page 104

from David Golder by Irène Némirovsky

Bankrupted by inflation, Soifer had played the money markets and won everything back again. In spite of that, he had retained a mistrust of money, and the way revolutions and wars could transform it overnight into nothing but worthless bits of paper. It was a mistrust that seemed to grow as the years passed, and little by little, Soifer had invested his fortune in jewellery. He kept everything in a safe in London: diamonds, pearls, emeralds – all so beautiful that even Gloria had never owned any that could compare. Despite all this, his meanness bordered on madness. He lived in a sordid little furnished room, in a dingy street near Passy, and would never take taxis, even when a friend offered to pay. “I do not wish,” he would say, “to indulge in luxuries that I can’t afford myself.” Instead, he would wait for the bus in the rain, in winter, for hours at a time, letting them go by one after the other if there was no room left in second class. All his life, he had walked on tiptoe so his shoes would last longer. For several years now, since he had lost all his teeth, he ate only cereal and puréed vegetables to avoid having to buy dentures.

His yellow skin, as dry and transparent as an autumn leaf, gave him a look of pathetic nobility, the same kind of look that old criminals sometimes have. His head was crowned with beautiful tufts of silvery white hair. It was only his gaping, spluttering mouth, buried in the deep ridges of his face, that inspired a feeling of revulsion and fear.

Every day, Golder would let him win twenty francs or so, and listen to him talk about other people’s business deals. Soifer possessed a kind of dark sense of humour that was very similar to Golder’s and meant that they got along together well.

Much later, Soifer would die all alone, like a dog, without a friend, without a single wreath on his grave, buried in the cheapest cemetery in Paris by his family who hated him, and whom he had hated, but to whom he nevertheless left a fortune of some thirty million francs, thus fulfilling till the end the incomprehensible destiny of every good Jew on this earth.

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