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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 635 pages of information about The Old Wives' Tale.

Long before sheer ennui forced her to look out of the window again, every sign of justice had been removed from the square.  Nothing whatever remained in the heavy August sunshine save gathered heaps of filth where the horses had reared and caracoled.

CHAPTER IV

A CRISIS FOR GERALD

I

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.

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