Saturday, October 13, 2007


DAMAGED GOODS by Upton Sinclair

The Great Play "Les Avaries" of Eugene Brieux
Novelized with the approval of the author
by Upton Sinclair
--New York Times
+++Page 4 is a virtually unreadable letter in handwritten
script from M. Brieux.+++
My endeavor has been to tell a simple story, preserving as
closely as possible the spirit and feeling of the original. I
have tried, as it were, to take the play to pieces, and build a
novel out of the same material. I have not felt at liberty to
embellish M. Brieux's ideas, and I have used his dialogue word
for word wherever possible. Unless I have mis-read the author,
his sole purpose in writing LES AVARIES was to place a number of
most important facts before the minds of the public, and to drive
them home by means of intense emotion. If I have been able to
assist him, this bit of literary carpentering will be worth
while. I have to thank M. Brieux for his kind permission to make
the attempt, and for the cordial spirit which he has manifested.
Upton Sinclair
DAMAGED GOODS was first presented in America at a Friday matinee
on March 14th, 1913, in the Fulton Theater, New York, before
members of the Sociological Fund. Immediately it was acclaimed
by public press and pulpit as the greatest contribution ever made
by the Stage to the cause of humanity. Mr. Richard Bennett, the
producer, who had the courage to present the play, with the aid
of his co-workers, in the face of most savage criticism from the
ignorant, was overwhelmed with requests for a repetition of the
Before deciding whether of not to present DAMAGED GOODS before
the general public, it was arranged that the highest officials in
the United States should pass judgment upon the manner in which
the play teaches its vital lesson. A special guest performance
for members of the Cabinet, members of both houses of Congress,
members of the United States Supreme Court, representatives of
the Diplomatic corps and others prominent in national life was
given in Washington, D.C.
Although the performance was given on a Sunday afternoon (April
6, 1913), the National Theater was crowded to the very doors with
the most distinguished audience ever assembled in America,
including exclusively the foremost men and women of the Capital.
The most noted clergymen of Washington were among the spectators.
The result of this remarkable performance was a tremendous
endorsement of the play and of the manner in which Mr. Bennett
and his co-workers were presenting it.
This reception resulted in the continuance of the New York
performances until mid-summer and is responsible for the decision
on the part of Mr. Bennett to offer the play in every city in
America where citizens feel that the ultimate welfare of the
community is dependent upon a higher standard of morality and
clearer understanding of the laws of health.
The WASHINGTON POST, commenting on the Washington performance,
The play was presented with all the impressiveness of a sermon;
with all the vigor and dynamic force of a great drama; with all
the earnestness and power of a vital truth.
In many respects the presentation of this dramatization of a
great social evil assumed the aspects of a religious service.
Dr. Donald C. Macleod, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church,
mounted the rostrum usually occupied by the leader of the
orchestra, and announced that the nature of the performance, the
sacredness of the play, and the character of the audience gave to
the play the significance of a tremendous sermon in behalf of
mankind, and that as such it was eminently fitting that a divine
blessing be invoked. Dr. Earle Wilfley, pastor of the Vermont
Avenue Christian Church, asked all persons in the audience to bow
their heads in a prayer for the proper reception of the message
to be presented from the stage. Dr. MacLeod then read the
Bernard Shaw preface to the play, and asked that there be no
applause during the performance, a suggestion which was rigidly
followed, thus adding greatly to the effectiveness and the
seriousness of the dramatic portrayal.
The impression made upon the audience by the remarkable play is
reflected in such comments as the following expressions voiced
after the performance:
preach from my pulpit a sermon one tenth as powerful, as
convincing, as far-reaching, and as helpful as this performance
of DAMAGED GOODS must be, I would consider that I had achieved
the triumph of my life.
COMMISSIONER CUNO H. RUDOLPH--I was deeply impressed by what I
saw, and I think that the drama should be repeated in every city,
a matinee one day for father and son and the next day for mother
and daughter.
REV. EARLE WILFLEY--I am confirmed in the opinion that we must
take up our cudgels in a crusade against the modern problems
brought to the fore by DAMAGED GOODS. The report that these
diseases are increasing is enough to make us get busy on a
campaign against them.
SURGEON GENERAL BLUE--It was a most striking and telling lesson.
For years we have been fighting these condition in the navy. It
is high time that civilians awakened to the dangers surrounding
them and crusaded against them in a proper manner.
MRS. ARCHIBALD HOPKINS--The play was a powerful presentation of a
very important question and was handled in a most admirable
manner. The drama is a fine entering wedge for this crusade and
is bound to do considerable good in conveying information of a
very serious nature.
MINISTER PEZET, OF PERU--There can be no doubt but that the
performance will have great uplifting power, and accomplish the
good for which it was created. Fortunately, we do not have the
prudery in South America that you of the north possess, and have
open minds to consider these serious questions.
will have considerable effect in educating the people of the
nature of the danger that surrounds them.
SENATOR KERN, OF INDIANA--There can be no denial of the fact that
it is time to look at the serious problems presented in the play
with an open mind.
Brieux has been hailed by Bernard Shaw as "incomparably the
greatest writer France has produced since Moliere," and perhaps
no writer ever wielded his pen more earnestly in the service of
the race. To quote from an article by Edwin E. Slosson in the
Brieux in not one who believes that social evils are to be cured
by laws and yet more laws. He believes that most of the trouble
is caused by ignorance and urges education, public enlightenment
and franker recognition of existing conditions. All this may be
needed, but still we may well doubt its effectiveness as a
remedy. The drunken Helot argument is not a strong one, and
those who lead a vicious life know more about its risks than any
teacher or preacher could tell them. Brieux also urges the
requirement of health certificates for marriage, such as many
clergymen now insist upon and which doubtless will be made
compulsory before long in many of our States.
Brieux paints in black colors yet is no fanatic; in fact, he will
be criticised by many as being too tolerant of human weakness.
The conditions of society and the moral standards of France are
so different from those of America that his point of view and his
proposals for reform will not meet with general acceptance, but
it is encouraging to find a dramatist who realizes the importance
of being earnest and who uses his art in defense of virtue
instead of its destruction.
Other comments follow, showing the great interest manifested in
the play and the belief in the highest seriousness of its
There is no uncleanness in facts. The uncleanness is in the
glamour, in the secret imagination. It is in hints, half-truths,
and suggestions the threat to life lies.
