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- The Money Master, Volume 4. - 10/13 -
"M'sieu', I have to say that there is due to you three hundred and fifty dollars from the settlement, excluding this sale, which will just do what was expected of it. I am instructed to give it to you from the creditors. Here it is."
He took out a roll of bills and offered it to Jean Jacques.
"What creditors?" asked Jean Jacques.
"All the creditors," responded the other, and he produced a receipt for Jean Jacques to sign. "A formal statement will be sent you, and if there is any more due to you, it will be added then. But now--well, there it is, the creditors think there is no reason for you to wait."
Jean Jacques did not yet take the roll of bills. "They come from M. Mornay?" he asked with an air of resistance, for he did not wish to be under further obligations to the man who would lose most by him.
The lawyer was prepared. M. Mornay had foreseen the timidity and sensitiveness of Jean Jacques, had anticipated his mistaken chivalry--for how could a man decline to take advantage of the Bankruptcy Court unless he was another Don Quixote! He had therefore arranged with all the creditors for them to take responsibility with 'himself, though he provided the cash which manipulated this settlement.
"No, M'sieu' Jean Jacques," the lawyer replied, this comes from all the creditors, as the sum due to you from all the transactions, so far as can be seen as yet. Further adjustment may be necessary, but this is the interim settlement."
Jean Jacques was far from being ignorant of business, but so bemused was his judgment and his intelligence now, that he did not see there was no balance which could possibly be his, since his liabilities vastly exceeded his assets. Yet with a wave of the hand he accepted the roll of bills, and signed the receipt with an air which said, "These forms must be observed, I suppose."
What he would have done if the three hundred and fifty dollars had not been given him, it would be hard to say, for with gentle asperity he had declined a loan from his friend M. Fille, and he had but one silver dollar in his pocket, or in the world. Indeed, Jean Jacques was living in a dream in these dark days--a dream of renunciation and sacrifice, and in the spirit of one who gives up all to some great cause. He was not yet even face to face with the fulness of his disaster. Only at moments had the real significance of it all come to him, and then he had shivered as before some terror menacing his path. Also, as M. Mornay had said, his philosophy was now in his bones and marrow rather than in his words. It had, after all, tinctured his blood and impregnated his mind. He had babbled and been the egotist, and played cock o' the walk; and now at last his philosophy was giving some foundation for his feet. Yet at this auction-sale he looked a distracted, if smiling, whimsical, rather bustling figure of misfortune, with a tragic air of exile, of isolation from all by which he was surrounded. A profound and wayworn loneliness showed in his figure, in his face, in his eyes.
The crowd thinned in time, and yet very many lingered to see the last of this drama of lost fortunes. A few of the riff-raff, who invariably attend these public scenes, were now rather the worse for drink, from the indifferent liquor provided by the auctioneer, and they were inclined to horseplay and coarse chaff. More than one ribald reference to Jean Jacques had been checked by his chivalrous fellow-citizens; indeed, M. Fille had almost laid himself open to a charge of assault in his own court by raising his stick at a loafer, who made insulting references to Jean Jacques. But as the sale drew to a close, an air of rollicking humour among the younger men would not be suppressed, and it looked as though Jean Jacques' exit would be attended by the elements of farce and satire.
In this world, however, things do not happen logically, and Jean Jacques made his exit in a wholly unexpected manner. He was going away by the train which left a new railway junction a few miles off, having gently yet firmly declined M. Fille's invitation, and also the invitations of others--including the Cure and Mere Langlois--to spend the night with them and start off the next day. He elected to go on to Montreal that very night, and before the sale was quite finished he prepared to start. His carpet-bag containing a few clothes and necessaries had been sent on to the junction, and he meant to walk to the station in the cool of the evening.
M. Manotel, the auctioneer, hoarse with his heavy day's work, was announcing that there were only a few more things to sell, and no doubt they could be had at a bargain, when Jean Jacques began a tour of the Manor. There was something inexpressibly mournful in this lonely pilgrimage of the dismantled mansion. Yet there was no show of cheap emotion by Jean Jacques; and a wave of the hand prevented any one from following him in his dry-eyed progress to say farewell to these haunts of childhood, manhood, family, and home. There was a strange numbness in his mind and body, and he had a feeling that he moved immense and reflective among material things. Only tragedy can produce that feeling. Happiness makes the universe infinite and stupendous, despair makes it small and even trivial.
