest man in the world.

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My husband, David, and I  were not particularly well off. We married young, like most impatient couples ought to, and when Mr. Poirer left his blacksmith shop to his sons, we decided to join an old friend in another town.

Burk had plenty of work at his smithy in Mainsfield and was more than happy to let us share the labor while he enjoyed his new wife and growing daughter.

While David ran the furnace in the evenings, I waited on Burk and Priscilla before putting Susie to bed. We kept this up for a few years, even after I gave birth to Jared.

Eventually, we moved again. David wanted his own smithy and I wanted to rest in my own house in the evenings. We worked hard to earn the trust of our new neighbors, but it was hard; most townspeople had lived in the same village for generations. While David had Mr. Poirer and Burk to recommend him, it was hard answering questions about his parentage.

As a young boy, Jared earned the attention - and sometimes the affection - of the village elders. Shortly following an incident with a goose, we realized Jared’s excess energy could be put to good use running errands, in addition to his regular chores. At the age of ten, he began running the streets on behalf of the Olberrys.

We let him save his weekly copper, except for when we ran out of dairy. As Jared grew bigger, that happened quite a lot.

Jared was fourteen when he decided to become a salesman.

The Olberrys had a stationary mill. As Jared became trustworthy, he was commissioned with delivering orders. This eventually expanded to selling door-to-door, even visiting neighboring towns, all while rushing back to help with the smithy in the afternoons.

I’d given birth to my fourth by now, and David had his hands full trying to feed us all. Jared’s stationary sales were a great help with both the dairy and the occasional cut of meat. I was thankful we were finally doing well for ourselves.

Then the fire happened.

We never figured out how, but the nightly coals got too warm and took over the smithy. Most of our neighbors came out to help with the fire, but some just watched the flames. Over a decade living here, and some still considered us outsiders.

That hurt David worse than the burns, and his burns were devastating.

He was so used to the heat that he let himself stay in the flames too long, trying to salvage the smithy. When the main beam fell, he dropped his tools and had trouble getting out. His face was marred, his eyelashes were singed off, and his hands were ruined.

The shame of disfigurement overwhelmed our family. Sundays, he stayed home while I took the children to church; Jared led the way.

Even when David’s skin healed, his strength was gone and his breathing shallow. One afternoon, he was weeding in the garden and passed out. Our daughter found him lying in the dirt; the heat was too much.

Jared’s stationary sales became our only income. The little ones were too soft and young to work, and I had my hands full caring for both them and my invalid husband. It was hard accepting the condescension that came with the charity of the village.

In all this, Jared never stopped debating. It was his sole comfort and chief pastime.

The Olberrys expanded Jared’s responsibilities as much as they could to help. I was thankful for all that they did, but it was a rare month when we were able to eat meat.

I tried not to complain, I really tried. Still, it was hard not to wish for a grand mansion with a butler and servants and a carriage with a driver. I knew it was a sin to covet, but when my feet throbbed at night from the endless toil and David’s uneasy wheeze kept me awake, I couldn’t help but cry tears of self-pity. Why did he have to stay inside the burning shop so long and lose not only his smithy and his tools, but also the strength of his hands? Smithys could be rebuilt and tools remade, but only his hands had the skill to use them.

Despondency settled in upon us all like a blight. My daughters fought the insects in the garden, but it too suffered.

Jared’s talk veered more and more towards opportunities for increasing sales. He’d started traveling further to find customers for the Olberry Stationery Company. He even skipped church to start selling on Sundays. I knew it wasn’t good to skip the sabbath, but I was too blind to realize how bad it was, so lost was I in the mentality of greed. It wasn’t until we lost everything that I realized how much we had.

Winter was coming, Jared was sixteen now and had worked hard making sales while the weather was good for travel. When the orders were ready for delivery, he borrowed a horse and an open buggy from a friend to make the deliveries. The friend offered to put up the canopy, but Jared told him not to waste his time: the sun was high and he wanted to make his deliveries before it got any hotter. Besides, a wandering preacher was in town that evening, and Jared liked to sit close to the orator.

He’d just set out from town when the sky changed. He made his first delivery as the clouds grew thick. Before the second, the rain came and deluged him, the horse, the buggy, and all the fine stationery he’d worked so hard to sell and have manufactured.

He returned home so distraught I thought the horse had twisted its ankle. But no, only the paper and a month’s worth of work was ruined. I told him to return the horse and buggy and go to the oratory. He protested, but did so anyways.