This play puts the horrible truth in so living a way, with such
clean, artistic force, that the mind is impressed as it could
possibly be impressed in no other manner.
Best of all, it is the physician who dominates the action. There
is no sentimentalizing. There is no weak and morbid handling of
the theme. The doctor appears in his ideal function, as the
modern high-priest of truth. Around him writhe the victims of
ignorance and the criminals of conventional cruelty. Kind,
stern, high-minded, clear-headed, yet human-hearted, he towers
over all, as the master.
This is as it should be. The man to say the word to save the
world of ignorant wretches, cursed by the clouds and darkness a
mistaken modesty has thrown around a life-and-death instinct, is
the physician.
The only question is this: Is this play decent? My answer is
that it is the decentest play that has been in New York for a
year. It is so decent that it is religious.
The play is, above all, a powerful plea for the tearing away of
the veil of mystery that has so universally shrouded this subject
of the penalty of sexual immorality. It is a plea for light on
this hidden danger, that fathers and mothers, young men and young
women, may know the terrible price that must be paid, not only by
the generation that violates the law, but by the generations to
come. It is a serious question just how the education of men and
women, especially young men and young women, in the vital matters
of sex relationship should be carried on. One thing is sure,
however. The worst possible way is the one which has so often
been followed in the past--not to carry it on at all but to
ignore it.
It (DAMAGED GOODS) is, of course, a masterpiece of "thesis
drama,"--an argument, dogmatic, insistent, inescapable,
cumulative, between science and common sense, on one side, and
love, of various types, on the other. It is what Mr. Bernard
Shaw has called a "drama of discussion"; it has the splendid
movement of the best Shaw plays, unrelieved--and undiluted--by
Shavian paradox, wit, and irony. We imagine that many audiences
at the Fulton Theater were astonished at the play's showing of
sheer strength as acted drama. Possibly it might not interest
the general public; probably it would be inadvisable to present
it to them. But no thinking person, with the most casual
interest in current social evils, could listen to the version of
Richard Bennett, Wilton Lackaye, and their associates, without
being gripped by the power of Brieux's message.
It is a wonder that the world has been so long in getting hold of
this play, which is one of France's most valuable contributions
to the drama. Its history is interesting. Brieux wrote it over
ten years ago. Antoine produced it at his theater and Paris
immediately censored it, but soon thought better of it and
removed the ban. During the summer of 1910 it was played in
Brussels before crowded houses, for then the city was thronged
with visitors to the exposition. Finally New York got it last
spring and eugenic enthusiasts and doctors everywhere have
welcomed it.
A letter to Mr. Bennett from Dr. Hills, Pastor of Plymouth
Church, Brooklyn.
23 Monroe Street
Bklyn. August 1, 1913.
Mr. Richard Bennett,
New York City, N.Y.
My Dear Mr. Bennett:
During the past twenty-one years since I entered public life, I
have experienced many exciting hours under the influence of
reformer, orator and actor, but, in this mood of retrospection, I
do not know that I have ever passed through a more thrilling,
terrible, and yet hopeful experience than last evening, while I
listened to your interpretation of Eugene Brieux' "DAMAGED
I have been following your work with ever deepening interest. It
is not too much to say that you have changed the thinking of the
people of our country as to the social evil. At last, thank God,
this conspiracy of silence is ended. No young man who sees
"Damaged Goods" will ever be the same again. If I wanted to
build around an innocent boy buttresses of fire and granite, and
lend him triple armour against temptation and the assaults of
evil, I would put him for one evening under your influence. That
which the teacher, the preacher and the parent have failed to
accomplish it has been given to you to achieve. You have done a
work for which your generation owes you an immeasurable debt of
I shall be delighted to have you use my Study of Social Diseases
and Heredity in connection with your great reform.
With all good wishes, I am, my dear Mr. Bennett,
Faithfully yours,
Newell Dwight Hillis
It was four o'clock in the morning when George Dupont closed the
door and came down the steps to the street. The first faint
streaks of dawn were in the sky, and he noticed this with
annoyance, because he knew that his hair was in disarray and his
while aspect disorderly; yet he dared not take a cab, because he
feared to attract attention at home. When he reached the
sidewalk, he glanced about him to make sure that no one had seen
him leave the house, then started down the street, his eyes upon
the sidewalk before him.
George had the feeling of the morning after. There are few men
in this world of abundant sin who will not know what the phrase
means. The fumes of the night had evaporated; he was quite sober
now, quite free from excitement. He saw what he had done, and it
seemed to him something black and disgusting.
Never had a walk seemed longer than the few blocks which he had
to traverse to reach his home. He must get there before the maid
was up, before the baker's boy called with the rolls; otherwise,
what explanation could he give?--he who had always been such a
moral man, who had been pointed out by mothers as an example to
their sons.
George thought of his own mother, and what she would think if she
could know about his night's adventure. He thought again and
again, with a pang of anguish, of Henriette. Could it be
possible that a man who was engaged, whose marriage contract had
actually been signed, who was soon to possess the love of a
beautiful and noble girl--that such a man could have been weak
enough and base enough to let himself be trapped into such a low
He went back over the whole series of events, shuddering at them,
trying to realize how they had happened, trying to excuse himself
for them. He had not intended such a culmination; he had never
meant to do such a thing in his life. He had not thought of any
harm when he had accepted the invitation to the supper party with
his old companions from the law school. Of course, he had known
that several of these chums led "fast" lives--but, then, surely a
fellow could go to a friend's rooms for a lark without harm!
He remembered the girl who had sat by his side at the table. She
had come with a friend who was a married woman, and so he had
assumed that she was all right. George remembered how
embarrassed he had been when first he had noticed her glances at
him. But then the wine had begun to go to his head--he was one
of those unfortunate wretches who cannot drink wine at all. He
had offered to take the girl home in a cab, and on the way he had
lost his head.
Oh! What a wretched thing it was. He could hardly believe that
it was he who had spoken those frenzied words; and yet he must
have spoken them, because he remembered them. He remembered that
it had taken a long time to persuade her. He had had to promise
her a ring like the one her married friend wore. Before they
entered her home she had made him take off his shoes, so that the
porter might not hear them. This had struck George particularly,
because, even flushed with excitement as he was, he had not
forgotten the warnings his father had given him as to the dangers
of contact with strange women. He had thought to himself, "This
girl must be safe. It is probably the first time she has ever
done such a thing."
