The Money Master
By Gilbert Parker

Presented by

Public Domain Books

Chapter XVII: His Greatest Asset

Jean Jacques did not go to the house of the widow of Palass Poucette “next day” as he had proposed: and she did not expect him. She had seen his flour-mill burned to the ground on the-evening when they met in the office of the Clerk of the evening Court, when Jean Jacques had learned that his Zoe had gone into farther and farther places away from him. Perhaps Virginie Poucette never had shed as many tears in any whole year of her life as she did that night, not excepting the year Palass Poucette died, and left her his farm and seven horses, more or less sound, and a threshing-machine in good condition. The woman had a rare heart and there was that about Jean Jacques which made her want to help him. She had no clear idea as to how that could be done, but she had held his hand at any rate, and he had seemed the better for it. Virginie had only an objective view of things; and if she was not material, still she could best express herself through the medium of the senses.

There were others besides her who shed tears also–those who saw Jean Jacques’ chief asset suddenly disappear in flame and smoke and all his other assets become thereby liabilities of a kind; and there were many who would be the poorer in the end because of it. If Jean Jacques went down, he probably would not go alone. Jean Jacques had done a good fire- insurance business over a course of years, but somehow he had not insured himself as heavily as he ought to have done; and in any case the fire- policy for the mill was not in his own hands. It was in the safe-keeping of M. Mornay at Montreal, who had warned M. Fille of the crisis in the money-master’s affairs on the very day that the crisis came.

No one ever knew how it was that the mill took fire, but there was one man who had more than a shrewd suspicion, though there was no occasion for mentioning it. This was Sebastian Dolores. He had not set the mill afire. That would have been profitable from no standpoint, and he had no grudge against Jean Jacques. Why should he have a grudge? Jean Jacques’ good fortune, as things were, made his own good fortune; for he ate and drank and slept and was clothed at his son-in-law’s expense. But he guessed accurately who had set the mill on fire, and that it was done accidentally. He remembered that a man who smoked bad tobacco which had to be lighted over and over again, threw a burning match down after applying it to his pipe. He remembered that there was a heap of flour- bags near where the man stood when the match was thrown down; and that some loose strings for tying were also in a pile beside the bags. So it was easy for the thing to have happened if the man did not turn round after he threw the match down, but went swaying on out of the mill, and over to the Manor Cartier, and up staggering to bed; for he had been drinking potato-brandy, and he had been brought up on the mild wines of Spain! In other words, the man who threw down the lighted match which did the mischief was Sebastian Dolores himself.

He regretted it quite as much as he had ever regretted anything; and on the night of the fire there were tears in his large brown eyes which deceived the New Cure and others; though they did not deceive the widow of Palass Poucette, who had found him out, and who now had no pleasure at all in his aged gallantries. But the regret Dolores experienced would not prevent him from doing Jean Jacques still greater injury if, and when, the chance occurred, should it be to his own advantage.

Jean Jacques shed no tears on the night that his beloved flour-mill became a blackened ruin, and his saw-mill had a narrow escape. He was like one in a dream, scarcely realizing that men were saying kind things to him; that the New Cure held his hand and spoke to him more like a brother than one whose profession it was to be good to those who suffered. In his eyes was the same half-rapt, intense, distant look which came into them when, at Vilray, he saw that red reflection in the sky over against St. Saviour’s, and urged his horses onward.

The world knew that the burning of the mill was a blow to Jean Jacques, but it did not know how great and heavy the blow was. First one and then another of his friends said he was insured, and that in another six months the mill-wheel would be turning again. They said so to Jean Jacques when he stood with his eyes fixed on the burning fabric, which nothing could save; but he showed no desire to speak. He only nodded and kept on staring at the fire with that curious underglow in his eyes. Some chemistry of the soul had taken place in him in the hour when he drove to the Manor Cartier from Vilray, and it produced a strange fire, which merged into the reflection of the sky above the burning mill. Later, came things which were strange and eventful in his life, but that under-glow was for ever afterwards in his eyes. It was in singular contrast to the snapping fire which had been theirs all the days of his life till now–the snapping fire of action, will and design. It still was there when they said to him suddenly that the wind had changed, and that the flame and sparks were now blowing toward the saw-mill. Even when he gave orders, and set to work to defend the saw-mill, arranging a line of men with buckets on its roof, and so saving it, this look remained. It was something spiritual and unmaterial, something, maybe, which had to do with the philosophy he had preached, thought and practised over long years. It did not disappear when at last, after midnight, everyone had gone, and the smouldering ruins of his greatest asset lay mournful in the wan light of the moon.