His face was wet again when he came home that night.

The words and passion of the wandering preacher had so touched him, he walked straight to his father and apologized for judging his inability to provide for his family.

My face began to mirror the running water in the gullies outside, but I hid my expression by leaning over the wash bucket. When Jared and David embraced, I knew a new season had come upon our family.

It was a hard month after that. And also one of the most joyful. When Jared gave his commissions back to the Olberrys to cover the cost of fulfilling the paper orders, I didn’t know how we were going to eat. Two days later when the last of the soup was gone, right as I was washing the pot, my daughters found groceries on our front steps. When that food ran out, the mysterious giver brought more food and even a chicken. It was good to taste fresh roast again.

When the Olberrys finished redoing the orders, Jared let his friend put up the canopy when he borrowed the horse and buggy. All the orders were now fulfilled and we received one more gift at the end of that month: a few more groceries and three young hens, fresh and healthy from spring breeding. My daughters took over their care immediately and the eggs were a delicious blessing.

Fall chill soon turned to winter. Jared worked hard at the paper mill during the day, and in the evenings, he read the books lent to him. The daughters cared for the chickens, and I cared for them and David. We ate the carrots and greens we’d harvested from the garden as well as the eggs that were still coming from the chickens.

As the time neared Christmas, David started learning to whittle. He’d always been about the metal, but circumstances and his desire to give his children toys overcame his old preferences. When his scarred hands grew tired, it was easy enough to rest the knife and study the wood.

Christmas Eve, we wrapped his carefully carved creations in burlap and sat together by the fire. Hands were held and eyes misted. A hard year it had been, and we were glad it was over.

Christmas Day came, and my daughters loved the wooden dolls their father had carved and painted. Jared got a wooden puzzle in the mindset of the old blacksmiths’ knot. In return, the girls shared pictures they had drawn at school and Jared opened two bags of candy: peppermint sweets given to him by the Olberrys, and a bag of licorice he’d bought himself. The girls and I feasted on the peppermint while Jared and David chewed the bitter licorice. Some tastes are acquired, I think.

The new year provided opportunity for David to carve wooden toys to sell, while Jared continued his salesmanship and home-reading education. The custom wood requests from the village mothers provided David ample reason to come back to church, which he enjoyed more than before. Every time Jared finished a book, he sat with the old men and debated the wisdom and merits proposed by the author. Our family continued in this way until Jared turned twenty-two.

That was the day he married Bernadette Schmalters.

It was quite the transition for us. I’d depended on Jared so long, it was strange to not hear him pontificating with the books as he read in the house. Granted, he was only next door, but it was still a great change.

Over the years, he’d engineered some major improvements to the Olberrys’ paper mill, was on his way to becoming a partner in the business, and had convinced Mr. Olberry to invest in a delivery horse and covered buggy.

David’s wooden puzzle designs were now manufactured in a shop on the side of the paper mill, and Jared was spreading their fame throughout the valley.

While my daughters didn’t have a dowry, they each had a brood of chickens and had learned to knit and do needlework. My youngest even baked cakes.

Jared and Bernadette had their first child two years into their marriage. Jared immediately began reading out loud to little Arnold. Bernadette shook her head and pulled the little one in to suckle.

Two years later, while Jared was driving the sales and delivery buggy for the Fine Olberry Stationary and Toy Company, he noticed a dirty child running in the streets. Truly, it was hard for Jared not to notice five year old Henry, for the boy was throwing manure at Jared’s buggy.

Jared finished his errands with Henry beside him, inquiring about his home life and parentage. As misfortune would have it, Henry was one of seven hungry children with no father and a mother who was absent too often than could be reasonably accounted for.

Henry came home with Jared.

With two year old Arnold and five year old Henry, Bernadette often had her hands full. When she needed help, I’d take one while she straightened out the other. Jared was always good about following through on her threats when he came home. David took quite a liking to Henry. With their equally hard childhoods - one grown through and the other still pending - they understood each other on a very deep level that only brothers in arms could comprehend.

The four of them would go fishing on Saturdays. I loved to watch from the window as they walked towards the creek. Henry, with his passionate running, reminded me of Jared as a child. Jared’s steps were weighted by the work of the week and the needs of a family. Little Arnold played in Jared’s arms while David - his grandfather - watched admiringly.

To see such fruit in a life once obsessive and judgmental, how could he be anything but the richest man in the world?


Meg DavisDavid's Story