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- The Money Master, Volume 4. - 6/13 -
this obsession. He still interlarded all his conversation with quotations from brilliant poseurs like Chateaubriand and Rochefoucauld, and from missionaries of thought like Hume and Hegel.
His real joy, however, was in withdrawing for what might be called a seance of meditation from the world's business. Some men make celebration in wine, sport and adventure; but Jean Jacques made it in flooding his mind with streams of human thought which often tried to run uphill, which were frequently choked with weeds, but still were like the pool of Siloam to his vain mind. They bathed that vain mind in the illusion that it could see into the secret springs of experience.
So, on as bright a day as ever the New World offered, Jean Jacques sat reciting to himself a spectacular bit of logic from one of his idols, wedged between a piece of Aristotle quartz and Plato marble. The sound of it was good in his ears. He mouthed it as greedily and happily as though he was not sitting on the edge of a volcano instead of the moss- grown limestone on a hill above his own manor.
"The course of events in the life of a man, whatever their gravity or levity, are only to be valued and measured by the value and measure of his own soul. Thus, what in its own intrinsic origin and material should in all outer reason be a tragedy, does not of itself shake the foundations or make a fissure in the superstructure. Again--"
Thus his oracle, but Jean Jacques' voice suddenly died down, for, as he sat there, the face of a woman made a vivid call of recognition. He slowly awakened from his self-hypnotism, to hear a woman speaking to him; to see two dark eyes looking at him from under heavy black brows with bright, intent friendliness.
"They said at the Manor you had come this way, so I thought I'd not have my drive for nothing, and here I am. I wanted to say something to you, M'sieu' Jean Jacques."
It was the widow of Palass Poucette. She looked very fresh and friendly indeed, and she was the very acme of neatness. If she was not handsome, she certainly had a true and sweet comeliness of her own, due to the deep rose-colour of her cheeks, the ivory whiteness round the lustrous brown eyes, the regular shining teeth which showed so much when she smiled, and the look half laughing, half sentimental which dominated all.
Before she had finished speaking Jean Jacques was on his feet with his hat off. Somehow she seemed to be a part of that abstraction, that intoxication, in which he had just been drowning his accumulated anxieties. Not that Virginie Poucette was logical or philosophical, or a child of thought, for she was wholly the opposite-practical, sensuous, emotional, a child of nature and of Eve. But neither was Jean Jacques a real child of thought, though he made unconscious pretence of it. He also was a child of nature--and Adam. He thought he had the courage of his convictions, but it was only the courage of his emotions. His philosophy was but the bent or inclination of a mind with a capacity to feel things rather than to think them. He had feeling, the first essential of the philosopher, but there he stayed, an undeveloped chrysalis.
His look was abstracted still as he took the hand of the widow of Palass Poucette; but he spoke cheerfully. "It is a pleasure, madame, to welcome you among my friends," he said.
He made a little flourish with the book which had so long been his bosom friend, and added: "But I hope you are in no trouble that you come to me --so many come to me in their troubles," he continued with an air of satisfaction.
"Come to you--why, you have enough troubles of your own!" she made answer. "It's because you have your own troubles that I'm here."
"Why you are here," he remarked vaguely.
There was something very direct and childlike in Virginie Poucette. She could not pretend; she wore her heart on her sleeve. She travelled a long distance in a little while.
"I've got no trouble myself," she responded. "But, yes, I have," she added. "I've got one trouble--it's yours. It's that you've been having hard times--the flour-mill, your cousin Auguste Charron, the lawsuits, and all the rest. They say at Vilray that you have all you can do to keep out of the Bankruptcy Court, and that--"
Jean Jacques started, flushed, and seemed about to get angry; but she put things right at once.
"People talk more than they know, but there's always some fire where there's smoke," she hastened to explain. "Besides, your father-in-law babbles more than is good for him or for you. I thought at first that M. Dolores was a first-class kind of man, that he had had hard times too, and I let him come and see me; but I found him out, and that was the end of it, you may be sure. If you like him, I don't want to say anything more, but I'm sure that he's no real friend to you-or to anybody. If that man went to confession--but there, that's not what I've come for. I've come to say to you that I never felt so sorry for anyone in my life as I do for you. I cried all night after your beautiful mill was burned down. You were coming to see me next day--you remember what you said in M. Fille's office--but of course you couldn't. Of course, there was no reason why you should come to see me really--I've 'only got two hundred acres and the house. It's a good house, though--Palass saw to that--and it's insured; but still I know you'd have come just the same if I'd had only two acres. I know. There's hosts of people you've been good to here, and they're sorry for you; and I'm sorrier than any, for I'm alone, and you're alone, too, except for the old Dolores, and he's no good to either of us--mark my words, no good to you! I'm sorry for you, M'sieu' Jean Jacques, and I've come to say that I'm ready to lend you two thousand dollars, if that's any help. I could make it more if I had time; but sometimes money on the spot is worth a lot more than what's just crawling to you--snailing along while you eat your heart out. Two thousand dollars is two thousand dollars--I know what it's worth to me, though it mayn't be much to you; but I didn't earn it. It belonged to a first-class man, and he worked for it, and he died and left it to me. It's not come easy, go easy with me. I like to feel I've got two thousand cash without having to mortgage for it. But it belonged to a number-one man, a man of brains--I've got no brains, only some sense --and I want another good man to use it and make the world easier for himself."
