To think of a profession, Maxence Favoral had not waited for the
Modern schoolboys are precocious: they know the strong and the weak
side of life; and, when they take their degree, they already have
but few illusions left.
And how could it be otherwise? In the interior of the colleges is
fatally found the echo of the thoughts, and the reflex of the manners,
of the time. Neither walls nor keepers can avail. At the same time,
as the city mud that stains their boots, the scholars bring back on
their return from holidays their stock of observations and of facts.
And what have they seen during the day in their families, or among
Ardent cravings, insatiable appetites for luxuries, comforts,
enjoyments, pleasures, contempt for patient labor, scorn for austere
convictions, eager longing for money, the will to become rich at any
cost, and the firm resolution to ravish fortune on the first
To be sure, they have dissembled in their presence; but their
perceptions are keen.
True, their father has told them in a grave tone, that there is
nothing respectable in this world except labor and honesty; but they
have caught that same father scarcely noticing a poor devil of an
honest man, and bowing to the earth before some clever rascal bearing
the stigma of three judgments, but worth six millions.
Conclusion? Oh! they know very well how to conclude; for there are
none such as young people to be logical, and to deduce the utmost
consequences of a fact.
They know, the most of them, that they will have to do something or
other; but what? And it is then, that, during the recreations,
their imagination strives to find that hitherto unknown profession
which is to give them fortune without work, and freedom at the same
time as a brilliant situation.
They discuss and criticise freely all the careers which are open to
youthful ambition. And how they laugh, if some simple fellow
ventures upon suggesting some of those modest situations where they
earn one hundred and fifty francs a month at the start! One hundred
and fifty francs! - why, it's hardly as much as many a boy spends
for his cigars, and his cab-fares when he is late.
Maxence was neither better nor worse than the rest. Like the rest
he strove to discover the ideal profession which makes a man rich,
and amuses him at the same time.
Under the pretext that he drew nicely, he spoke of becoming a painter,
calculating coolly what painting may yield, and reckoning, according
to some newspaper, the earnings of Corot or Geroine, Ziem, Bouguereau,
and some others, who are reaping at last the fruits of unceasing
efforts and crushing labors.
But, in the way of pictures, M. Vincent Favoral appreciated only the
blue vignettes of the Bank of France.
"I wish no artists in my family," he said, in a tone that admitted
of no reply.
Maxence would willingly have become an engineer, for it's rather
the style to be an engineer now-a-days; but the examinations for
the Polytechnic School are rather steep. Or else a cavalry officer;
but the two years at Saint Cyr are not very gay. Or chief clerk,
like M. Desormeaux; but he would have to begin by being supernumerary.
Finally after hesitating for a long time between law and medicine,
he made up his mind to become a lawyer, influenced above all, by
the joyous legends of the Latin quarter.
That was not exactly M. Vincent Favoral's dream.
"That's going to cost money again," he growled.
The fact is, he had indulged in the fallacious hope that his son,
as soon as he left college, would enter at once some business-house,
where he would earn enough to take care of himself.
He yielded at last, however, to the persistent entreaties of his
wife, and the solicitations of his friends.
"Be it so," he said to Maxence: "you will study law. Only, as it
cannot suit me that you should waste your days lounging in the
billiard-rooms of the left bank, you shall at the same time work
in an attorney's office. Next Saturday I shall arrange with my
Maxence had not bargained for such an arrangement; and he came near
backing out at the prospect of a discipline which he foresaw must
be as exacting as that of the college.
Still, as he could think of nothing better, he persevered. And,
vacations over, he was duly entered at the law-school, and settled
at a desk in M. Chapelain's office, which was then in the Rue St.
The first year every thing went on tolerably. He enjoyed as much
freedom as he cared to. His father did not allow him one centime
for his pocket-money; but the attorney, in his capacity of an old
friend of the family, did for him what he had never done before for
an amateur clerk, and allowed him twenty francs a month. Mme.
