“When she was asked, she said that he was a merchant. One thing is sure, he was a queer old chap.”
So interested was the old coachman, that, seeing the punch-bowl empty, he called for another. His comrade could not fail to show his appreciation of such politeness.
“Ah, yes!” he went on, “old Vincent was an eccentric fellow; and never, to see him, could you have suspected that he cut up such capers, and that he threw money away by the handful.”
“Imagine a man about fifty years old, stiff as a post, with a face about as pleasant as a prison-gate. That’s the boss! Summer and winter, he wore laced shoes, blue stockings, gray pantaloons that were too short, a cotton necktie, and a frock-coat that came down to his ankles. In the street, you would have taken him for a hosier who had retired before his fortune was made.”
“You don’t say so!”
“No, never have I seen a man look so much like an old miser. You think, perhaps, that he came in a carriage. Not a bit of it! He came in the omnibus, my boy, and outside too, for three sous; and when it rained he opened his umbrella. But the moment he had crossed the threshold of the house, presto, pass! complete change of scene. The miser became pacha. He took off his old duds, put on a blue velvet robe; and then there was nothing handsome enough, nothing good enough, nothing expensive enough for him. And, when he had acted the my lord to his heart’s content, he put on his old traps again, resumed his prison-gate face, climbed up on top of the omnibus, and went off as he came.”
“And you were not surprised, all of you, at such a life?”
“Very much so.”
“And you did not think that these singular whims must conceal something?”
“Oh, but we did!”
“And you didn’t try to find out what that something was?”
“How could we?”
“Was it very difficult to follow your boss, and ascertain where he went, after leaving the house?”
“Certainly not; but what then?”
“Why,” he replied, “you would have found out his secret in the end; and then you would have gone to him and told him, ’Give me so much, or I peach.’”
This story of M. Vincent, as told by these two honest companions, was something like the vulgar legend of other people’s money, so eagerly craved, and so madly dissipated. Easily-gotten wealth is easily gotten rid of. Stolen money has fatal tendencies, and turns irresistibly to gambling, horse-jockeys, fast women, all the ruinous fancies, all the unwholesome gratifications.
They are rare indeed, among the daring cut-throats of speculation, those to whom their ill-gotten gain proves of real service,—so rare, that they are pointed out, and are as easily numbered as the girls who leap some night from the street to a ten-thousand-franc apartment, and manage to remain there.