Monsieur Thibault is furious when he learns that Jacques lied to him and had run away with young Daniel de Fontanin. The Abbé Binot, Jacques’s teacher, has even more disquieting news. From a copybook that fell into the abbé’s hands, it is apparent that Jacques, not yet fourteen years old, formed an unnatural friendship with Daniel. What is worse, the de Fontanins are Protestants.
Antoine Thibault, already a doctor, goes to see Madame de Fontanin to learn what he can about Daniel and his friendship with Jacques. Antoine finds her a very attractive, sensible woman, who rejects Antoine’s hints of an improper relationship between the boys. They question Jenny, Daniel’s younger sister, who has a fever. To Antoine’s practiced eye, Jenny is suffering from meningitis. When neither Antoine nor the other doctors can help Jenny, Madame de Fontanin calls in her minister, Pastor Gregory. He effects a miraculous cure of the girl by faith healing.
Jacques and Daniel get as far as Marseilles. Although Jacques is the younger of the two boys, he is the moving spirit in the escapade. He is rebelling against the smug respectability of his father and the dull Thibault household. Monsieur Thibault is such an eminent social worker that he has no time to try to understand his own family. The suspicions of the Thibaults, however, are unfounded; Jacques’s feelings for Daniel are no more than a schoolboy crush.
When the runaways are returned by the police, Daniel is scolded and forgiven by his mother. Jacques, on the other hand, is put in a reformatory founded by his father. There, the boy’s spirit is nearly broken by brutal guards and solitary confinement. Only by devious means is Antoine able to get his brother away from his father’s stern discipline. He takes a separate flat and has Jacques live with him, assuming responsibility for his younger brother’s upbringing.
When Jérome de Fontanin, Daniel’s father, runs away with Noémie, a cousin, Noémie’s daughter, Nicole, comes to live with the de Fontanins. Nicole is very attractive, and Daniel tries to seduce her. Nicole, however, has before her the unhappy example of her mother, and she resists him.
Under Antoine’s care, Jacques slowly recovers his mental health. During the summer vacation he is greatly attracted to Jenny. Just as Jenny is beginning to care for him and to overcome her aversion to physical contact, Jacques disappears.
For three years the Thibaults think Jacques is dead. Only Gise, an orphan girl reared by the Thibaults, hopes that he is still alive. One day, she receives from England a box of rosebuds like those she sprinkled on Jacques just before his disappearance. Convinced that Jacques is alive, Gise goes to school in England, where she hopes to find him.
Antoine follows a different course. By chance, he discovers a Swiss magazine with a story...
(The entire section is 1183 words.)