Favoral adding to this a few five-franc pieces, Maxence declared
himself entirely satisfied.
Unfortunately, with his lively imagination and his impetuous temper,
no one was less fit than himself for that peaceful existence, that
steady toil, the same each day, without the stimulus of difficulties
to overcome, or the satisfaction of results obtained.
Before long he became tired of it.
He had found at the law-school a number of his old schoolmates whose
parents resided in the provinces, and who, consequently, lived as
they pleased in the Latin quarter, less assiduous to the lectures
than to the Spring Brewery and the Closerie des Lilas.*
[ * A noted dancing-garden. ]
He envied them their joyous life, their freedom without control,
their facile pleasures, their furnished rooms, and even the low
eating-house where they took their meals. And, as much as possible,
he lived with them and like them.
But it is not with M. Chapelain's twenty francs that it would have
been possible for him to keep up with fellows, who, with superb
recklessness, took on credit everything they could get, reserving
the amount of their allowance for those amusements which had to be
paid for in cash.
But was not Mme. Favoral here?
She had worked so much, the poor woman, especially since Mme.
Gilberte had become almost a young lady; she had so much saved, so
much stinted, that her reserve, notwithstanding repeated drafts,
amounted to a good round sum.
When Maxence wanted two or three napoleons, he had but a word to
say; and he said it often. Thus, after a while, he became an
excellent billiard-player; he kept his colored meerschaum in the
rack of a popular brewery; he took absinthe before dinner, and
spent his evenings in the laudable effort to ascertain how many mugs
of beer he could "put away." Gaining in audacity, he danced at
Bullier's, dined at Foyd's, and at last had a mistress.
So much so, that one afternoon, M. Favoral having to visit on
business the other side of the water, found himself face to face
with his son, who was coming along, a cigar in his mouth, and having
on his arm a young lady, painted in superior style, and harnessed
with a toilet calculated to make the cab-horses rear.
He returned to the Rue St. Gilles in a state of indescribable rage.
"A woman!" he exclaimed in a tone of offended modesty. "A woman!
- he, my son!"
And when that son made his appearance, looking quite sheepish, his
first impulse was to resort to his former mode of correction.
But Maxence was now over nineteen years of age.
At the sight of the uplifted cane, he became whiter than his shirt;
and, wrenching it from his father's hands, he broke it across his
knees, threw the pieces violently upon the floor, and sprang out
of the house.
"He shall never again set his foot here!" screamed the cashier of
the Mutual Credit, thrown beside himself by an act of resistance
which seemed to him unheard of. "I banish him. Let his clothes be
packed up, and taken to some hotel: I never want to see him again."
For a long time Mme. Favoral and Gilberte fairly dragged themselves
at his feet, before he consented to recall his determination.
"He will disgrace us all!" he kept repeating, seeming unable to
understand that it was himself who had, as it were, driven Maxence
on to the fatal road which he was pursuing, forgetting that the
absurd seventies of the father prepared the way for the perilous
indulgence of the mother, unwilling to own that the head of a
family has other duties besides providing food and shelter for his
wife and children, and that a father has but little right to
complain who has not known how to make himself the friend and the
adviser of his son.
At last, after the most violent recriminations, he forgave, in
appearance at least.
But the scales had dropped from his eyes. He started in quest of
information, and discovered startling enormities.
He heard from M. Chapelain that Maxence remained whole weeks at a
time without appearing at the office. If he had not complained
before, it was because he had yielded to the urgent entreaties of
Mme. Favoral; and he was now glad, he added, of an opportunity to
relieve his conscience by a full confession.
Thus the cashier discovered, one by one, all his son's tricks. He
heard that he was almost unknown at the law-school, that he spent
his days in the cafes, and that, in the evening, when he believed
him in bed and asleep, he was in fact running out to theatres and
"Ah! that's the way, is it?" he thought. "Ah, my wife and children
are in league against me, - me, the master. Very well, we'll see."