Mme. Favoral spoke from experience. She had learned, to her cost,
that the whistle of her husband, more surely than the shriek of the
stormy petrel, announces the storm. - And she had that evening more
reasons than usual to fear. Breaking from all his habits, M. Favoral
had not come home to dinner, and had sent one of the clerks of the
Mutual Credit Society to say that they should not wait for him.
Soon his latch-key grated in the lock; the door swung open; he came
in; and, seeing his son:
"Well, I am glad to find you here," he exclaimed with a giggle, which
with him was the utmost expression of anger.
Mme. Favoral shuddered. Still under the impression of the scene
which had just taken place, his heart heavy, and his eyes full of
tears, Maxence did not answer.
"It is doubtless a wager," resumed the father, "and you wish to know
how far my patience may go.
"I do not understand you," stammered the young man.
"The money that you used to get, I know not where, doubtless fails
you now, or at least is no longer sufficient, and you go on making
debts right and left - at the tailor's, the shirt maker's, the
jeweler's. Of course, it's simple enough. We earn nothing; but
we wish to dress in the latest style, to wear a gold chain across
our vest, and then we make dupes."
"I have never made any dupes, father."
"Bah! And what, then, do you call all these people who came this
very day to present me their bills? For they did dare to come to
my office! They had agreed to come together, expecting thus to
intimidate me more easily. I told them that you were of age, and
that your business was none of mine. Hearing this, they became
insolent, and commenced speaking so loud, that their voices could
be heard in the adjoining rooms. At that very moment, the manager,
M. de Thaller, happened to be passing through the hall. Hearing
the noise of a discussion, he thought that I was having some
difficulty with some of our stockholders, and he came in, as he
had a right to. Then I was compelled to confess everything."
He became excited at the sound of his words, like a horse at the
jingle of his bells. And, more and more beside himself:
"That is just what your creditors wished," he pursued. "They
thought I would be afraid of a row, and that I would 'come down.'
It is a system of blackmailing, like any other. An account is
opened to some young rascal; and, when the amount is reasonably
large, they take it to the family, saying, 'Money, or I make row.'
Do you think it is to you, who are penniless, that they give credit?
It's on my pocket that they were drawing, - on my pocket, because
they believed me rich. They sold you at exorbitant prices every
thing they wished; and they relied on me to pay for trousers at
ninety francs, shirts at forty francs, and watches at six hundred
Contrary to his habit, Maxence did not offer any denial.
"I expect to pay all I owe," he said.
"I give my word I will!"
"And with what, pray?"
"With my salary."
"You have a salary, then?"
"I have what I earn at my employer's."
"The architect in whose office M. Chapelain helped me to find a
With a threatening gesture, M. Favoral interrupted him.
"Spare me your lies," he uttered. "I am better posted than you
suppose. I know, that, over a month ago, your employer, tired of
your idleness, dismissed you in disgrace."
Disgrace was superfluous. The fact was, that Maxence, returning
to work after an absence of five days, had found another in his
"I shall find another place," he said.
M. Favoral shrugged his shoulders with a movement of rage.
"And in the mean time," he said, "I shall have to pay. Do you know
what your creditors threaten to do? - to commence a suit against me.
They would lose it, of course, they know it; but they hope that I
would yield before a scandal. And this is not all: they talk of
entering a criminal complaint. They pretend that you have
audaciously swindled them; that the articles you purchased of them
were not at all for your own use, but that you sold them as fast as
you got them, at any price you could obtain, to raise ready money.
The jeweler has proofs, he says, that you went straight from his
shop to the pawnbroker's, and pledged a watch and chain which he
had just sold you. It is a police matter. They said all that in
presence of my superior officer - in presence of M. de Thaller. I
had to get the janitor to put them out. But, after they had left,
M. de Thaller gave me to understand that he wished me very much to
settle everything. And he is right. My consideration could not
resist another such scene. What confidence can be placed in a
cashier whose son behaves in this manner? How can a key of a safe
containing millions be left with a man whose son would have been
dragged into the police-courts? In a word, I am at your mercy.
In a word, my honor, my position, my fortune, rest upon you. As
often as it may please you to make debts, you can make them, and
I shall be compelled to pay."
Gathering all his courage:
"You have been sometimes very harsh with me, father," commenced
Maxence; "and yet I will not try to justify my conduct. I swear to
you, that hereafter you shall have nothing to fear from me."
"I fear nothing," uttered M. Favoral with a sinister smile. "I
know the means of placing myself beyond the reach of your follies
- and I shall use them."
"I assure you, father, that I have taken a firm resolution."
"Oh! you may dispense with your periodical repentance."
Mlle. Gilberte stepped forward.
"I'll stand warrant," she said, "for Maxence's resolutions."
Her father did not permit her to proceed.
"Enough," he interrupted somewhat harshly. "Mind your own business,
Gilberte! I have to speak to you too."
"To me, father."
He walked up and down three or four times through the parlor, as if
to calm his irritation. Then planting himself straight before his
daughter, his arms folded across his breast:
"You are eighteen years of age," he said; "that is to say, it is
time to think of your marriage. An excellent match offers itself."
She shuddered, stepped back, and, redder than a peony:
"A match!" she repeated in a tone of immense surprise.
"Yes, and which suits me."
"But I do not wish to marry, father."
"All young girls say the same thing; and, as soon as a pretender
offers himself, they are delighted. Mine is a fellow of twenty-six,
quite good looking, amiable, witty, and who has had the greatest
success in society."
"Father, I assure you that I do not wish to leave mother."
"Of course not. He is an intelligent, hard-working man, destined,
everybody says, to make an immense fortune. Although he is rich
already, for he holds a controlling interest in a stock-broker's
firm, he works as hard as any poor devil. I would not be surprised
to hear that he makes half a million of francs a year. His wife
will have her carriage, her box at the opera, diamonds, and dresses
as handsome as Mlle. de Thaller's."
"Eh! What do I care for such things?"
"It's understood. I'll present him to you on Saturday."
But Mlle. Gilberte was not one of those young girls who allow
themselves, through weakness or timidity, to become engaged, and so
far engaged, that later, they can no longer withdraw. A discussion
being unavoidable, she preferred to have it out at once.
"A presentation is absolutely useless, father," she declared
"I have told you that I did not wish to marry."
"But if it is my will?"
"I am ready to obey you in every thing except that."
"In that as in every thing else," interrupted the cashier of the
Mutual Credit in a thundering voice.
And, casting upon his wife and children a glance full of defiance
"In that, as in every thing else," he repeated, "because I am the
master; and I shall prove it. Yes, I will prove it; for I am tired
to see my family leagued against my authority."
And out he went, slamming the door so violently, that the partitions
"You are wrong to resist your father thus," murmured the weak Mme.
The fact is, that the poor woman could not understand why her
daughter refused the only means at her command to break off with
her miserable existence.
"Let him present you this young man," she said. "You might like
" I am sure I shall not like him."
She said this in such a tone, that the light suddenly flashed upon
Mme. Favoral's mind.
"Heavens!" she murmured. "Gilberte, my darling child, have you then
a secret which your mother does not know?"