Already in the neighborhood he had that reputation to be very rich, which is the beginning of riches itself. He was admired for keeping his house with such rigid economy; for a man is always esteemed who has money, and does not spend it.
“He is not the man ever to squander what he has,” the neighbors repeated.
The persons whom he received on Saturdays believed him more than comfortably off. When M. Desclavettes and M. Chapelain had complained to their hearts’ contents, the one of the shop, the other of his office, they never failed to add,
“You laugh at us, because you are engaged in large operations, where people make as much money as they like.”
They seemed to hold his financial capacities in high estimation. They consulted him, and followed his advice.
M. Desormeaux was wont to say,
“Oh! he knows what he is about.”
And Mme. Favoral tried to persuade herself, that, in this respect at least, her husband was a remarkable man. She attributed his silence and his distractions to the grave cares that filled his mind. In the same manner that he had once announced to her that they had enough to live on, she expected him, some fine morning, to tell her that he was a millionaire.
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.