But now George could get but little consolation out of that idea.
He was suffering intensely--the emotion described by the poet in
the bitter words about "Time's moving finger having writ." His
mind, seeking some explanation, some justification, went back to
the events before that night. With a sudden pang of yearning, he
thought of Lizette. She was a decent girl, and had kept him
decent, and he was lonely without her. He had been so afraid of
being found out that he had given her up when he became engaged;
but now for a while he felt that he would have to break his
resolution, and pay his regular Sunday visit to the little flat
in the working-class portion of Paris.
It was while George was fitting himself for the same career as
his father--that of notary--that he had made the acquaintance of
the young working girl. It may not be easy to believe, but
Lizette had really been a decent girl. She had a family to take
care of, and was in need. There was a grandmother in poor
health, a father not much better, and three little brothers; so
Lizette did not very long resist George Dupont, and he felt quite
virtuous in giving her sufficient money to take care of these
unfortunate people. Among people of his class it was considered
proper to take such things if one paid for them.
All the family of this working girl were grateful to him. They
adored him, and they called him Uncle Raoul (for of course he had
not been so foolish as to give them his true name).
Since George was paying for Lizette, he felt he had the tight to
control her life. He gave her fair warning concerning his
attitude. If she deceived him he would leave her immediately.
He told this to her relatives also, and so he had them all
watching her. She was never trusted out alone. Every Sunday
George went to spend the day with his little "family," so that
his coming became almost a matter of tradition. He interested
her in church affairs--mass and vespers were her regular
occasions for excursions. George rented two seats, and the
grandmother went with her to the services. The simple people
were proud to see their name engraved upon the brass plate of the
The reason for all these precautions was George's terror of
disease. He had been warned by his father as to the dangers
which young men encounter in their amours. And these lessons had
sunk deep into George's heart; he had made up his mind that
whatever his friends might do, he, for one, would protect
That did not mean, of course, that he intended to live a virtuous
life; such was the custom among young men of his class, not had
it probably ever occurred to his father that it was possible for
a young man to do such a thing. The French have a phrase,
"l'homme moyen sensuel"--the average sensual man. And George was
such a man. He had no noble idealisms, no particular reverence
for women. The basis of his attitude was a purely selfish one;
he wanted to enjoy himself, and at the same time to keep out of
He did not find any happiness in the renunciation which he
imposed upon himself; he had no religious ideas about it. On the
contrary, he suffered keenly, and was bitter because he had no
share in the amusements of his friends. He stuck to his work and
forced himself to keep regular hours, preparing for his law
examinations. But all the time he was longing for adventures.
And, of course, this could not go on forever, for the motive of
fear alone is not sufficient to subdue the sexual urge in a fullblooded
young man.
The affair with Lizette might have continued much longer had it
not been for the fact that his father died. He died quite
suddenly, while George was away on a trip. The son came back to
console his broken-hearted mother, and in the two week they spent
in the country together the mother broached a plan to him. The
last wish of the dying man had been that his son should be fixed
in life. In the midst of his intense suffering he had been able
to think about the matter, and had named the girl whom he wished
George to marry. Naturally, George waited with some interest to
learn who this might be. He was surprised when his mother told
him that it was his cousin, Henriette Loches.
He could not keep his emotion from revealing itself in his face.
"It doesn't please you?" asked his mother, with a tone
"Why no, mother," he answered. "It's not that. It just
surprises me."
"But why?" asked the mother. "Henriette is a lovely girl and a
good girl."
"Yes, I know," said George; "but then she is my cousin, and--"
He blushed a little with embarrassment. "I had never thought of
her in that way."
Madame Dupont laid her hand upon her son's. "Yes, George," she
said tenderly. "I know. You are such a good boy."
Now, of course, George did not feel that he was quite such a good
boy; but his mother was a deeply religious woman, who had no idea
of the truth about the majority of men. She would never have got
over the shock if he had told her about himself, and so he had to
pretend to be just what she thought him.
"Tell me," she continued, after a pause, "have you never felt the
least bit in love?"
"Why no--I don't think so," George stammered, becoming conscious
of a sudden rise of temperature in his cheeks.
"Because," said his mother, "it is really time that you were
settled in life. Your father said that we should have seen to it
before, and now it is my duty to see to it. It is not good for
you to live alone so long."
"But, mother, I have YOU," said George generously.
"Some day the Lord may take me away," was the reply. "I am
getting old. And, George, dear--" Here suddenly her voice began
to tremble with feeling-- "I would like to see my baby
grandchildren before I go. You cannot imagine what it would mean
to me."
Madame Dupont saw how much this subject distressed her son, so
she went on to the more worldly aspects of the matter.
Henriette's father was well-to-do, and he would give her a good
dowry. She was a charming and accomplished girl. Everybody
would consider him most fortunate if the match could be arranged.
Also, there was an elderly aunt to whom Madame Dupont had spoken,
and who was much taken with the idea. She owned a great deal of
property and would surely help the young couple.
George did not see just how he could object to this proposition,
even if he had wanted to. What reason could he give for such a
course? He could not explain that he already had a family--with
stepchildren, so to speak, who adored him. And what could he say
to his mother's obsession, to which she came back again and
again--her longing to see her grandchildren before she died?
Madame Dupont waited only long enough for George to stammer out a
few protestations, and then in the next breath to take them back;
after which she proceeded to go ahead with the match. The family
lawyers conferred together, and the terms of the settlement were
worked out and agreed upon. It happened that immediately
afterwards George learned of an opportunity to purchase the
practice of a notary, who was ready to retire from business in
two months' time. Henriette's father consented to advance a
portion of her dowry for this purpose.
Thus George was safely started upon the same career as his
father, and this was to him a source of satisfaction which he did
not attempt to deny, either to himself of to any one else.
George was a cautious young man, who came of a frugal and saving
stock. He had always been taught that it was his primary duty to
make certain of a reasonable amount of comfort. From his
earliest days, he had been taught to regard material success as
the greatest goal in life, and he would never have dreamed of
engaging himself to a girl without money. But when he had the
good fortune to meet one who possessed desirable personal
qualities in addition to money, he was not in the least barred
from appreciating those qualities. They were, so to speak, the
sauce which went with the meat, and it seemed to him that in this
case the sauce was of the very best.
