The Money Master
By Gilbert Parker

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Chapter XVI: Misfortunes Come Not Singly

Judge Carcasson was right. For a year after Zoe’s flight Jean Jacques wrapped Sebastian Dolores round his neck like a collar, and it choked him like a boaconstrictor. But not Sebastian Dolores alone did that. When things begin to go wrong in the life of a man whose hands have held too many things, the disorder flutters through all the radii of his affairs, and presently they rattle away from the hub of his control.

So it was with Jean Jacques. To take his reprobate father-in-law to his lonely home would have brought him trouble in any case; but as things were, the Spaniard became only the last straw which broke his camel’s back. And what a burden his camel carried–flour-mill, saw-mill, ash- factory, farms, a general store, lime-kilns, agency for lightning-rods and insurance, cattle-dealing, the project for the new cheese-factory, and money-lending!

Money-lending? It seemed strange that Jean Jacques should be able to lend money, since he himself had to borrow, and mortgage also, from time to time. When things began to go really wrong with him financially, he mortgaged his farms, his flour-mill, and saw-mill, and then lent money on other mortgages. This he did because he had always lent money, and it was a habit so associated with his prestige, that he tied himself up in borrowing and lending and counter-mortgaging till, as the saying is, “a Philadelphia lawyer” could not have unravelled his affairs without having been born again in the law. That he was able to manipulate his tangled affairs, while keeping the confidence of those from whom he borrowed, and the admiration of those to whom he lent, was evidence of his capacity. “Genius of a kind” was what his biggest creditor called it later.

After a personal visit to St. Saviour’s, this biggest creditor and financial potentate–M. Mornay–said that if Jean Jacques had been started right and trained right, he would have been a “general in the financial field, winning big battles.”

M. Mornay chanced to be a friend of Judge Carcasson, and when he visited Vilray he remembered that the Judge had spoken often of his humble but learned friend, the Clerk of the Court, and of his sister. So M. Mornay made his way from the office of the firm of avocats whom he had instructed in his affairs with Jean Jacques, to that of M. Fille. Here he was soon engaged in comment on the master-miller and philosopher.

“He has had much trouble, and no doubt his affairs have suffered," remarked M. Fille cautiously, when the ice had been broken and the Big Financier had referred casually to the difficulties among which Jean Jacques was trying to maintain equilibrium; “but he is a man who can do things too hard for other men.”

The Big Financier lighted another cigar and blew away several clouds of smoke before he said in reply, “Yes, I know he has had family trouble again, but that is a year ago, and he has had a chance to get another grip of things.”

“He did not sit down and mope,” explained M. Fille. “He was at work the next day after his daughter’s flight just the same as before. He is a man of great courage. Misfortune does not paralyse him.”

M. Mornay’s speech was of a kind which came in spurts, with pauses of thought between, and the pause now was longer than usual.

“Paralysis–certainly not,” he said at last. “Physical activity is one of the manifestations of mental, moral, and even physical shock and injury. I’ve seen a man with a bullet in him run a half-mile–anywhere; I’ve seen a man ripped up by a crosscut-saw hold himself together, and walk–anywhere–till he dropped. Physical and nervous activity is one of the forms which shattered force takes. I expect that your ’M’sieu’ Jean Jacques’ has been busier this last year than ever before in his life. He’d have to be; for a man who has as many irons in the fire as he has, must keep running from bellows to bellows when misfortune starts to damp him down.”

The Clerk of the Court sighed. He realized the significance of what his visitor was saying. Ever Since Zoe had gone, Jean Jacques had been for ever on the move, for ever making hay on which the sun did not shine. Jean Jacques’ face these days was lined and changeful. It looked unstable and tired–as though disturbing forces were working up to the surface out of control. The brown eyes, too, were far more restless than they had ever been since the Antoine was wrecked, and their owner returned with Carmen to the Manor Cartier. But the new restlessness of the eyes was different from the old. That was a mobility impelled by an active, inquisitive soul, trying to observe what was going on in the world, and to make sure that its possessor was being seen by the world. This activity was that of a mind essentially concerned to find how many ways it could see for escape from a maze of things; while his vanity was taking new forms. It was always anxious to discover if the world was trying to know how he was taking the blows of fate and fortune. He had been determined that, whatever came, it should not see him paralysed or broken.

