But the respite granted by fate to Mme. Favoral was drawing to an
end: her trials were about to return more poignant than ever,
occasioned, this time, by her children, hitherto her whole happiness
and her only consolation.
Maxence was nearly twelve. He was a good little fellow, intelligent,
studious at times, but thoughtless in the extreme, and of a
turbulence which nothing could tame.
At the Massin School, where he had been sent, he made his teachers'
hair turn white; and not a week went by that he did not signalize
himself by some fresh misdeed.
A father like any other would have paid but slight attention to the
pranks of a schoolboy, who, after all, ranked among the first of his
class, and of whom the teachers themselves, whilst complaining, said,
"Bash! What matters it, since the heart is sound and the mind sane?"
But M. Favoral took every thing tragically. If Maxence was kept in,
or otherwise punished, he pretended that it reflected upon himself,
and that his son was disgracing him.
If a report came home with this remark, "execrable conduct," he fell
into the most violent passion, and seemed to lose all control of
"At your age," he would shout to the terrified boy, "I was working
in a factory, and earning my livelihood. Do you suppose that I
will not tire of making sacrifices to procure you the advantages
of an education which I lacked myself? Beware. Havre is not far
off; and cabin-boys are always in demand there."
If, at least, he had confined himself to these admonitions, which,
by their very exaggeration, failed in their object! But he favored
mechanical appliances as a necessary means of sufficiently impressing
reprimands upon the minds of young people; and therefore, seizing
his cane, he would beat poor Maxence most unmercifully, the more so
that the boy, filled with pride, would have allowed himself to be
chopped to pieces rather than utter a cry, or shed a tear.
The first time that Mme. Favoral saw her son struck, she was seized
with one of those wild fits of anger which do not reason, and never
forgive. To be beaten herself would have seemed to her less
atrocious, less humiliating. Hitherto she had found it impossible
to love a husband such as hers: henceforth, she took him in utter
aversion: he inspired her with horror. She looked upon her son as
a martyr for whom she could hardly ever do enough.
And so, after these harrowing scenes, she would press him to her
heart in the most passionate embrace; she would cover with her kisses
the traces of the blows; and she would strive, by the most delirious
caresses, to make him forget the paternal brutalities. With him she
sobbed. Like him, she would shake her clinched fists in the vacant
space; exclaiming, "Coward, tyrant, assassin!" The little Gilberte
mingled her tears with theirs; and, pressed against each other, they
deplored their destiny, cursing the common enemy, the head of the
Thus did Maxence spend his boyhood between equally fatal
exaggerations, between the revolting brutalities of his father, and
the dangerous caresses of his mother; the one depriving him of every
thing, the other refusing him nothing.
For Mme. Favoral had now found a use for her humble savings.
If the idea had never come to the cashier of the Mutual Credit
Society to put a few sous in his son's pocket, the too weak mother
would have suggested to him the want of money in order to have the
pleasure of gratifying it.
She who had suffered so many humiliations in her life, she could not
bear the idea of her son having his pride wounded, and being unable
to indulge in those little trifling expenses which are the vanity
"Here, take this," she would tell him on holidays, slipping a few
francs into his hands.
Unfortunately, to her present she joined the recommendation not to
allow his father to know any thing about it; forgetting that she was
thus training Maxence to dissimulate, warping his natural sense of
right, and perverting his instincts:
No, she gave; and, to repair the gaps thus made in her treasure, she
worked to the point of ruining her sight, with such eager zeal, that
the worthy shop-keeper of the Rue St. Denis asked her if she did not
employ working girls. In truth, the only help she received was from
Gilberte, who, at the age of eight, already knew how to make herself
And this is not all. For this son, in anticipation of growing
expenses, she stooped to expedients which formerly would have seemed
to her unworthy and disgraceful. She robbed the household, cheating
on her own marketing. She went so far as to confide to her servant,
and to make of the girl the accomplice of her operations. She
applied all her ingenuity to serve to M. Favoral dinners in which
the excellence of the dressing concealed the want of solid substance.
And on Sunday, when she rendered her weekly accounts, it was without
a blush that she increased by a few centimes the price of each object,
rejoicing when she had thus scraped a dozen francs,, and finding, to
justify herself to her own eyes, those sophisms which passion never
At first Maxence was too young to wonder from what sources his mother
drew the money she lavished upon his schoolboy fancies. She
recommended him to hide from his father: he did so, and thought it
As he grew older, he learned to discern.
The moment came when he opened his eyes upon the system under which
the paternal household was managed. He noticed there that anxious
economy which seems to betray want, and the acrimonious discussions
which arose upon the inconsiderate use of a twenty-franc-piece. He
saw his mother realize miracles of industry to conceal the shabbiness
of her toilets, and resort to the most skillful diplomacy when she
wished to purchase a dress for Gilberte.
And, despite all this, he had at his disposition as much money as
those of his comrades whose parents had the reputation to be the
most opulent and the most generous.
Anxious, he questioned his mother.
"Eh what does it matter?" she answered, blushing
and confused. "Is that any thing to worry you?"
And, as he insisted,
"Go ahead," she said: "we are rich enough." But he could hardly
believe her, accustomed as he was to hear every one talk of poverty;
and, as he fixed upon her his great astonished eyes,
"Yes," she resumed, with an imprudence which fatally was to bear its
fruits, "we are rich; and, if we live as you see, it is because it
suits your father, who wishes to amass a still greater fortune."
This was hardly an answer; and yet Maxence asked no further question.
But he inquired here and there, with that patient shrewdness of young
people possessed with a fixed idea.
Already, at this time, M. Favoral had in the neighborhood, and ever
among his friends, the reputation to be worth at least a million.
The Mutual Credit Society had considerably developed itself: he must,
they thought, have benefitted largely by the circumstance; and the
profits must have swelled rapidly in the hands of so able, a man,
and one so noted for his rigid economy.
Such is the substance of what Maxence heard; and people did not fail
to add ironically, that he need not rely upon the paternal fortune
to amuse himself.
M. Desormeaux himself, whom he had "pumped" rather cleverly, had
told him, whilst patting him amicably on the shoulder,
"If you ever need money for your frolics, young man, try and earn
it; for I'll be hanged if it's the old man who'll ever supply it."
Such answers complicated, instead of explaining, the problem which
He observed, he watched; and at last he acquired the certainty that
the money he spent was the fruit of the joint labor of his mother
"Ah! why not have told me so?" he exclaimed, throwing his arms
around his mother's neck. "Why have exposed me to the bitter regrets
which I feel at this moment?"
By this sole word the poor woman found herself amply repaid. She
admired the noblesse of her son's feelings and the kindness of his
"Do you not understand," she told him, shedding tears of joy, "do
you not see, that the labor which can promote her son's pleasure is
a happiness for his mother?"
But he was dismayed at his discovery.
"No matter!" he said. "I swear that I shall no longer scatter to
the winds, as I have been doing, the money that you give me.
For a few weeks, indeed, he was faithful to his pledge. But at
fifteen resolutions are not very stanch. The impressions he had
felt wore off. He became tired of the small privations which he had
to impose upon himself.
He soon came to take to the letter what his mother had told him, and
to prove to his own satisfaction that to deprive himself of a
pleasure was to deprive her. He asked for ten francs one day, then
ten francs another, and gradually resumed his old habits.
He was at this time about leaving school.
"The moment has come," said M. Favoral, "for him to select a career,
and support himself."