It was a long speech, and she delivered it in little gasps of oratory which were brightened by her wonderfully kind smile and the heart--not to say sentiment--which showed in her face. The sentiment, however, did not prejudice Jean Jacques against her, for he was a sentimentalist himself. His feelings were very quick, and before she had spoken fifty words the underglow of his eyes was flooded by something which might have been mistaken for tears. It was, however, only the moisture of gratitude and the soul's good feeling.
"Well there, well there," he said when she had finished, "I've never had anything like this in my life before. It's the biggest thing in the art of being a neighbour I've ever seen. You've only been in the parish three years, and yet you've shown me a confidence immense, inspiring! It is as the Greek philosopher said, 'To conceive the human mind aright is the greatest gift from the gods.' And to you, who never read a line of philosophy, without doubt, you have done the thing that is greatest. It says, 'I teach neighbourliness and life's exchange.' Madame, your house ought to be called Neighbourhood House. It is the epitome of the spirit, it is the shrine of--"
He was working himself up to a point where he could forget all the things that trouble humanity, in the inebriation of an idealistic soul which had a casing of passion, but the passion of the mind and not of the body; for Jean Jacques had not a sensual drift in his organism. If there had been a sensual drift, probably Carmen would still have been the lady of his manor, and he would still have been a magnate and not a potential bankrupt; for in her way Carmen had been a kind of balance to his judgment in the business of life, in spite of her own material and (at the very last) sensual strain. It was a godsend to Jean Jacques to have such an inspiration as Virginie Poucette had given him. He could not in these days, somehow, get the fires of his soul lighted, as he was wont to do in the old times, and he loved talking--how he loved talking of great things! He was really going hard, galloping strong, when Virginie interrupted him, first by an exclamation, then, as insistently he repeated the words, "It is the epitome of the spirit, the shrine of--"
She put out a hand, interrupting him, and said: "Yes, yes, M'sieu' Jean Jacques, that's as good as Moliere, I s'pose, or the Archbishop at Quebec, but are you going to take it, the two thousand dollars? I made a long speech, I know, but that was to tell you why I come with the money" --she drew out a pocketbook--"with the order on my lawyer to hand the cash over to you. As a woman I had to explain to you, there being lots of ideas about what a woman should do and what she shouldn't do; but there's nothing at all for you to explain, and Mere Langlois and a lot of others would think I'm vain enough now without your compliments. I'm a neighbour if you like, and I offer you a loan. Will you take it--that's all?"
He held out his hand in silence and took the paper from her. Putting his head a little on one side, he read it. At first he seemed hardly to get the formal language clear in his mind; however, or maybe his mind was still away in that abstraction into which he had whisked it when he began his reply to her fine offer; but he read it out aloud, first quickly, then very slowly, and he looked at the signature with a deeply meditative air.
"Virginie Poucette--that's a good name," he remarked; "and also good for two thousand dollars!" He paused to smile contentedly over his own joke. "And good for a great deal more than that too," he added with a nod.
"Yes, ten times as much as that," she responded quickly, her eyes fixed on his face. She scarcely knew herself what she was thinking when she said it; but most people who read this history will think she was hinting that her assets might be united with his, and so enable him to wipe out his liabilities and do a good deal more besides. Yet, how could that be, since Carmen Dolores was still his wife if she was alive; and also they both were Catholics, and Catholics did not recognize divorce!
Truth is, Virginie Poucette's mind did not define her feelings at all clearly, or express exactly what she wanted. Her actions said one thing certainly; but if the question had been put to her, whether she was doing this thing because of a wish to take the place of Carmen Dolores in Jean Jacques' life she would have said no at once. She had not come to that --yet. She was simply moved by a sentiment of pity for Jean Jacques, and as she had no child, or husband, or sister, or brother, or father, or mother, but only relatives who tried to impose upon her, she needed an objective for the emotions of her nature, for the overflow of her unused affection and her unsatisfied maternal spirit. Here, then, was the most obvious opportunity--a man in trouble who had not deserved the bitter bad luck which had come to him. Even old Mere Langlois in the market-place at Vilray had admitted that, and had said the same later on in Virginie's home.
For an instant Jean Jacques was fascinated by the sudden prospect which opened out before him. If he asked her, this woman would probably loan
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