The Old Wives' Tale HTML version

III.4. A Crisis For Gerald
For a time there existed in the minds of both Gerald and Sophia the remarkable
notion that twelve thousand pounds represented the infinity of wealth, that this
sum possessed special magical properties which rendered it insensible to the
process of subtraction. It seemed impossible that twelve thousand pounds, while
continually getting less, could ultimately quite disappear. The notion lived longer
in the mind of Gerald than in that of Sophia; for Gerald would never look at a
disturbing fact, whereas Sophia's gaze was morbidly fascinated by such
phenomena. In a life devoted to travel and pleasure Gerald meant not to spend
more than six hundred a year, the interest on his fortune. Six hundred a year is
less than two pounds a day, yet Gerald never paid less than two pounds a day in
hotel bills alone. He hoped that he was living on a thousand a year, had a secret
fear that he might be spending fifteen hundred, and was really spending about
two thousand five hundred. Still, the remarkable notion of the inexhaustibility of
twelve thousand pounds always reassured him. The faster the money went, the
more vigorously this notion flourished in Gerald's mind. When twelve had
unaccountably dwindled to three, Gerald suddenly decided that he must act, and
in a few months he lost two thousand on the Paris Bourse. The adventure
frightened him, and in his panic he scattered a couple of hundred in a frenzy of
high living.
But even with only twenty thousand francs left out of three hundred thousand, he
held closely to the belief that natural laws would in his case somehow be
suspended. He had heard of men who were once rich begging bread and
sweeping crossings, but he felt quite secure against such risks, by simple virtue
of the axiom that he was he. However, he meant to assist the axiom by efforts to
earn money. When these continued to fail, he tried to assist the axiom by
borrowing money; but he found that his uncle had definitely done with him. He
would have assisted the axiom by stealing money, but he had neither the nerve
nor the knowledge to be a swindler; he was not even sufficiently expert to cheat
at cards.
He had thought in thousands. Now he began to think in hundreds, in tens, daily
and hourly. He paid two hundred francs in railway fares in order to live
economically in a village, and shortly afterwards another two hundred francs in
railway fares in order to live economically in Paris. And to celebrate the arrival in
Paris and the definite commencement of an era of strict economy and serious
search for a livelihood, he spent a hundred francs on a dinner at the Maison
Doree and two balcony stalls at the Gymnase. In brief, he omitted nothing--no
act, no resolve, no self- deception--of the typical fool in his situation; always
convinced that his difficulties and his wisdom were quite exceptional.