One night around the midnight hour
 As 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
 With ink both 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 her upcoming task
 She could no longer shirk.

With grand resolve and mustered strength
 She sprang forth in a flash
And landed firmly in-between
 Assets and Petty Cash.

"Forgive my bold intrusion, sir,
 But can we talk awhile?
Of late, I've pondered many 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 man replied,
 "I have a lot to do—
There's little profit to be made
 By spending 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'd freeze to death
 If thrown upon 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," the cat agreed,
 "Which brings me to my plight;
I've noticed inconsistencies
 Which, frankly, 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 faith and greed,
 Can thrive within one man."

The merchant glowered at the cat,
 "How can you dare impart
A stain of impropriety
 Upon my blameless heart?
I don't expect a cat like you
 To fully understand,
But business needs an iron fist,
 And faith an open hand."

"I see," replied the wily cat,
 "My logic went astray—
I had assumed from watching you
 It took two hands to pray."

The merchant blushed a crimson hue
 And stammered, "Listen here!
Although it's true I love my work,
 My faith is quite sincere!
The times I haggled with the weak
 Or left them worse for wear
Were 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
 Our God will 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 gleam
 Of one dispelled from doubt.

"There hangs a mask around your neck
 Of virtues you extol—
When it's worn, you hide the greed
 Which smirks within your soul.
You deal with men and God the same,
 With equal disregard
And take advantage of their hopes
 And leave them bruised and scarred.
In all, a sad and hopeless plan
 To camouflage your fraud—
You bare your fangs at 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.