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Authors: Roger Martin Du Gard

The Thibaults

BOOK: The Thibaults
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The Thibaults

ROGER MARTIN DU GARD

Translated by Stuart Gilbert

Les Thibault (Parts I-VI) Copyright 1922, 1923, 1928, 1929 by Librairie Gallimard, Paris The Thibaults translation by Stuart Gilbert Copyright 1939 by the Viking Press, Inc. printed in U.S.A.

PART I
I

AS THEY reached the school-buildings at the corner of the Rue de Vaugirard, M. Thibault, who, throughout the walk, had not spoken a word to his son, suddenly halted.

“No, Antoine, I won’t stand it. This time he’s gone too far.”

The young man made no reply.

It was nine o’clock in the evening and the school was closed. A night porter held the little wicket in the entrance-gate ajar.

“Know where my brother is?” Antoine asked in a peremptory tone.

The porter stared at him with a puzzled air.

M. Thibault stamped his foot angrily. “Go and fetch Abbé Binot,” he said.

The porter escorted M. Thibault and his son to the waiting-room, drew a taper from his pocket, and lit the gas.

Some minutes elapsed. M. Thibault, who was out of breath, had settled down heavily into a chair. “Yes, this time we’ve had enough of it,” he muttered through his clenched teeth.

“Excuse me, please.” The Abbé Binot had entered without a sound. He was a small, mouse-like man, and now, to put his hand on Antoine’s shoulder, had to draw himself up to his full height. “And how is our young doctor today?” he asked, adding at once: “But what’s the trouble?”

“Where is my brother?”

“Jacques?”

“Jacques has not been home all day!” M. Thibault exclaimed, rising excitedly from his chair.

“Where can he have been?” the priest inquired, but without much show of surprise.

“Why, here, naturally! He was kept in.”

The priest slipped his hands under his girdle. “Jacques was not kept in.”

“What’s that?”

“Jacques did not put in an appearance at school today.”

Things were getting complicated. Antoine gave the priest a searching look, and with a jerk of his shoulders M. Thibault swung round on the little man his fat, puffy face, in which the eyes were almost hidden by their heavy lids.

“Jacques told us yesterday that he had four hours’ detention. He left home this morning at the usual time. Later on, at about eleven, it seems, while we were all at mass, he came back and found everyone out except the cook. He said he wouldn’t be back for lunch as he’d been given eight hours’ detention instead of four.”

“Which was a pure invention,” the Abbé put in.

“I had to go out in the latter part of the afternoon,” M. Thibault continued, “to hand in my monthly article to the
Revue des Deux Mondes
. It was the editor’s reception-day, and I didn’t get home till dinner-time. Jacques had not returned. At half-past eight I began to get alarmed. I sent for Antoine, who was on duty at his hospital. So now we have come to you.”

The priest pursed his lips, as if in deep reflection. Through his half-parted eyelashes M. Thibault flashed a keen look first at the Abbé, then at his son.

“Well, Antoine, what do you make of it?”

“Obviously, Father,” the young man said, “if he’s run away on purpose we can discard any theory of an accident—which is so much to the good.”

His attitude had a calming effect on M. Thibault, who drew up a chair and sat down again. His nimble mind was exploring several trains of thought, though his face, immobilized by its layers of fat, seemed perfectly expressionless. “Well,” he said, “what’s to be done?”

Antoine reflected. “This evening, nothing. We can only wait.”

That there was no denying. But the impossibility of settling the business off-hand, by some drastic gesture, coupled with the thought of the Congress of Moral Science that was opening at Brussels in two days’ time, and the invitation he had received to preside over the French section of it, brought a flood of angry colour to M. Thibault’s temples. He stood up.

“I’ll have the gendarmes on his track!” he cried. “There is still a police service in France, isn’t there? And our criminals are sometimes caught, I suppose!”