It was when he had reached the little office where he had done the business of his life--a kind of neutral place where he had ever isolated himself from the domestic scene--that the final sensation, save one, of his existence at the Manor came to him. Virginie Poucette had divined his purpose when he began the tour of the house, and going by a roundabout way, she had placed herself where she could speak with him alone before he left the place for ever--if that was to be. She was not sure that his exit was really inevitable--not yet.
When Jean Jacques saw Virginie standing beside the table in his office where he lead worked over so many years, now marked Sold, and waiting to be taken away by its new owner, he started and drew back, but she held out her hand and said:
"But one word, M'sieu' Jean Jacques; only one word from a friend--indeed a friend."
"A friend of friends," he answered, still in abstraction, his eyes having that burnished light which belonged to the night of the fire; but yet realizing that she was a sympathetic soul who had offered to lend him money without security.
"Oh, indeed yes, as good a friend as you can ever have!" she added.
Something had waked the bigger part of her, which had never been awake in the days of Palass Poucette. Jean Jacques was much older than she, but what she felt had nothing to do with age, or place or station. It had only to do with understanding, with the call of nature and of a motherhood crying for expression. Her heart ached for him.
"Well, good-bye, my friend," he said, and held out his hand. "I must be going now."
"Wait," she said, and there was something insistent and yet pleading in her voice. "I've got something to say. You must hear it. . . . Why should you go? There is my farm--it needs to be worked right. It has got good chances. It has water-power and wood and the best flax in the province--they want to start a flax-mill on it--I've had letters from big men in Montreal. Well, why shouldn't you do it instead? There it is, the farm, and there am I a woman alone. I need help. I've got no head. I have to work at a sum of figures all night to get it straight. . . . Ah, m'sieu', it is a need both sides! You want someone to look after you; you want a chance again to do things; but you want someone to look after you, and it is all waiting there on the farm. Palass Poucette left behind him seven sound horses, and cows and sheep, and a threshing- machine and a fanning-mill, and no debts, and two thousand dollars in the bank. You will never do anything away from here. You must stay here, where--where I can look after you, Jean Jacques."
The light in his eyes flamed up, died down, flamed up again, and presently it covered all his face, as he grasped what she meant.
"Wonder of God, do you forget?" he asked. "I am married--married still, Virginie Poucette. There is no divorce in the Catholic Church--no, none at all. It is for ever and ever."
"I said nothing about marriage," she said bravely, though her face suffused.
"Hand of Heaven, what do you mean? You mean to say you would do that for me in spite of the Cure and--and everybody and everything?"
"You ought to be taken care of," she protested. "You ought to have your chance again. No one here is free to do it all but me. You are alone. Your wife that was--maybe she is dead. I am alone, and I'm not afraid of what the good God will say. I will settle with Him myself. Well, then, do you think I'd care what--what Mere Langlois or the rest of the world would say? . . . I can't bear to think of you going away with nothing, with nobody, when here is something and somebody--somebody who would be good to you. Everybody knows that you've been badly used-- everybody. I'm young enough to make things bright and warm in your life, and the place is big enough for two, even if it isn't the Manor Cartier."
"Figure de Christ, do you think I'd let you do it--me?" declared Jean Jacques, with lips trembling now and his shoulders heaving. Misfortune and pain and penalty he could stand, but sacrifice like this and--and whatever else it was, were too much for him. They brought him back to the dusty road and everyday life again; they subtracted him from his big dream, in which he had been detached from the details of his catastrophe.
"No, no, no," he added. "You go look another way, Virginie. Turn your face to the young spring, not to the dead winter. To-morrow I'll be gone to find what I've got to find. I've finished here, but there's many a good man waiting for you--men who'll bring you something worth while besides themselves. Make no mistake, I've finished. I've done my term of life. I'm only out on ticket-of-leave now--but there, enough, I shall always want to think of you. I wish I had something to give you--but yes, here is something." He drew from his pocket a silver napkin-ring. "I've had that since I was five years old. My uncle Stefan gave it to me. I've always used it. I don't know why I put it in my pocket this morning, but I did. Take it. It's more than money. It's got something of Jean Jacques about it. You've got the Barbille fruit-dish-that is a thing I'll remember. I'm glad you've got it, and--"
"I meant we should both eat from it," she said helplessly.
"It would cost too much to eat from it with you, Virginie--"
He stopped short, choked, then his face cleared, and his eyes became steady.
"Well then, good-bye, Virginie," he said, holding out his hand.
"You don't think I'd say to any other living man what I've said to you?" she asked.
He nodded understandingly. "That's the best part of it. It was for me
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