George--a big fellow of twenty-six, with large, round eyes and a
good-natured countenance--was full blooded, well fed, with a
hearty laugh which spoke of unimpaired contentment, a soul
untroubled in its deeps. He seemed to himself the luckiest
fellow in the whole round world; he could not think what he had
done to deserve the good fortune of possessing such a girl as
Henriette. He was ordinarily of a somewhat sentimental turn--
easily influenced by women and sensitive to their charms.
Moreover, his relationship with Lizette had softened him. He had
learned to love the young working girl, and now Henriette, it
seemed, was to reap the benefit of his experience with her.
In fact, he found himself always with memories of Lizette in his
relationships with the girl who was to be his wife. When the
engagement was announced, and he claimed his first kiss from his
bride-to-be, as he placed a ring upon her finger, he remembered
the first time he had kissed Lizette, and a double blush suffused
his round countenance. When he walked arm and arm with Henriette
in the garden he remembered how he had walked just so with the
other girl, and he was interested to compare the words of the
two. He remembered what a good time had had when he had taken
Lizette and her little family for a picnic upon one of the
excursion steamers which run down the River Seine. Immediately
he decided that he would like to take Henriette on such a picnic,
and he persuaded an aunt of Henriette's to go with her as a
chaperon. George took his bride-to-be to the same little inn
where he had lunch before.
Thus he was always haunted by memories, some of which made him
cheerful and some of which made him mildly sad. He soon got used
to the idea, and did not find it awkward, except when he had to
suppress the impulse to tell Henriette something which Lizette
had said, or some funny incident which had happened in the home
of the little family. Sometimes he found himself thinking that
it was a shame to have to suppress these impulses. There must be
something wrong, he thought, with a social system which made it
necessary for him to hide a thing which was so obvious and so
sensible. Here he was, a man twenty-six years of age; he could
not have afforded to marry earlier, not could he, as he thought,
have been expected to lead a continent life. And he had really
loved Lizette; she was really a good girl. Yet, if Henriette had
got any idea of it, she would have been horrified and indignant--
she might even have broken off the engagement.
And then, too, there was Henriette's father, a personage of great
dignity and importance. M. Loches was a deputy of the French
Parliament, from a district in the provinces. He was a man of
upright life, and a man who made a great deal of that upright
life--keeping it on a pedestal where everyone might observe it.
It was impossible to imagine M. Loches in an undignified or
compromising situation--such as the younger man found himself
facing in the matter of Lizette.
The more he thought about it the more nervous and anxious George
became. Then it was decided it would be necessary for him to
break with the girl, and be "good" until the time of his
marriage. Dear little soft-eyed Lizette--he did not dare to face
her personally; he could never bear to say good-by, he felt.
Instead, he went to the father, who as a man could be expected to
understand the situation. George was embarrassed and not a
little nervous about it; for although he had never misrepresented
his attitude to the family, one could never feel entirely free
from the possibility of blackmail in such cases. However,
Lizette's father behaved decently, and was duly grateful for the
moderate sum of money which George handed him in parting. He
promised to break the news gently to Lizette, and George went
away with his mind made up that he would never see her again.
This resolution he kept, and he considered himself very virtuous
in doing it. But the truth was that he had grown used to
intimacy with a woman, and was restless without it. And that, he
told himself, was why he yielded to the shameful temptation the
night of that fatal supper party.
He paid for the misadventure liberally in remorse. He felt that
he had been a wretch, that he had disgraced himself forever, that
he had proved himself unworthy of the pure girl he was to marry.
So keen was his feeling that it was several days before he could
bring himself to see Henriette again; and when he went, it was
with a mind filled with a brand-new set of resolutions. It was
the last time that he would ever fall into error. He would be a
new man from then on. He thanked God that there was no chance of
his sin being known, that he might have an opportunity to prove
his new determination.
So intense were his feelings that he could not help betraying a
part of them to Henriette. They sat in the garden one soft
summer evening, with Henriette's mother occupied with her
crocheting at a decorous distance. George, in reverent and
humble mood, began to drop vague hints that he was really
unworthy of his bride-to-be. He said that he had not always been
as good as he should have been; he said that her purity and
sweetness had awakened in him new ideals; so that he felt his old
life had been full of blunders. Henriette, of course, had but
the vaguest of ideas as to what the blunders of a tender and
generous young man like George might be. So she only loved him
the more for his humility, and was flattered to have such a fine
effect upon him, to awaken in him such moods of exaltation. When
he told her that all men were bad, and that no man was worthy of
such a beautiful love, she was quite ravished, and wiped away
tears from her eyes.
It would have been a shame to spoil such a heavenly mood by
telling the real truth. Instead, George contented himself with
telling of the new resolutions he had formed. After all, they
were the things which really mattered; for Henriette was going to
live with his future, not with his past.
It seemed to George a most wonderful thing, this innocence of a
young girl, which enabled her to move through a world of
wickedness with unpolluted mind. It was a touching thing; and
also, as a prudent young man could not help realizing, a most
convenient thing. He realized the importance of preserving it,
and thought that if he ever had a daughter, he would protect her
as rigidly as Henriette had been protected. He made haste to shy
off from the subject of his "badness" and to turn the
conversation with what seemed a clever jest.
"If I am going to be so good," he said, "don't forget that you
will have to be good also!"
"I will try," said Henriette, who was still serious.
"You will have to try hard," he persisted. "You will find that
you have a very jealous husband."
"Will I?" said Henriette, beaming with happiness--for when a
woman is very much in love she doesn't in the least object to the
man's being jealous.
"Yes, indeed," smiled George. "I'll always be watching you."
"Watching me?" echoed the girl with a surprised look.
And immediately he felt ashamed of himself for his jest. There
could be no need to watch Henriette, and it was bad taste even to
joke about it at such a time. That was one of the ideas which he
had brought with him from his world of evil.
The truth was, however, that George would always be a suspicious
husband; nothing could ever change that fact, for there was
something in his own conscience which he could not get out, and
which would make it impossible for him to be at ease as a married
man. It was the memory of something which had happened earlier
in his life before he met Lizette. There had been one earlier
experience, with the wife of his dearest friend. She had been
much younger than her husband, and had betrayed an interest in
George, who had yielded to the temptation. For several years the
intrigue continued, and George considered it a good solution of a
young man's problem. There had been no danger of contamination,
for he knew that his friend was a man of pure and rigid morals, a
jealous man who watched his wife, and did not permit her to
contract those new relations which are always dangerous. As for
George, he helped in this worthy work, keeping the woman in
terror of some disease. He told her that almost all men were
infected, for he hoped by this means to keep her from deceiving
I am aware that this may seem a dreadful story. As I do not want
anyone to think too ill of George Dupont, I ought, perhaps, to
point out that people feel differently about these matters in
France. In judging the unfortunate young man, we must judge him
by the customs of his own country, and not by ours. In France,
they are accustomed to what is called the MARIAGE DE CONVENANCE.