As M. Fille only nodded his head in sorrowful assent, the Big Financier became more explicit. He was determined to lose nothing by Jean Jacques, and he was prepared to take instant action when it was required; but he was also interested in the man who might have done really powerful things in the world, had he gone about them in the right way.

“M. Barbille has had some lawsuits this year, is it not so?” he asked.

“Two of importance, monsieur, and one is not yet decided,” answered M. Fille.

“He lost those suits of importance?”

“That is so, monsieur.”

“And they cost him six thousand dollars–and over?” The Big Financier seemed to be pressing towards a point.

“Something over that amount, monsieur.”

“And he may lose the suit now before the Courts?”

“Who can tell, monsieur!” vaguely commented the little learned official.

M. Mornay was not to be evaded. “Yes, yes, but the case as it stands– to you who are wise in experience of legal affairs, does it seem at all a sure thing for him?”

“I wish I could say it was, monsieur,” sadly answered the other.

The Big Financier nodded vigorously. “Exactly. Nothing is so unproductive as the law. It is expensive whether you win or lose, and it is murderously expensive when you do lose. You will observe, I know, that your Jean Jacques is a man who can only be killed once–eh?”

“Monsieur?” M. Fille really did not grasp this remark.

M. Mornay’s voice became precise. “I will explain. He has never created; he has only developed what has been created. He inherited much of what he has or has had. His designs were always affected by the fact that he had never built from the very bottom. When he goes to pieces–”

“Monsieur–to pieces!” exclaimed the Clerk of the Court painfully.

“Well, put it another way. If he is broken financially, he will never come up again. Not because of his age–I lost a second fortune at fifty, and have a third ready to lose at sixty–but because the primary initiative won’t be in him. He’ll say he has lost, and that there’s an end to it all. His philosophy will come into play–just at the last. It will help him in one way and harm him in another.”

“Ah, then you know about his philosophy, monsieur?” queried M. Fille. Was Jean Jacques’ philosophy, after all, to be a real concrete asset of his life sooner or later?

The Big Financier smiled, and turned some coins over in his pocket rather loudly. Presently he said: “The first time I ever saw him he treated me to a page of Descartes. It cost him one per cent. I always charge a man for talking sentiment to me in business hours. I had to listen to him, and he had to pay me for listening. I’ve no doubt his general yearly expenditure has been increased for the same reason–eh, Maitre Fille? He has done it with others–yes?” M. Fille waved a hand in deprecation, and his voice had a little acidity as he replied: “Ah, monsieur, what can we poor provincials do–any of us–in dealing with men like you, philosophy or no philosophy? You get us between the upper and the nether mill stones. You are cosmopolitan; M. Jean Jacques Barbille is a provincial; and you, because he has soul enough to forget business for a moment and to speak of things that matter more than money and business, you grind him into powder.”

M. Mornay shook his head and lighted his cigar again. “There you are wrong, Maitre Fille. It is bad policy to grind to powder, or grind at all, men out of whom you are making money. It is better to keep them from between the upper and nether mill-stones.

“I have done so with your Barbille. I could give him such trouble as would bring things crashing down upon him at once, if I wanted to be merely vicious in getting my own; but that would make it impossible for me to meet at dinner my friend Judge Carcasson. So, as long as I can, I will not press him. But I tell you that the margin of safety on which he is moving now is too narrow–scarce a foot-hold. He has too much under construction in the business of his life, and if one stone slips out, down may come the whole pile. He has stopped building the cheese- factory–that represents sheer loss. The ash-factory is to close next week, the saw-mill is only paying its way, and the flour-mill and the farms, which have to sustain the call of his many interests, can’t stand the drain. Also, he has several people heavily indebted to him, and if they go down–well, it depends on the soundness of the security he holds. If they listened to him talk philosophy, encouraged him to do it, and told him they liked it, when the bargain was being made, the chances are the security is inadequate.”

