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- The Money Master, Volume 4. - 5/13 -
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.
JEAN JACQUES HAS AN OFFER
The day after Jean Jacques had got a new lease of life and become his own banker, he treated himself to one of those interludes of pleasure from which he had emerged in the past like a hermit from his cave. He sat on the hill above his lime-kilns, reading the little hand-book of philosophy which had played so big a part in his life. Whatever else had disturbed his mind and diverted him from his course, nothing had weaned him from
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