The young girl is not permitted to go about and make her own
friends and decide which one of them she prefers for her husband;
on the contrary, she is strictly guarded, her training often is
of a religious nature, and her marriage is a matter of business,
to be considered and decided by her parents and those of the
young man. Now, whatever we may think right, it is humanly
certain that where marriages are made in that way, the need of
men and women for sympathy and for passionate interest will often
lead to the forming of irregular relationships after marriage.
It is not possible to present statistics as to the number of such
irregular relationships in Parisian society; but in the books
which he read and in the plays which he saw, George found
everything to encourage him to think that it was a romantic and
delightful thing to keep up a secret intrigue with the wife of
his best friend.
It should also, perhaps, be pointed out that we are here telling
the truth, and the while truth, about George Dupont; and that it
is not customary to tell this about men, either in real life or
in novels. There is a great deal of concealment in the world
about matters of sex; and in such matters the truth-telling man
is apt to suffer in reputation in comparison with the truthconcealing
Nor had George really been altogether callous about the thing.
It had happened that his best friend had died in his arms; and
this had so affected the guilty pair that they had felt their
relationship was no longer possible. She had withdrawn to nurse
her grief alone, and George had been so deeply affected that he
had avoided affairs and entanglements with women until his
meeting with Lizette.
All this was now in the far distant past, but it had made a
deeper impression upon George than he perhaps realized, and it
was now working in his mind and marring his happiness. Here was
a girl who loved him with a noble and unselfish and whole-hearted
love--and yet he would never be able to trust her as she
deserved, but would always have suspicions lurking in the back of
his mind. He would be unable to have his friends intimate in his
home, because of the memory of what he had once done to a friend.
It was a subtle kind of punishment. But so it is that Nature
often finds ways of punishing us, without our even being aware of
That was all for the future, however. At present, George was
happy. He put his black sin behind him, feeling that he had
obtained absolution by his confession to Henriette. Day by day,
as he realized his good fortune, his round face beamed with more
and yet more joy.
He went for a little trip to Henriette's home in the country. It
was a simple village, and they took walks in the country, and
stopped to refresh themselves at a farmhouse occupied by one of
M. Loches' tenants. Here was a rosy and buxom peasant woman,
with a nursing child in her arms. She was destined a couple of
years later to be the foster-mother of Henriette's little girl
and to play an important part in her life. But the pair had no
idea of that at present. They simply saw a proud and happy
mother, and Henriette played with the baby, giving vent to
childish delight. Then suddenly she looked up and saw that
George was watching her, and as she read his thoughts a beautiful
blush suffused her cheeks.
As for George, he turned away and went out under the blue sky in
a kind of ecstasy. Life seemed very wonderful to him just then;
he had found its supreme happiness, which was love. He was
really getting quite mad about Henriette, he told himself. He
could hardly believe that the day was coming when he would be
able to clasp her in his arms.
But in the blue sky of George's happiness there was one little
cloud of storm. As often happens with storm-clouds, it was so
small that at first he paid no attention to it at all.
He noted upon his body one day a tiny ulcer. At first he treated
it with salve purchased from an apothecary. Then after a week or
two, when this had no effect, he began to feel uncomfortable. He
remembered suddenly he had heard about the symptoms of an
unmentionable, dreadful disease, and a vague terror took
possession of him.
For days he tried to put it to one side. The idea was nonsense,
it was absurd in connection with a woman so respectable! But the
thought would not be put away, and finally he went to a school
friend, who was a man of the world, and got him to talk on the
subject. Of course, George had to be careful, so that his friend
should not suspect that he had any special purpose in mind.
The friend was willing to talk. It was a vile disease, he said;
but one was foolish to bother about it, because it was so rare.
There were other diseases which fellows got, which nearly every
fellow had, and to which none of them paid any attention. But
one seldom met anyone who had the red plague that George dreaded.
"And yet," he added, "according to the books, it isn't so
uncommon. I suppose the truth is that people hide it. A chap
naturally wouldn't tell, when he knew it would damn him for
George had a sick sensation inside of him. "Is it as bad as
that?" he asked.
"Of course," said the other, "Should you want to have anything to
do with a person who had it? Should you be willing to room with
him or travel with him? You wouldn't even want to shake hands
with him!"
"No, I suppose not," said George, feebly.
"I remember," continued the other, "an old fellow who used to
live out in the country near me. He was not so very old, either,
but he looked it. He had to be pushed around in a wheel-chair.
People said he had locomotor ataxia, but that really meant
syphilis. We boys used to poke all kinds of fun at him because
one windy day his hat and his wig were blown off together, and we
discovered that he was as bald as an egg. We used to make jokes
about his automobile, as we called it. It had a little handle in
front, instead of a steering-wheel, and a man behind to push,
instead of an engine."
"How horrible!" remarked George with genuine feeling.
"I remember the poor devil had a paralysis soon after," continued
the friend, quite carelessly. "He could not steer any more, and
also he lost his voice. When you met him he would look at you as
it he thought he was talking, but all he could say was
George went away from this conversation in a cold sweat. He told
himself over and over again that he was a fool, but still he
could not get the hellish idea out of his mind. He found himself
brooding over it all day and lying awake at night, haunted by
images of himself in a wheel-chair, and without any hair on his
head. He realized that the sensible thing would be for him to go
to a doctor and make certain about his condition; but he could
not bring himself to face the ordeal--he was ashamed to admit to
a doctor that he had laid himself open to such a taint.
He began to lose the radiant expression from his round and rosy
face. He had less appetite, and his moods of depression became
so frequent that he could not hide then even from Henriette. She
asked him once or twice if there were not something the matter
with him, and he laughed--a forced and hurried laugh--and told
her that he had sat up too late the night before, worrying over
the matter of his examinations. Oh, what a cruel thing it was
that a man who stood in the very gateway of such a garden of
delight should be tormented and made miserable by this loathsome
The disturbing symptom still continued, and so at last George
purchased a medical book, dealing with the subject of the
disease. Then, indeed, he opened up a chamber of horrors; he
made up his mind an abiding place of ghastly images. In the book
there were pictures of things so awful that he turned white, and
trembled like a leaf, and had to close the volume and hide it in
the bottom of his trunk. But he could not banish the pictures
from his mind. Worst of all, he could not forget the description
of the first symptom of the disease, which seemed to correspond
exactly with his own. So at last he made up his mind he must
ascertain definitely the truth about his condition.