Kind and good friends like the Clerk of the Court and the New Cure had seen him to his bedroom at midnight, leaving him there with a promise that they would come on the morrow; and he had said goodnight evenly, and had shut the door upon them with a sort of smile. But long after they had gone, when Sebastian Dolores and Seraphe Corniche were asleep, he had got up again and left the house, to gaze at the spot where the big white mill with the red roof had been-the mill which had been there in the days of the Baron of Beaugard, and to which time had only added size and adornment. The gold-cock weathervane of the mill, so long the admiration of people living and dead, and indeed the symbol of himself, as he had been told, being so full of life and pride, courage and vigour-it lay among the ruins, a blackened relic of the Barbilles.

He had said in M. Fille’s office not many hours before, “I will fight it all out alone,” and here in the tragic quiet of the night he made his resolve a reality. In appearance he was not now like the “Seigneur” who sang to the sailors on the Antoine when she was fighting for the shore of Gaspe; nevertheless there was that in him which would keep him much the same man to the end.

Indeed, as he got into bed that fateful night he said aloud: “They shall see that I am not beaten. If they give me time up there in Montreal I’ll keep the place till Zoe comes back–till Zoe comes home.”

As he lay and tried to sleep, he kept saying over to himself, “Till Zoe comes home.”

He thought that if he could but have Zoe back, it all would not matter so much. She would keep looking at him and saying, “There’s the man that never flinched when things went wrong; there’s the man that was a friend to everyone.”

At last a thought came to him–the key to the situation as it seemed, the one thing necessary to meet the financial situation. He would sell the biggest farm he owned, which had been to him in its importance like the flour-mill itself. He had had an offer for it that very day, and a bigger offer still a week before. It was mortgaged to within eight thousand dollars of what it could be sold for but, if he could gain time, that eight thousand dollars would build the mill again. M. Mornay, the Big Financier, would certainly see that this was his due–to get his chance to pull things straight. Yes, he would certainly sell the Barbille farm to-morrow. With this thought in his mind he went to sleep at last, and he did not wake till the sun was high.

It was a sun of the most wonderful brightness and warmth. Yesterday it would have made the Manor Cartier and all around it look like Arcady. But as it shone upon the ruins of the mill, when Jean Jacques went out into the working world again, it made so gaunt and hideous a picture that, in spite of himself, a cry of misery came from his lips.

Through all the misfortunes which had come to him the outward semblance of things had remained, and when he went in and out of the plantation of the Manor Cartier, there was no physical change in the surroundings, which betrayed the troubles and disasters fallen upon its overlord. There it all was just as it had ever been, and seeming to deny that anything had changed in the lives of those who made the place other than a dead or deserted world. When Carmen went, when Zoe fled, when his cousin Auguste Charron took his flight, when defeats at law abashed him, the house and mills, and stores and offices, and goodly trees, and well- kept yards and barns and cattle-sheds all looked the same. Thus it was that he had been fortified. In one sense his miseries had seemed unreal, because all was the same in the outward scene. It was as though it all said to him: “It is a dream that those you love have vanished, that ill- fortune sits by your fireside. One night you will go to bed thinking that wife and child have gone, that your treasury is nearly empty; and in the morning you will wake up and find your loved ones sitting in their accustomed places, and your treasury will be full to overflowing as of old.”

So it was while the picture of his home scene remained unbroken and serene; but the hideous mass of last night’s holocaust was now before his eyes, with little streams of smoke rising from the cindered pile, and a hundred things with which his eyes had been familiar lay distorted, excoriated and useless. He realized with sudden completeness that a terrible change bad come in his life, that a cyclone had ruined the face of his created world.

This picture did more to open up Jean Jacques’ eyes to his real position in life than anything he had experienced, than any sorrow he had suffered. He had been in torment in the past, but he had refused to see that he was in Hades. Now it was as though he had been led through the streets of Hell by some dark spirit, while in vain he looked round for his old friends Kant and Hegel, Voltaire and Rousseau and Rochefoucauld, Plato and Aristotle.

While gazing at the dismal scene, however, and unheeding the idlers who poked about among the ruins, and watched him as one who was the centre of a drama, he suddenly caught sight of the gold Cock of Beaugard, which had stood on the top of the mill, in the very centre of the ruins.

Yes, there it was, the crested golden cock which had typified his own life, as he went head high, body erect, spurs giving warning, and a clarion in his throat ready to blare forth at any moment. There was the golden Cock of Beaugard in the cinders, the ashes and the dust. His chin dropped on his breast, and a cloud like a fog on the coast of Gaspe settled round him. Yet even as his head drooped, something else happened–one of those trivial things which yet may be the pivot of great things. A cock crowed–almost in his very ear, it seemed. He lifted his head quickly, and a superstitious look flashed into his face. His eyes fastened on the burnished head of the Cock among the ruins. To his excited imagination it was as though the ancient symbol of the Barbilles had spoken to him in its own language of good cheer and defiance. Yes, there it was, half covered by the ruins, but its head was erect in the midst of fire and disaster. Brought low, it was still alert above the wreckage. The child, the dreamer, the optimist, the egoist, and the man alive in Jean Jacques sprang into vigour again. It was as though the Cock of Beaugard had really summoned him to action, and the crowing had not been that of a barnyard bantam not a hundred feet away from him. Jean Jacques’ head went up too.