His frock-coat flapped on either side of his paunch; the creases of his chin were nipped incessantly between the peaks of his stiff collar as he jerked his jaws forward like a horse chafing at the bridle. “The young ruffian!” he was thinking. “If only he could be run over by a train!” In a vivid flash of imagination he saw every difficulty smoothed out; no more trouble then about his attending the Congress, of which, quite possibly, he might be given the vice-presidency. But then, almost immediately, he visualized the boy brought home on a stretcher, a small corpse laid out on a bed, and a grief-stricken father—himself—beside it, surrounded by his sorrowing friends. And he was ashamed.

He turned to the priest again. “It’s a terrible thing—yes, terrible—for a father to have to spend a night of such anxiety, to go through such an ordeal.”

He began moving to the door. The Abbé withdrew his hands from his girdle.

“One moment, please,” he said, lowering his eyes.

The lamplight fell on a forehead half concealed by a fringe of black hair and a weasel-like face that narrowed sharply down towards the pointed chin. Two pink spots began to show up on his cheeks.

“We have been wondering,” he said, “whether we ought to apprise you at once of a most regrettable incident that took place a day or two ago, and which concerns your boy. But, as things are, it might throw some light on … Can you spare us a few moments, M. Thibault?”

The Picard accent seemed to emphasize his hesitation. M. Thibault, without answering, went back to his chair and sat down heavily, closing his eyes.

“During the last few days,” the priest went on,”we have become aware of certain offences, of a very special character, committed by your son … yes, particularly serious misconduct. In fact we had to threaten him with expulsion. Oh, of course, that was only to frighten him. He hasn’t said anything to you?”

“Don’t you know what a double-dealer the boy is? No, he has kept it to himself—as usual.”

“The dear lad,” the Abbé protested, “may have his faults, but he isn’t bad at heart. No, we believe that on this last occasion it was weakness more than anything; he was led astray. It was the evil influence of another boy, one of those unhappy, perverted youngsters—of whom, alas, there are so many in Paris… .”

From the corner of an eye M. Thibault shot an apprehensive glance at the priest.

“These are the facts, M. Thibault, in the order of their happening. Last Thursday …” He reflected for a moment, then went on in an almost cheerful tone. “No, I made a mistake, it was Friday, the day before yesterday, Friday morning, during the morning study hour. Just before noon we entered the class-room—abruptly, as we always do… .” He gave Antoine a mischievous wink. “We turned the handle noiselessly and flung the door open.

“No sooner had we entered than our eyes fell on our little friend Jacques, whom we had placed just opposite the door on purpose. We went up to his desk and moved aside his dictionary. There it was—a book that had no business there! It was a novel, translated from the Italian, by an author whose name we have forgotten. The book was called
The Maidens of the Rocks
.”

“Disgusting!” M. Thibault exclaimed.

“The boy was so perturbed that we concluded there was more behind it; we are used to that sort of thing. The luncheon bell was due to sound in a few minutes. When it rang we asked the master in charge to take the boys to the refectory. After they had gone we opened Jacques’s desk and found two more books there: Rousseau’s
Confessions
and something still more objectionable—I hardly like to name it—one of Zola’s abominable books,
Abbé Mouret’s Transgression
.”

“He’s dead to shame.”

“We were about to close the desk when it occurred to us to feel behind the row of school-books, and we fished out an exercise-book in a grey linen binding, which at first sight looked innocent enough. But then we opened it and glanced through the first pages.” The Abbé paused, his keen, ungentle eyes intent on M. Thibault and his son. “Well, we read enough then and there to make sure… . We carried the book off to a safe place and, during the midday recreation, found time to study it at leisure. The novels (they were in excellent bindings) had the initial ‘F’ stamped on their backs. The grey exercise-book, the most damning piece of evidence, if I may put it so, contained a series of letters in different writings. There were letters from Jacques, signed ‘J,’ and others, in a writing we did not recognize, signed ‘D.’ ” He continued in a lower voice. “I am sorry to have to say that the tone, the tenor, of the letters left no doubt as to the nature of the friendship. So much so, M. Thibault, that for a while we took the firm, tall writing for that of girl or, more likely, a somewhat older woman. But, presendy, on studying the contents more carefully, we perceived that the unidentified script was that of a fellow-pupil of Jacques—not one of our boys here, thank God! but some boy whom Jacques must have met at the lycée. To make sure about it, we went that very same day to see the principal, our worthy friend M. Quillard”—he turned towards Antoine as he gave the name—”who is a man of the highest principles and knows only too well what goes on in boarding-schools. He recognized the writing at once. The miscreant who signed the letters with a ‘D’ is a third-form boy, a friend of Jacques. His name is Fontanin, Daniel de Fontanin.”

