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- The Money Master, Volume 4. - 1/13 -


By Gilbert Parker





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.

The Money Master, Volume 4. - 1/13

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