Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau - HTML preview

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Chapter I.9


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 himself.

"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 family.

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 of schoolboys.

"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 useful.

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 lacks.

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 perfectly natural.

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 occupied Maxence.

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 and sister.

"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 heart.

"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."