“Fontanin!” Antoine exclaimed. “That explains it. You know, Father, those people who spend the summer at Maisons-Laffitte; they’ve a house on the outskirts of the forest. Now that I come to think of it, several times this winter, when I got home, I’ve found Jacques reading books of poetry lent him by this Fontanin boy.”

“What? Borrowed books? Wasn’t it your duty to let me know?”

“Oh, I didn’t see much harm in them!” Antoine glanced towards the priest as he spoke, as if to show that he was not to be intimidated. And suddenly his thoughtful face lit up with a quick smile that came and went, giving it a singularly boyish look. “It was only Victor Hugo,” he explained, “and Lamartine. But I took away his lamp, to prevent him keeping awake till all hours… .”

The priest’s lips had stiffened. Now he took his revenge.

“But there’s worse to come. This Fontanin boy’s a Protestant!”

“I knew! I knew it!” There was an accent of despair in M. Thibault’s cry.

“Quite a good pupil, however,” the priest put in at once, as who should give the devil his due. “I can quote you M. Quillard’s exact words. ‘He’s one of the older boys and we all thought highly of him— in fact he thoroughly hoodwinked all those with whom he came in contact. His mother, too, produced an excellent impression on us.’ ”

“Oh, his mother!” M. Thibault broke in. “They’re impossible people, for all their airs and graces. Why, at Maisons, nobody has anything to do with them; they’re scarcely nodded to in the street. Yes, Antoine, your brother can hardly boast of his choice of friends!”

“Dangerous friends!” the Abbé sighed. “Evil communications… . Yes, we know only too well what lies beneath the sanctimonious airs of Protestants.

“Be that as it may, when we came back from the lycée, we knew everything. And we had just decided to set a formal inquiry on foot when yesterday, at the beginning of the study hour, our little friend Jacques burst into our office. Literally burst in. His teeth were clenched and he was very pale. He didn’t even say: ‘Good morning,’ but shouted at us from the threshold: ‘Somebody has stolen my books and papers from my desk!’ We pointed out to him that it was most unbecoming, bursting in like that. He refused to listen. His eyes, which are usually quite pale, were black with anger. ‘It’s you who stole my exercise-book!’ he shouted. ‘It’s you, I know it!’ He even went so far as to say,” the Abbé added with a rather vacuous smile, “that if we dared to read it, he would kill himself. We tried to appeal to his better feelings, but he would not let us speak. ‘Where’s my exercise-book?’ he kept on asking. ‘Give it back. If you don’t, I shall smash everything here!’ Before we could stop him he picked up the crystal paper-weight on our desk—you remember it, Antoine? It was a souvenir some of our old boys had brought us from the Puy de Dôme—and threw it with all his might at the marble mantelpiece. Oh, that’s a mere trifle,” the Abbé added hastily, noticing M. Thibault’s embarrassed gesture of regret. “I only mention this small detail to show you the state of excitement your dear boy was in. Next moment he dropped on the floor in a sort of hysterical fit. We managed to secure him and pushed him into a little retiring-room next the study, and locked him in.”

“Yes,” M. Thibault said, raising his clenched hands dramatically, “there are days you’d think he was ‘possessed.’ Ask Antoine. How often we have seen him, when he’s been crossed over some trifle, fall into such furious fits of temper that we’ve had to let him have his way! His face turns livid, the veins in his throat stand out, you’d think he was going to suffocate with rage.”

“Yes,” Antoine remarked, “we Thibaults are a hot-blooded family.” He seemed to regret it so little that the priest felt compelled to smile indulgently.

BOOK: The Thibaults
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