“Me–I am what I always was, nothing can change me,” he exclaimed defiantly. “I will sell the Barbille farm and build the mill again.”

So it was that by hook or by crook, and because the Big Financier had more heart than he even acknowledged to his own wife, Jean Jacques did sell the Barbille farm, and got in cash–in good hard cash-eight thousand dollars after the mortgage was paid. M. Mornay was even willing to take the inadequate indemnity of the insurance policy on the mill, and lose the rest, in order that Jean Jacques should have the eight thousand dollars to rebuild. This he did because Jean Jacques showed such amazing courage after the burning of the mill, and spread himself out in a greater activity than his career had yet shown. He shaved through this financial crisis, in spite of the blow he had received by the loss of his lawsuits, the flitting of his cousin, Auguste Charron, and the farm debts of this same cousin. It all meant a series of manipulations made possible by the apparent confidence reposed in him by M. Mornay.

On the day he sold his farm he was by no means out of danger of absolute insolvency–he was in fact ruined; but he was not yet the victim of those processes which would make him legally insolvent. The vultures were hovering, but they had not yet swooped, and there was the Manor saw-mill going night and day; for by the strangest good luck Jean Jacques received an order for M. Mornay’s new railway (Judge Carcasson was behind that) which would keep his saw-mill working twenty-four hours in the day for six months.

“I like his pluck, but still, ten to one, he loses,” remarked M. Mornay to Judge Carcasson. “He is an unlucky man, and I agree with Napoleon that you oughtn’t to be partner with an unlucky man.”

“Yet you have had to do with Monsieur Jean Jacques,” responded the aged Judge.

M. Mornay nodded indulgently.

“Yes, without risk, up to the burning of the mill. Now I take my chances, simply because I’m a fool too, in spite of all the wisdom I see in history and in life’s experiences. I ought to have closed him up, but I’ve let him go on, you see.”

“You will not regret it,” remarked the Judge. “He really is worth it.”

“But I think I will regret it financially. I think that this is the last flare of the ambition and energy of your Jean Jacques. That often happens–a man summons up all his reserves for one last effort. It’s partly pride, partly the undefeated thing in him, partly the gambling spirit which seizes men when nothing is left but one great spectacular success or else be blotted out. That’s the case with your philosopher; and I’m not sure that I won’t lose twenty thousand dollars by him yet.”

“You’ve lost more with less justification,” retorted the Judge, who, in his ninetieth year, was still as alive as his friend at sixty.

M. Mornay waved a hand in acknowledgment, and rolled his cigar from corner to corner of his mouth. “Oh, I’ve lost a lot more in my time, Judge, but with a squint in my eye! But I’m doing this with no astigmatism. I’ve got the focus.”

The aged Judge gave a conciliatory murmur-he had a fine persuasive voice. “You would never be sorry for what you have done if you had known his daughter–his Zoe. It’s the thought of her that keeps him going. He wants the place to be just as she left it when she comes back.”

“Well, well, let’s hope it will. I’m giving him a chance,” replied M. Mornay with his wineglass raised. “He’s got eight thousand dollars in cash to build his mill again; and I hope he’ll keep a tight hand on it till the mill is up.”

Keep a tight hand on it?

That is what Jean Jacques meant to do; but if a man wants to keep a tight hand on money he should not carry it about in his pocket in cold, hard cash. It was a foolish whim of Jean Jacques that he must have the eight thousand dollars in cash–in hundred-dollar bills–and not in the form of a cheque; but there was something childlike in him. When, as he thought, he had saved himself from complete ruin, he wanted to keep and gloat over the trophy of victory, and his trophy was the eight thousand dollars got from the Barbille farm. He would have to pay out two thousand dollars in cash to the contractors for the rebuilding of the mill at once,–they were more than usually cautious–but he would have six thousand left, which he would put in the bank after he had let people see that he was well fortified with cash.

The child in him liked the idea of pulling out of his pocket a few thousand dollars in hundred-dollar bills. He had always carried a good deal of money loose in his pocket, and now that his resources were so limited he would still make a gallant show. After a week or two he would deposit six thousand dollars in the bank; but he was so eager to begin building the mill, that he paid over the stipulated two thousand dollars to the contractors on the very day he received the eight thousand. A few days later the remaining six thousand were housed in a cupboard with an iron door in the wall of his office at the Manor Cartier.

“There, that will keep me in heart and promise,” said Jean Jacques as he turned the key in the lock.


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:

[Buy at Amazon]
The money master;: Being the curious history of Jean Jacques Barbille, his labours, his loves, and his ladies,
By Gilbert Parker
At Amazon