“Monsieur Margaritis,” cried Madame Vernier, addressing him, “come, stir about! Here is a gentleman whom my husband sends to you, and you must listen to him with great attention. Put away your mathematics and talk to him.”
On hearing these words the lunatic rose, looked at Gaudissart, made him a sign to sit down, and said, “Let us converse, Monsieur.”
The two women went into Madame Margaritis’ bedroom, leaving the door open so as to hear the conversation, and interpose if it became necessary. They were hardly installed before Monsieur Vernier crept softly up through the field and, opening a window, got into the bedroom without noise.
“Monsieur has doubtless been in business—?” began Gaudissart.
“Public business,” answered Margaritis, interrupting him. “I pacificated Calabria under the reign of King Murat.”
“Bless me! if he hasn’t gone to Calabria!” whispered Monsieur Vernier.
“In that case,” said Gaudissart, “we shall quickly understand each other.”
“I am listening,” said Margaritis, striking the attitude taken by a man when he poses to a portrait-painter.
“Monsieur,” said Gaudissart, who chanced to be turning his watch-key with a rotatory and periodical click which caught the attention of the lunatic and contributed no doubt to keep him quiet. “Monsieur, if you were not a man of superior intelligence” (the fool bowed), “I should content myself with merely laying before you the material advantages of this enterprise, whose psychological aspects it would be a waste of time to explain to you. Listen! Of all kinds of social wealth, is not time the most precious? To economize time is, consequently, to become wealthy. Now, is there anything that consumes so much time as those anxieties which I call ’pot-boiling’?—a vulgar expression, but it puts the whole question in a nutshell. For instance, what can eat up more time than the inability to give proper security to persons from whom you seek to borrow money when, poor at the moment, you are nevertheless rich in hope?”
“Money,—yes, that’s right,” said Margaritis.
“Well, Monsieur, I am sent into the departments by a company of bankers and capitalists, who have apprehended the enormous waste which rising men of talent are thus making of time, and, consequently, of intelligence and productive ability. We have seized the idea of capitalizing for such men their future prospects, and cashing their talents by discounting—what? time; securing the value of it to their survivors. I may say that it is no longer a question of economizing time, but of giving it a price, a quotation; of representing in a pecuniary sense those products developed by time which presumably you possess in the region of your intellect; of representing also the moral qualities with which you are endowed, and which are, Monsieur, living forces,—as living as a cataract, as a steam-engine of three, ten, twenty, fifty horse-power.