The Clerk of the Court bridled up. “Monsieur, you are very hard on a man who for twenty-five years has been a figure and a power in this part of the province. You sneer at one who has been a benefactor to the place where he lives; who has given with the right hand and the left; whose enterprise has been a source of profit to many; and who has got a savage reward for the acts of a blameless and generous life. You know his troubles, monsieur, and we who have seen him bear them with fortitude and Christian philosophy, we resent–”

“You need resent nothing, Maitre Fille,” interrupted the Big Financier, not unkindly. “What I have said has been said to his friend and the friend of my own great friend, Judge Carcasson; and I am only anxious that he should be warned by someone whose opinions count with him; whom he can trust–”

“But, monsieur, alas!” broke in the Clerk of the Court, “that is the trouble; he does not select those he can trust. He is too confiding. He believes those who flatter him, who impose on his good heart. It has always been so.”

“I judge it is so still in the case of Monsieur Dolores, his daughter’s grandfather?” the Big Financier asked quizzically.

“It is so, monsieur,” replied M. Fille. “The loss of his daughter shook him even more than the flight of his wife; and it is as though he could not live without that scoundrel near him–a vicious man, who makes trouble wherever he goes. He was a cause of loss to M. Barbille years ago when he managed the ash-factory; he is very dangerous to women–even now he is a danger to the future of a young widow” (he meant the widow of Palass Poucette); “and he has caused a scandal by perjury as a witness, and by the consequences–but I need not speak of that here. He will do Jean Jacques great harm in the end, of that I am sure. The very day Mademoiselle Zoe left the Manor Cartier to marry the English actor, Jean Jacques took that Spanish bad-lot to his home; and there he stays, and the old friends go–the old friends go; and he does not seem to miss them.”

There was something like a sob in M. Fille’s voice. He had loved Zoe in a way that in a mother would have meant martyrdom, if necessary, and in a father would have meant sacrifice when needed; and indeed he had sacrificed both time and money to find Zoe. He had even gone as far as Winnipeg on the chance of finding her, making that first big journey in the world, which was as much to him in all ways as a journey to Bagdad would mean to most people of M. Mornay’s world. Also he had spent money since in corresponding with lawyers in the West whom he engaged to search for her; but Zoe had never been found. She had never written but one letter to Jean Jacques since her flight. This letter said, in effect, that she would come back when her husband was no longer “a beggar” as her father had called him, and not till then. It was written en route to Winnipeg, at the dictation of Gerard Fynes, who had a romantic view of life and a mistaken pride, but some courage too–the courage of love.

“He thinks his daughter will come back–yes?” asked M. Mornay. “Once he said to me that he was sorry there was no lady to welcome me at the Manor Cartier, but that he hoped his daughter would yet have the honour. His talk is quite spacious and lofty at times, as you know.”

“So–that is so, monsieur . . . Mademoiselle Zoe’s room is always ready for her. At time of Noel he sent cards to all the families of the parish who had been his friends, as from his daughter and himself; and when people came to visit at the Manor on New Year’s Day, he said to each and all that his daughter regretted she could not arrive in time from the West to receive them; but that next year she would certainly have the pleasure.”

“Like the light in the window for the unreturning sailor,” somewhat cynically remarked the Big Financier. “Did many come to the Manor on that New Year’s Day?”

“But yes, many, monsieur. Some came from kindness, and some because they were curious–”

“And Monsieur Dolores?”

The lips of the Clerk of the Court curled, “He went about with a manner as soft as that of a young cure. Butter would not melt in his mouth. Some of the women were sorry for him, until they knew he had given one of Jean Jacques’ best bear-skin rugs to Madame Palass Poucette for a New Year’s gift.”

The Big Financier laughed cheerfully. “It’s an old way to popularity– being generous with other people’s money. That is why I am here. The people that spend your Jean Jacques’ money will be spending mine too, if I don’t take care.”

