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XI

From that morning war was declared.

From that day commenced in the Rue St. Gilles one of those domestic
dramas which are still awaiting their Moliere, - a drama of
distressing vulgarity and sickening realism, but poignant,
nevertheless; for it brought into action tears, blood, and a savage
energy.

M. Favoral thought himself sure to win; for did he not have the key
of the cash, and is not the key of the cash the most formidable
weapon in an age where every thing begins and ends with money?

Nevertheless, he was filled with irritating anxieties.

He who had just discovered so many things which he did not even
suspect a few days before, he could not discover the source whence
his son drew the money which flowed like water from his prodigal
hands.

He had made sure that Maxence had no debts; and yet it could not be
with M. Chapelain's monthly twenty francs that he fed his frolics.

Mme. Favoral and Gilberte, subjected separately to a skillful
interrogatory, had managed to keep inviolate the secret of their
mercenary labor. The servant, shrewdly questioned, had said nothing
that could in any way cause the truth to be suspected.

Here was, then, a mystery; and M. Favoral's constant anxiety could
be read upon his knitted brows during his brief visits to the house;
that is, during dinner.

From the manner in which he tasted his soup, it was easy to see that
he was asking himself whether that was real soup, and whether he was
not being imposed upon. From the expression of his eyes, it was
easy to guess this question constantly present to his mind.

"They are robbing me evidently; but how do they do it?"

And he became distrustful, fussy, and suspicious, to an extent that
he had never been before. It was with the most insulting precautions
that he examined every Sunday his wife's accounts. He took a look at
the grocer's, and settled it himself every month: he had the butcher's
bills sent to him in duplicate. He would inquire the price of an
apple as he peeled it over his plate, and never failed to stop at the
fruiterer's and ascertain that he bad not been deceived.

But it was all in vain.

And yet he knew that Maxence always had in his pocket two or three
five-franc pieces.

"Where do you steal them?" he asked him one day.

"I save them out of my salary," boldly answered the young man.

Exasperated, M. Favoral wished to make the whole world take an
interest in his investigations. And one Saturday evening, as he
was talking with his friends, M. Chapelain, the worthy Desclavettes,
and old man Desormeaux, pointing to his wife and daughter:

"Those d---d women rob me," he said, "for the benefit of my son;
and they do it so cleverly that I can't find out how. They have
an understanding with the shop-keepers, who are but licensed thieves;
and nothing is eaten here that they don't make me pay double its
value."

M. Chapelain made an ill-concealed grimace; whilst M. Desclavettes
sincerely admired a man who had courage enough to confess his
meanness.

But M. Desormeaux never minced things.

"Do you know, friend Vincent," he said, "that it requires a strong
stomach to take dinner with a man who spends his time calculating
the cost of every mouthful that his guests swallow?"

M. Favoral turned red in the face.

"It is not the expense that I deplore," he replied, but the
duplicity. I am rich enough, thank Heaven! not to begrudge a few
francs; and I would gladly give to my wife twice as much as she takes,
if she would only ask it frankly."

But that was a lesson.

Hereafter he was careful to dissimulate, and seemed exclusively
occupied in subjecting his son to a system of his invention, the
excessive rigor of which would have upset a steadier one than he.

He demanded of him daily written attestations of his attendance both
at the law-school and at the lawyer's office. He marked out the
itinerary of his walks for him, and measured the time they required,
within a few minutes. Immediately after dinner he shut him up in
his room, under lock and key, and never failed, when he came home
at ten o'clock to make sure of his presence.

He could not have taken steps better calculated to exalt still more
Mme. Favoral's blind tenderness.

When she heard that Maxence had a mistress, she had been rudely
shocked in her most cherished feelings. It is never without a secret
jealousy that a mother discovers that a woman has robbed her of her
son's heart. She had retained a certain amount of spite against him
on account of disorders, which, in her candor, she had never
suspected. She forgave him every thing when she saw of what
treatment he was the object.