He began to think over plans for seeing a doctor. He had heard
somewhere a story about a young fellow who had fallen into the
hands of a quack, and been ruined forever. So he decided that he
would consult only the best authority.
He got the names of the best-known works on the subject from a
bookstore, and found that the author of one of these books was
practicing in Paris as a specialist. Two or three days elapsed
before he was able to get up the courage to call on this doctor.
And oh, the shame and horror of sitting in his waiting-room with
the other people, none of whom dared to look each other in the
eyes! They must all be afflicted, George thought, and he glanced
at them furtively, looking for the various symptoms of which he
had read. Or were there, perhaps, some like himself--merely
victims of a foolish error, coming to have the hag of dread
pulled from off their backs?
And then suddenly, while he was speculating, there stood the
doctor, signaling to him. His turn had come!
The doctor was a man about forty years of age, robust, with every
appearance of a strong character. In the buttonhole of the frock
coat he wore was a red rosette, the decoration of some order.
Confused and nervous as George was, he got a vague impression of
the physician's richly furnished office, with its bronzes,
marbles and tapestries.
The doctor signaled to the young man to be seated in the chair
before his desk. George complied, and then, as he wiped away the
perspiration from his forehead, stammered out a few words,
explaining his errand. Of course, he said, it could not be true,
but it was a man's duty not to take any chances in such a matter.
"I have not been a man of loose life," he added; "I have not
taken so many chances as other men."
The doctor cut him short with the brief remark that one chance
was all that was necessary. Instead of discussing such
questions, he would make an examination. "We do not say
positively in these cases until we have made a blood test. That
is the one way to avoid the possibility of mistake."
A drop of blood was squeezed out of George's finger on to a
little glass plate. The doctor retired to an adjoining room, and
the victim sat alone in the office, deriving no enjoyment from
the works of art which surrounded him, but feeling like a
prisoner who sits in the dock with his life at stake while the
jury deliberates.
The doctor returned, calm and impassive, and seated himself in
his office-chair.
"Well, doctor?" asked George. He was trembling with terror.
"Well," was the reply, "there is no doubt whatever."
George wiped his forehead. He could not credit the words. "No
doubt whatever? In what sense?"
"In the bad sense," said the other.
He began to write a prescription, without seeming to notice how
George turned page with terror. "Come," he said, after a
silence, "you must have known the truth pretty well."
"No, no, sir!" exclaimed George.
"Well," said the other, "you have syphilis."
George was utterly stunned. "My God!" he exclaimed.
The doctor, having finished his prescription, looked up and
observed his condition. "Don't trouble yourself, sir. Out of
every seven men you meet upon the street, in society, or at the
theater, there is at least one who has been in your condition.
One out of seven--fifteen per cent!"
George was staring before him. He spoke low, as if to himself.
"I know what I am going to do."
"And I know also," said the doctor, with a smile. "There is your
prescription. You are going to take it to the drugstore and have
it put up."
George took the prescription, mechanically, but whispered, "No,
"Yes, sir, you are going to do as everybody else does."
"No, because my situation is not that of everybody else. I know
what I am going to do."
Said the doctor: "Five times out of ten, in the chair where you
are sitting, people talk like that, perfectly sincerely. Each
one believes himself more unhappy than all the others; but after
thinking it over, and listening to me, they understand that this
disease is a companion with whom one can live. Just as in every
household, one gets along at the cost of mutual concessions,
that's all. Come, sir, I tell you again, there is nothing about
it that is not perfectly ordinary, perfectly natural, perfectly
common; it is an accident which can happen to any one. It is a
great mistake that people speak if this as the 'French Disease,'
for there is none which is more universal. Under the picture of
this disease, addressing myself to those who follow the oldest
profession in the world, I would write the famous phrase: 'Here
is your master. It is, it was, or it must be.'"
George was putting the prescription into the outside pocket of
his coat, stupidly, as if he did not know what he was doing.
"But, sir," he exclaimed, "I should have been spared!"
"Why?" inquired the other. "Because you are a man of position,
because you are rich? Look around you, sir. See these works of
art in my room. Do you imagine that such things have been
presented to me by chimney-sweeps?"
"But, Doctor," cried George, with a moan, "I have never been a
libertine. There was never any one, you understand me, never any
one could have been more careful in his pleasures. If I were to
tell you that in all my life I have only had two mistresses, what
would you answer to that?"
"I would answer, that a single one would have been sufficient to
bring you to me."
"No, sir!" cried George. "It could not have been either of those
women." He went on to tell the doctor about his first mistress,
and then about Lizette. Finally he told about Henriette, how
much he adored her. He could really use such a word--he loved
her most tenderly. She was so good--and he had thought himself
so lucky!
As he went on, he could hardly keep from going to pieces. "I had
everything," he exclaimed, "everything a man needed! All who
knew me envied me. And then I had to let those fellows drag me
off to that miserable supper-party! And now here I am! My
future is ruined, my whole existence poisoned! What is to become
of me? Everybody will avoid me--I shall be a pariah, a leper!"
He paused, and then in sudden wild grief exclaimed, "Come, now!
Would it not be better that I should take myself out of the way?
At least, I should not suffer any more. You see that there could
not be any one more unhappy than myself--not any one, I tell you,
sir, not any one!" Completely overcome, he began to weep in his
The doctor got up, and went to him. "You must be a man," he
said, "and not cry like a child."
"But sir," cried the young man, with tears running down his
cheeks, "if I had led a wild life, if I had passed my time in
dissipation with chorus girls, then I could understand it. Then
I would say that I had deserved it."
The doctor exclaimed with emphasis, "No, no! You would not say
it. However, it is of no matter--go on."