M. Fille noted the hard look which now settled in M. Mornay’s face, and it disturbed him. He rose and leaned over the table towards his visitor anxiously.

“Tell me, if you please, monsieur, is there any real and immediate danger of the financial collapse of Jean Jacques?”

The other regarded M. Fille with a look of consideration. He liked this Clerk of the Court, but he liked Jean Jacques for the matter of that, and away now from the big financial arena where he usually worked, his natural instincts had play. He had come to St. Saviour’s with a bigger thing in his mind than Jean Jacques and his affairs; he had come on the matter of a railway, and had taken Jean Jacques on the way, as it were. The scheme for the railway looked very promising to him, and he was in good humour; so that all he said about Jean Jacques was free from that general irritation of spirit which has sacrificed many a small man on a big man’s altar. He saw the agitation he had caused, and he almost repented of what he had already said; yet he had acted with a view to getting M. Fille to warn Jean Jacques.

“I repeat what I said,” he now replied. “Monsieur Jean Jacques’ affairs are too nicely balanced. A little shove one way or another and over goes the whole caboose. If anyone here has influence over him, it would be a kindness to use it. That case before the Court of Appeal, for instance; he’d be better advised to settle it, if there is still time. One or two of the mortgages he holds ought to be foreclosed, so that he may get out of them all the law will let him. He ought to pouch the money that’s owing him; he ought to shave away his insurance, his lightning-rod, and his horsedealing business; and he ought to sell his farms and his store, and concentrate on the flour-mill and the saw-mill. He has had his warnings generally from my lawyers, but what he wants most is the gentle hand to lead him; and I should think that yours, M. Fille, is the hand the Almighty would choose if He was concerned with what happens at St. Saviour’s and wanted an agent.”

The Clerk of the Court blushed greatly. This was a very big man indeed in the great commercial world, and flattery from him had unusual significance; but he threw out his hands with a gesture of helplessness, and said: “Monsieur, if I could be of use I would; but he has ceased to listen to me; he–”

He got no further, for there was a sharp knock at the street door of the outer office, and M. Fille hastened to the other room. After a moment he came back, a familiar voice following him.

“It is Monsieur Barbille, monsieur,” M. Fille said quietly, but with apprehensive eyes.

“Well–he wants to see me?” asked M. Mornay. “No, no, monsieur. It would be better if he did not see you. He is in some agitation.”

“Fille! Maitre Fille–be quick now,” called Jean Jacques’ voice from the other room.

“What did I say, monsieur?” asked the Big Financier. “The mind that’s received a blow must be moving–moving; the man with the many irons must be flying from bellows to bellows!”

“Come, come, there’s no time to lose,” came Jean Jacques’ voice again, and the handle of the door of their room turned.

M. Fille’s hand caught the handle. “Excuse me, Monsieur Barbille, –a minute please,” he persisted almost querulously. “Be good enough to keep your manners . . . monsieur!” he added to the Financier, “if you do not wish to speak with him, there is a door"–he pointed–"which will let you into the side-street.”

“What is his trouble?” asked M. Mornay.

M. Fille hesitated, then said reflectively: “He has lost his case in the Appeal Court, monsieur; also, his cousin, Auguste Charron, who has been working the Latouche farm, has flitted, leaving–”

“Leaving Jean Jacques to pay unexpected debts?”

“So, monsieur.”

“Then I can be of no use, I fear,” remarked M. Mornay dryly.

“Fille! Fille !” came the voice of Jean Jacques insistently from the room.

“And so I will say au revoir, Monsieur Fille,” continued the Big Financier.

A moment later the great man was gone, and M. Fille was alone with the philosopher of the Manor Cartier.

“Well, well, why do you keep me waiting! Who was it in there–anyone that’s concerned with my affairs?” asked Jean Jacques.

In these days he was sensitive when there was no cause, and he was credulous where he ought to be suspicious. The fact that the little man had held the door against him made him sure that M. Fille had not wished him to see the departed visitor.