She took sides with him, believing him to be the victim of a most
unjust persecution. In the evening, after her husband had gone out,
Gilberte and herself would take their sewing, sit in the hall outside
his room, and converse with him through the door. Never had they
worked so hard for the shop-keeper in the Rue St. Denis. Some weeks
they earned as much as twenty-five or thirty francs.

But Maxence's patience was exhausted; and one morning he declared
resolutely that he would no longer attend the law-school, that he
had been mistaken in his vocation, and that there was no human power
capable to make him return to M. Chapelain's.

"And where will you go?" exclaimed his father. "Do you expect me
eternally to supply your wants?"

He answered that it was precisely in order to support himself, and
conquer his independence, that he had resolved to abandon a
profession, which, after two years, yielded him twenty francs a month.

"I want some business where I have a chance to get rich," he replied.
"I would like to enter a banking-house, or some great financial
establishment."

Mme. Favoral jumped at the idea.

"That's a fact," she said to her husband. "Why couldn't you find
a place for our son at the Mutual Credit? There he would be under
your own eyes. Intelligent as he is, backed by M. de Thaller and
yourself, he would soon earn a good salary."

M. Favoral knit his brows.

"That I shall never do," he uttered. "I have not sufficient
confidence in my son. I cannot expose myself to have him compromise
the consideration which I have acquired for myself."

And, revealing to a certain extent the secret of his conduct:

"A cashier," he added, "who like me handles immense sums cannot be
too careful of his reputation. Confidence is a delicate thing in
these times, when there are so many cashiers constantly on the road
to Belgium. Who knows what would be thought of me, if I was known
to have such a son as mine?"

Mme. Favoral was insisting, nevertheless, when he seemed to make up
his mind suddenly.

"Enough," he said. "Maxence is free. I allow him two years to
establish himself in some position. That delay over, good-by: he
can find board and lodging where he please. That's all. I don't
want to hear any thing more about it."

It was with a sort of frenzy that Maxence abused that freedom; and
in less than two weeks he had dissipated three months' earnings of
his mother and sister.

That time over, he succeeded, thanks to M. Chapelain, in finding a
place with an architect.

This was not a very brilliant opening; and the chances were, that
he might remain a clerk all his life. But the future did not trouble
him much. For the present, he was delighted with this inferior
position, which assured him each month one hundred and seventy-five
francs.

One hundred and seventy-five francs! A fortune. And so he rushed
into that life of questionable pleasures, where so many wretches have
left not only the money which they had, which is nothing, but the
money which they had not, which leads straight to the police-court.

He made friends with those shabby fellows who walk up and down in
front of the Caf Riche, with an empty stomach, and a tooth-pick
between their teeth. He became a regular customer at those low cafes
of the Boulevards, where plastered girls smile to the men. He
frequented those suspicious table d'hotes where they play baccarat
after dinner on a wine-stained table-cloth, and where the police make
periodical raids. He ate suppers in those night restaurants where
people throw the bottles at each other's heads after drinking their
contents.

Often he remained twenty-four hours without coming to the Rue St.
Gilles; and then Mme. Favoral spent the night in the most fearful
anxiety. Then, suddenly, at some hour when he knew his father to be
absent, he would appear, and, taking his mother to one side:

"I very much want a few louis," he would say in a sheepish tone.

She gave them to him; and she kept giving them so long as she had
any, not, however, without observing timidly to him that Gilberte
and herself could not earn very much.

Until finally one evening, and to a last demand:

"Alas!" she answered sorrowfully, "I have nothing left, and it is
only on Monday that we are to take our work back. Couldn't you
wait until then?"

He could not wait he was expected for a game. Blind devotion begets
ferocious egotism. He wanted his mother to go out and borrow the
money from the grocer or the butcher. She was hesitating. He spoke
louder.

Then Mme. Gilberte appeared.

"Have you, then, really no heart?" she said. "It seems to me, that,
if I were a man, I would not ask my mother and sister to work for me."





Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau
Category:
General Fiction
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