"I tell you that I would say it. I am honest, and I would say
that I had deserved it. But no, I have worked, I have been a
regular grind. And now, when I think of the shame that is in
store for me, the disgusting things, the frightful catastrophes
to which I am condemned--"
"What is all this you are telling me?" asked the doctor,
"Oh, I know, I know!" cried the other, and repeated what his
friend had told him about the man in a wheel-chair. "And they
used to call me handsome Raoul! That was my name--handsome
"Now, my dear sir," said the doctor, cheerfully, "wipe your eyes
one last time, blow your nose, put your handkerchief into your
pocket, and hear me dry-eyed."
George obeyed mechanically. "But I give you fair warning," he
said, "you are wasting your time."
"I tell you--" began the other.
"I know exactly what you are going to tell me!" cried George.
"Well, in that case, there is nothing more for you to do here--
run along."
"Since I am here," said the patient submissively, "I will hear
"Very well, then. I tell you that if you have the will and the
perseverance, none of the things you fear will happen to you."
"Of course, it is your duty to tell me that."
"I will tell you that there are one hundred thousand like you in
Paris, alert, and seemingly well. Come, take what you were just
saying--wheel-chairs. One doesn't see so many of them."
"No, that's true," said George.
"And besides," added the doctor, "a good many people who ride in
them are not there for the cause you think. There is no more
reason why you should be the victim of a catastrophe than any of
the one hundred thousand. The disease is serious, nothing more."
"You admit that it is a serious disease?" argued George.
"One of the most serious?"
"Yes, but you have the good fortune--"
"The GOOD fortune?"
"Relatively, if you please. You have the good fortune to be
infected with one of the diseases over which we have the most
certain control."
"Yes, yes," exclaimed George, "but the remedies are worse than
the disease."
"You deceive yourself," replied the other.
"You are trying to make me believe that I can be cured?"
"You can be."
"And that I am not condemned?"
"I swear it to you."
"You are not deceiving yourself, you are not deceiving me? Why,
I was told--"
The doctor laughed, contemptuously. "You were told, you were
told! I'll wager that you know the laws of the Chinese
concerning party-walls."
"Yes, naturally," said George. "But I don't see what they have
to do with it."
"Instead of teaching you such things," was the reply, "it would
have been a great deal better to have taught you about the nature
and cause of diseases of this sort. Then you would have known
how to avoid the contagion. Such knowledge should be spread
abroad, for it is the most important knowledge in the world. It
should be found in every newspaper."
This remark gave George something of a shock, for his father had
owned a little paper in the provinces, and he had a sudden vision
of the way subscribers would have fallen off, if he had printed
even so much as the name of this vile disease.
"And yet," pursued the doctor, "you publish romances about
"Yes," said George, "that's what the readers want."
"They don't want the truth about venereal diseases," exclaimed
the other. "If they knew the full truth, they would no longer
think that adultery was romantic and interesting."
He went on to give his advice as to the means of avoiding such
diseases. There was really but one rule. It was: To love but
one woman, to take her as a virgin, and to love her so much that
she would never deceive you. "Take that from me," added the
doctor, "and teach it to your son, when you have one."
George's attention was caught by this last sentence.
"You mean that I shall be able to have children?" he cried.
"Certainly," was the reply.
"Healthy children?"
"I repeat it to you; if you take care of yourself properly for a
long time, conscientiously, you have little to fear."
"That's certain?"
"Ninety-nine times out of a hundred."
George felt as if he had suddenly emerged from a dungeon. "Why,
then," he exclaimed, "I shall be able to marry!"
"You will be able to marry," was the reply.
"You are not deceiving me? You would not give me that hope, you
would not expose me? How soon will I be able to marry?"
"In three or four years," said the doctor.
"What!" cried George in consternation. "In three or four years?
Not before?"
"Not before."
"How is that? Am I going to be sick all that time? Why, you
told me just now--"
Said the doctor: "The disease will no longer be dangerous to
you, yourself--but you will be dangerous to others."
"But," the young man cried, in despair, "I am to be married a
month from now."
"That is impossible."
"But I cannot do any differently. The contract is ready! The
banns have been published! I have given my word!"
"Well, you are a great one!" the doctor laughed. "Just now you
were looking for your revolver! Now you want to be married
within the month."
"But, Doctor, it is necessary!"
"But I forbid it."
"As soon as I knew that the disease is not what I imagined, and
that I could be cured, naturally I didn't want to commit suicide.
And as soon as I make up my mind not to commit suicide, I have to
take up my regular life. I have to keep my engagements; I have
to get married."
"No," said the doctor.
"Yes, yes!" persisted George, with blind obstinacy. "Why,
Doctor, if I didn't marry it would be a disaster. You are
talking about something you don't understand. I, for my part--it
is not that I am anxious to be married. As I told you, I had
almost a second family. Lizette's little brothers adored me.
But it is my aunt, an old maid; and, also, my mother is crazy
about the idea. If I were to back out now, she would die of
chagrin. My aunt would disinherit me, and she is the one who has
the family fortune. Then, too, there is my father-in-law, a
regular dragoon for his principles--severe, violent. He never
makes a joke of serious things, and I tell you it would cost me
dear, terribly dear. And, besides, I have given my word."
"You must take back your word."
"You still insist?" exclaimed George, in despair. "But then,
suppose that it were possible, how could I take back my signature
which I put at the bottom of the deed? I have pledged myself to
pay in two months for the attorney's practice I have purchased!"
"Sir," said the doctor, "all these things--"
"You are going to tell me that I was lacking in prudence, that I
should never have disposed of my wife's dowry until after the
"Sir," said the doctor, again, "all these considerations are
foreign to me. I am a physician, and nothing but a physician,
and I can only tell you this: If you marry before three or four
years, you will be a criminal."
George broke out with a wild exclamation. "No sir, you are not
merely a physician! You are also a confessor! You are not
merely a scientist; and it is not enough for you that you observe
me as you would some lifeless thing in your laboratory, and say,
'You have this; science says that; now go along with you.' All
my existence depends upon you. It is your duty to listen to me,
because when you know everything you will understand me, and you
will find some way to cure me within a month."
"But," protested the doctor, "I wear myself out telling you that
such means do not exist. I shall not be certain of your cure, as
much as any one can be certain, in less than three or four
George was almost beside himself. "I tell you you must find some
means! Listen to me, sir--if I don't get married I don't get the
dowry! And will you tell me how I can pay the notes I have
"Oh," said the doctor, dryly, "if that is the question, it is
very simple--I will give you a plan to get out of the affair.
You will go and get acquainted with some rich man; you will do
everything you can to gain his confidence; and when you have
succeeded, you will plunder him."