“Come, out with it–who was it making fresh trouble for me?” persisted Jean Jacques.

“No one making trouble for you, my friend,” answered the Clerk of the Court, “but someone who was trying to do you a good turn.”

“He must have been a stranger then,” returned Jean Jacques bitterly. “Who was it?”

M. Fille, after an instant’s further hesitation, told him.

“Oh, him–M. Momay !” exclaimed Jean Jacques, with a look of relief, his face lighting. “That’s a big man with a most capable and far-reaching mind. He takes a thing in as the ocean mouths a river. If I had had men like that to deal with all my life, what a different ledger I’d be balancing now! Descartes, Kant, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume, Hegel–he has an ear for them all. That is the intellectual side of him; and in business"–he threw up a hand–"there he views the landscape from the mountain-top. He has vision, strategy, executive. He is Napoleon and Anacreon in one. He is of the builders on the one hand, of the Illuminati and the Encyclopedistes on the other.”

Even the Clerk of the Court, with his circumscribed range of thought and experience, in that moment saw Jean Jacques as he really was. Here was a man whose house of life was beginning to sway from an earthquake; who had been smitten in several deadly ways, and was about to receive buffetings beyond aught he had yet experienced, philosophizing on the tight-rope– Blondin and Plato in one. Yet sardonically piteous as it was, the incident had shown Jean Jacques with the germ of something big in him. He had recognized in M. Mornay, who could level him to the dust tomorrow financially, a master of the world’s affairs, a prospector of life’s fields, who would march fearlessly beyond the farthest frontiers into the unknown. Jean Jacques’ admiration of the lion who could, and would, slay him was the best tribute to his own character.

M. Fille’s eyes moistened as he realized it; and he knew that nothing he could say or do would make this man accommodate his actions to the hard rules of the business of life; he must for ever be applying to them conceptions of a half-developed mind.

“Quite so, quite so, Jean Jacques,” M. Fille responded gently, “but" –here came a firmer note to his voice, for he had taken to heart the lesson M. Mornay had taught him, and he was determined to do his duty now when the opportunity was in his hand–"but you have got to deal with things as they are; not as they might have been. If you cannot have the great men you have to deal with the little men like me. You have to prove yourself bigger than the rest of us by doing things better. A man doesn’t fail only because of others, but also because of himself. You were warned that the chances were all against you in the case that’s just been decided, yet you would go on; you were warned that your cousin, Auguste Charron, was in debt, and that his wife was mad to get away from the farm and go West, yet you would take no notice. Now he has gone, and you have to pay, and your case has gone against you in the Appellate Court besides. . . . I will tell you the truth, my friend, even if it cuts me to the heart. You have not kept your judgment in hand; you have gone ahead like a bull at a gate; and you pay the price. You listen to those who flatter, and on those who would go through fire and water for you, you turn your back–on those who would help you in your hour of trouble, in your dark day.”

Jean Jacques drew himself up with a gesture, impatient, masterful and forbidding. “I have fought my fight alone in the dark day; I have not asked for any one’s help,” he answered. “I have wept on no man’s shoulder. I have been mauled by the claws of injury and shame, and I have not flinched. I have healed my own wounds, and I wear my scars without–”

He stopped, for there came a sharp rat-tat-tat at the door which opened into the street. Somehow the commonplace, trivial interruption produced on both a strange, even startling effect. It suddenly produced in their minds a feeling of apprehension, as though there was whispered in their ears, “Something is going to happen–beware!”

Rat-tat-tat! The two men looked at each other. The same thought was in the mind of both. Jean Jacques clutched at his beard nervously, then with an effort he controlled himself. He took off his hat as though he was about to greet some important person, or to receive sentence in a court. Instinctively he felt the little book of philosophy which he always carried now in his breast-pocket, as a pietist would finger his beads in moments of fear or anxiety. The Clerk of the Court passed his thin hand over his hair, as he was wont to do in court when the Judge began his charge to the Jury, and then with an action more impulsive than was usual with him, he held out his hand, and Jean Jacques grasped it. Something was bringing them together just when it seemed that, in the storm of Jean Jacques’ indignation, they were about to fall apart. M. Fille’s eyes said as plainly as words could do, “Courage, my friend!”

