Touched by the frightful humiliation of her son:
“He is so unhappy!” stammered Mme. Favoral.
“He unhappy!” she exclaimed. “What, then, shall we say of us? and, above all, what shall you say of yourself, mother? Unhappy!—he, a man, who has liberty and strength, who may undertake every thing, attempt any thing, dare any thing. Ah, I wish I were a man! I! I would be a man as there are some, as I know some; and I would have avenged you, O beloved mother! long, long ago, from father; and I would have begun to repay you all the good you have done me.”
Mme. Favoral was sobbing.
“I beg of you,” she murmured, “spare him.”
“Be it so,” said the young girl. “But you must allow me to tell him that it is not for his sake that I devote my youth to a mercenary labor. It is for you, adored mother, that you may have the joy to give him what he asks, since it is your only joy.”
Maxence shuddered under the breath of that superb indignation. That frightful humiliation, he felt that he deserved it only too much. He understood the justice of these cruel reproaches. And, as his heart had not yet spoiled with the contact of his boon companions, as he was weak, rather than wicked, as the sentiments which are the honor and pride of a man were not dead within him.
“Ah! you are a brave sister, Gilberte,” he exclaimed; “and what you have just done is well. You have been harsh, but not as much as I deserve. Thanks for your courage, which will give me back mine. Yes, it is a shame for me to have thus cowardly abused you both.”
And, raising his mother’s hand to his lips: “Forgive, mother,” he continued, his eyes overflowing with tears; “forgive him who swears to you to redeem his past, and to become your support, instead of being a crushing burden—”
He was interrupted by the noise of steps on the stairs, and the shrill sound of a whistle.
“My husband!” exclaimed Mme. Favoral,—“your father, my children!”
“Well,” said Mlle. Gilberte coldly.
“Don’t you hear that he is whistling? and do you forget that it is a proof that he is furious? What new trial threatens us again?”
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.