Rat-tat-tat! Rat-tat-tat! The knocking was sharp and imperative now. The Clerk of the Court went quickly forward and threw open the door.

There stepped inside the widow of Palass Poucette. She had a letter in her hand. “M’sieu’, pardon, if I intrude,” she said to M. Fille; “but I heard that M’sieu’ Jean Jacques was here. I have news for him.”

“News!” repeated Jean Jacques, and he looked like a man who was waiting for what he feared to hear. “They told me at the post-office that you were here. I got the letter only a quarter of an hour ago, and I thought I would go at once to the Manor Cartier and tell M’sieu’ Jean Jacques what the letter says. I wanted to go to the Manor Cartier for something else as well, but I will speak of that by and by. It is the letter now.”

She pulled off first one glove and then the other, still holding the letter, as though she was about to perform some ceremony. “It was a good thing I found out that M’sieu’ Jean Jacques was here. It saves a four- mile drive,” she remarked.

“The news–ah, nom de Dieu, the slowness of the woman–like a river going uphill!” exclaimed Jean Jacques, who was finding it hard to still the trembling of his limbs.

The widow of Palass Poucette flushed, but she had some sense in her head, and she realized that Jean Jacques was a little unbalanced at the moment. Indeed, Jean Jacques was not so old that she would have found it difficult to take a well-defined and warm interest in him, were circumstances propitious. She held out the letter to him at once. “It is from my sister in the West–at Shilah,” she explained. “There is nothing in it you can’t read, and most of it concerns you.” Jean Jacques took the letter, but he could not bring himself to read it, for Virginie Poucette’s manner was not suggestive of happy tidings. After an instant’s hesitation he handed the letter to M. Fille, who pressed his lips with an air of determination, and put on his glasses.

Jean Jacques saw the face of the Clerk of the Court flush and then turn pale as he read the letter. “There, be quick!” he said before M. Fille had turned the first page.

Then the widow of Palass Poucette came to him and, in a simple harmless way she had, free from coquetry or guile, stood beside him, took his hand and held it. He seemed almost unconscious of her act, but his fingers convulsively tightened on hers; while she reflected that here was one who needed help sorely; here was a good, warm-hearted man on whom a woman could empty out affection like rain and get a good harvest. She really was as simple as a child, was Virginie Poucette, and even in her acquaintance with Sebastian Dolores, there had only been working in her the natural desire of a primitive woman to have a man saying that which would keep alive in her the things that make her sing as she toils; and certainly Virginie toiled late and early on her farm. She really was concerned for Jean Jacques. Both wife and daughter had taken flight, and he was alone and in trouble. At this moment she felt she would like to be a sister to him–she was young enough to be his daughter almost. Her heart was kind.

“Now!” said Jean Jacques at last, as the Clerk of the Court’s eyes reached the end of the last page. “Now, speak! It is–it is my Zoe?”

“It is our Zoe,” answered M. Fille.

“Figure de Christ, what do you wait for–she is not dead?” exclaimed Jean Jacques with a courage which made him set his feet squarely.

The Clerk of the Court shook his head and began. “She is alive. Madame Poucette’s sister saw her by chance. Zoe was on her way up the Saskatchewan River to the Peace River country with her husband. Her husband’s health was bad. He had to leave the stage in the United States where he had gone after Winnipeg. The doctors said he must live the open-air life. He and Zoe were going north, to take a farm somewhere.”

“Somewhere! Somewhere!” murmured Jean Jacques. The farther away from Jean Jacques the better–that is what she thinks.”

“No, you are wrong, my friend,” rejoined M. Fille. “She said to Madame Poucette’s sister"–he held up the letter–"that when they had proved they could live without anybody’s help they would come back to see you. Zoe thought that, having taken her life in her own hands, she ought to justify herself before she asked your forgiveness and a place at your table. She felt that you could only love her and be glad of her, if her man was independent of you. It is a proud and sensitive soul–but there it is!”

“It is romance, it is quixotism–ah, heart of God, what quixotism!" exclaimed Jean Jacques.

“She gets her romance and quixotism from Jean Jacques Barbille,” retorted the Clerk of the Court. “She does more feeling than thinking–like you.”

Jean Jacques’ heart was bleeding, but he drew himself up proudly, and caught his hand away from the warm palm of Poucette’s widow. As his affairs crumbled his pride grew more insistent. M. Fille had challenged his intellect–his intellect!

“My life has been a procession of practical things,” he declared oracularly. “I have been a man of business who designs. I am no dreamer. I think. I act. I suffer. I have been the victim of romance, not its interpreter. Mercy of God, what has broken my life, what but romance–romance, first with one and then with another! More feeling than thinking, Maitre Fille–you say that? Why the Barbilles have ever in the past built up life on a basis of thought and action, and I have added philosophy–the science of thought and act. Jean Jacques Barbille has been the man of design and the man of action also. Don Quixote was a fool, a dreamer, but Jean Jacques is no Don Quixote. He is a man who has done things, but also he is a man who has been broken on the wheel of life. He is a man whose heart-strings have been torn–”

He had worked himself up into a fit of eloquence and revolt. He was touched by the rod of desperation, which makes the soul protest that it is right when it knows that it is wrong.

Suddenly, breaking off his speech, he threw up his hands and made for the door.

“I will fight it out alone!” he declared with rough emotion, and at the door he turned towards them again. He looked at them both as though he would dare them to contradict him. The restless fire of his eyes seemed to dart from one to the other.

“That’s the way it is,” said the widow of Palass Poucette coming quickly forward to him. “It’s always the way. We must fight our battles alone, but we don’t have to bear the wounds alone. In the battle you are alone, but the hand to heal the wounds may be another’s. You are a philosopher –well, what I speak is true, isn’t it?”

Virginie had said the one thing which could have stayed the tide of Jean Jacques’ pessimism and broken his cloud of gloom. She appealed to him in the tune of an old song. The years and the curses of years had not dispelled the illusion that he was a philosopher. He stopped with his hand on the door.

“That’s so, without doubt that’s so,” he said. “You have stumbled on a truth of life, madame.”

Suddenly there came into his look something of the yearning and hunger which the lonely and forsaken feel when they are not on the full tide of doing. It was as though he must have companionship, in spite of his brave announcement that he must fight his fight alone. He had been wounded in the battle, and here was one who held out the hand of healing to him. Never since his wife had left him the long lonely years ago had a woman meant anything to him except as one of a race; but in this moment here a woman had held his hand, and he could feel still the warm palm which had comforted his own agitated fingers.

Virginie Poucette saw, and she understood what was passing in his mind. Yet she did not see and understand all by any means; and it is hard to tell what further show of fire there might have been, but that the Clerk of the Court was there, saying harshly under his breath, “The huzzy! The crafty huzzy!”

The Clerk of the Court was wrong. Virginie was merely sentimental, not intriguing or deceitful; for Jean Jacques was not a widower–and she was an honest woman and genuinely tender-hearted.

“I’m coming to the Manor Cartier to-morrow,” Virginie continued. “I have a rug of yours. By mistake it was left at my house by M’sieu’ Dolores.”

“You needn’t do that. I will call at your place tomorrow for it," replied Jean Jacques almost eagerly. “I told M’sieu’ Dolores to-day never to enter my house again. I didn’t know it was your rug. It was giving away your property, not his own,” she hurriedly explained, and her face flushed.

“That is the Spanish of it,” said Jean Jacques bitterly. His eyes were being opened in many directions to-day.

M. Fille was in distress. Jean Jacques had had a warning about Sebastian Dolores, but here was another pit into which he might fall, the pit digged by a widow, who, no doubt, would not hesitate to marry a divorced Catholic philosopher, if he could get a divorce by hook or by crook. Jean Jacques had said that he was going to Virginie Poucette’s place the next day. That was as bad as it could be; yet there was this to the good, that it was to-morrow and not to-day; and who could tell what might happen between to-day and to-morrow!

A moment later the three were standing outside the office in the street. As Jean Jacques climbed into his red wagon, Virginie Poucette’s eyes were attracted to the northern sky where a reddish glow appeared, and she gave an exclamation of surprise.

“That must be a fire,” she said, pointing.

“A bit of pine-land probably,” said M. Fille–with anxiety, however, for the red glow lay in the direction of St. Saviour’s where were the Manor Cartier and Jean Jacques’ mills. Maitre Fille was possessed of a superstition that all the things which threaten a man’s life to wreck it, operate awhile in their many fields before they converge like an army in one field to deliver the last attack on their victim. It would not have seemed strange to him, if out of the night a voice of the unseen had said that the glow in the sky came from the Manor Cartier. This very day three things had smitten Jean Jacques, and, if three, why not four or five, or fifty!

With a strange fascination Jean Jacques’ eyes were fastened on the glow. He clucked to his horses, and they started jerkily away. M. Fille and the widow Poucette said good-bye to him, but he did not hear, or if he heard, he did not heed. His look was set upon the red reflection which widened in the sky and seemed to grow nearer and nearer. The horses quickened their pace. He touched them with the whip, and they went faster. The glow increased as he left Vilray behind. He gave the horses the whip again sharply, and they broke into a gallop. Yet his eyes scarcely left the sky. The crimson glow drew him, held him, till his brain was afire also. Jean Jacques had a premonition and a conviction which was even deeper than the imagination of M. Fille.

In Vilray, behind him, the telegraph clerk was in the street shouting to someone to summon the local fire-brigade to go to St. Saviour’s.

“What is it–what is it?” asked M. Fille of the telegraph clerk in marked agitation.

“It’s M’sieu’ Jean Jacques’ flour-mill,” was the reply.

Wagons and buggies and carts began to take the road to the Manor Cartier; and Maitre Fille went also with the widow of Palass Poucette.


Epilogue: Introduction  •  Chapter I: The Grand Tour of Jean Jacques Barbille  •  Chapter II: “The Rest of the Story To-Morrow”  •  Chapter III: “To-Morrow”  •  Chapter IV: Thirteen Years After and the Clerk of the Court Tells a Story  •  Chapter V: The Clerk of the Court Ends His Story  •  Chapter VI: Jean Jacques Had Had a Great Day  •  Chapter VII: Jean Jacques Awakes From Sleep  •  Chapter VIII: The Gate in the Wall  •  Chapter IX: “Moi-Je Suis Philosophe”  •  Chapter X: “Quien Sabe"–who Knows!  •  Chapter XI: The Clerk of the Court Keeps a Promise  •  Chapter XII: The Master-Carpenter Has a Problem  •  Chapter XIII: The Man From Outside  •  Chapter XIV: “I Do Not Want to Go”  •  Chapter XV: Bon Marche  •  Chapter XVI: Misfortunes Come Not Singly  •  Chapter XVII: His Greatest Asset  •  Chapter XVIII: Jean Jacques Has An Offer  •  Chapter XIX: Sebastian Dolores Does Not Sleep  •  Chapter XX: “Au ’Voir, M’Sieu’ Jean Jacques”  •  Chapter XXI: If She Had Known in Time  •  Epilogue - Chapter XXII: Bells of Memory  •  Chapter XXIII: Jean Jacques Has Work to Do  •  Chapter XXIV: Jean Jacques Encamped  •  Chapter XXV: What Would You Have Done?  •  Etext Editor’s Bookmarks For “The Money Master”, Complete:

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The money master;: Being the curious history of Jean Jacques Barbille, his labours, his loves, and his ladies,
By Gilbert Parker
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