George shook his head. "I am not in any mood for joking."
"I am not joking," replied his adviser. "Rob that man,
assassinate him even--that would be no worse crime than you would
commit in taking a young girl in good health in order to get a
portion of her dowry, when at the same time you would have to
expose her to the frightful consequences of the disease which you
would give her."
"Frightful consequences?" echoed George.
"Consequences of which death would not be the most frightful."
"But, sir, you were saying to me just now--"
"Just now I did not tell you everything. Even reduced,
suppressed a little by our remedies, the disease remains
mysterious, menacing, and it its sum, sufficiently grave. So it
would be an infamy to expose your fiancee in order to avoid an
inconvenience, however great that might be."
But George was still not to be convinced. Was it certain that
this misfortune would befall Henriette, even with the best
Said the other: "I do not wish to lie to you. No, it is not
absolutely certain, it is probable. And there is another truth
which I wish to tell you now: our remedies are not infallible.
In a certain number of cases--a very small number, scarcely five
per cent--they have remained without effect. You might be one of
those exceptions, your wife might be one. What then?"
"I will employ a word you used just now, yourself. We should
have to expect the worst catastrophes."
George sat in a state of complete despair.
"Tell me what to do, then," he said.
"I can tell you only one thing: don't marry. You have a most
serious blemish. It is as if you owed a debt. Perhaps no one
will ever come to claim it; on the other hand, perhaps a pitiless
creditor will come all at once, presenting a brutal demand for
immediate payment. Come now--you are a business man. Marriage
is a contract; to marry without saying anything--that means to
enter into a bargain by means of passive dissimulation. That's
the term, is it not? It is dishonesty, and it ought to come
under the law."
George, being a lawyer, could appreciate the argument, and could
think of nothing to say to it.
"What shall I do?" he asked.
The other answered, "Go to your father-in-law and tell him
frankly the truth."
"But," cried the young man, wildly, "there will be no question
then of three or four years' delay. He will refuse his consent
"If that is the case," said the doctor, "don't tell him anything."
"But I have to give him a reason, or I don't know what he will
do. He is the sort of man to give himself to the worst violence,
and again my fiancee would be lost to me. Listen, doctor. From
everything I have said to you, you may perhaps think I am a
mercenary man. It is true that I want to get along in the world,
that is only natural. But Henriette has such qualities; she is
so much better than I, that I love her, really, as people love in
novels. My greatest grief--it is not to give up the practice I
have bought--although, indeed, it would be a bitter blow to me;
my greatest grief would be to lose Henriette. If you could only
see her, if you only knew her--then you would understand. I have
her picture here--"
The young fellow took out his card-case. And offered a photograph
to the doctor, who gently refused it. The other blushed with
"I beg your pardon," he said, "I am ridiculous. That happens to
me, sometimes. Only, put yourself in my place--I love her so!"
His voice broke.
"My dear boy," said the doctor, feelingly, "that is exactly why
you ought not to marry her."
"But," he cried, "if I back out without saying anything they will
guess the truth, and I shall be dishonored."
"One is not dishonored because one is ill."
"But with such a disease! People are so stupid. I myself,
yesterday--I should have laughed at anyone who had got into such
a plight; I should have avoided him, I should have despised him!"
And suddenly George broke down again. "Oh!" he cried, "if I were
the only one to suffer; but she--she is in love with me. I swear
it to you! She is so good; and she will be so unhappy!"
The doctor answered, "She would be unhappier later on."
"It will be a scandal!" George exclaimed.
"You will avoid one far greater," the other replied.
Suddenly George set his lips with resolution. He rose from his
seat. He took several twenty-franc pieces from his pocket and
laid them quietly upon the doctor's desk--paying the fee in cash,
so that he would not have to give his name and address. He took
up his gloves, his cane and his hat, and rose.
"I will think it over," he said. "I thank you, Doctor. I will
come back next week as you have told me. That is--probably I
He was about to leave.
The doctor rose, and he spoke in a voice of furious anger. "No,"
he said, "I shan't see you next week, and you won't even think it
over. You came here knowing what you had; you came to ask advice
of me, with the intention of paying no heed to it, unless it
conformed to your wishes. A superficial honesty has driven you
to take that chance in order to satisfy your conscience. You
wanted to have somebody upon whom you could put off, bye and bye,
the consequences of an act whose culpability you understand! No,
don't protest! Many of those who come here think and act as you
think, and as you wish to act; but the marriage made against my
will has generally been the source of such calamities that now I
am always afraid of not having been persuasive enough, and it
even seems to me that I am a little to blame for these
misfortunes. I should have been able to prevent them; they would
not have happened if those who are the authors of them knew what
I know and had seen what I have seen. Swear to me, sir, that you
are going to break off that marriage!"
George was greatly embarrassed, and unwilling to reply. "I
cannot swear to you at all, Doctor; I can only tell you again
that I will think it over."
"That WHAT over?"
"What you have told me."
"What I have told you is true! You cannot bring any new
objections; and I have answered those which you have presented to
me; therefore, your mind ought to be made up."
Groping for a reply, George hesitated. He could not deny that he
had made inquiry about these matters before he had come to the
doctor. But he said that he was not al all certain that he had
this disease. The doctor declared it, and perhaps it was true,
but the most learned physicians were sometimes deceived.
He remembered something he had read in one of the medical books.
"Dr. Ricord maintains that after a certain period the disease is
no longer contagious. He has proven his contentions by examples.
Today you produce new examples to show that he is wrong! Now, I
want to do what's right, but surely I have the right to think it
over. And when I think it over, I realize that all the evils
with which you threaten me are only probable evils. In spite of
your desire to terrify me, you have been forced to admit that
possibly my marriage would not have any troublesome consequence
for my wife."
The doctor found difficulty in restraining himself. But he said,
"Go on. I will answer you afterwards."
And George blundered ahead in his desperation. "Your remedies
are powerful, you tell me; and for the calamities of which you
speak to befall me, I would have to be among the rare
exceptions--also my wife would have to be among the number of
those rare exceptions. If a mathematician were to apply the law
of chance to these facts, the result of his operation would show
but slight chance of a catastrophe, as compared with the absolute
certainty of a series of misfortunes, sufferings, troubles,
tears, and perhaps tragic accidents which the breaking of my
engagement would cause. So I say that the mathematician--who is,
even more than you, a man of science, a man of a more infallible
science--the mathematician would conclude that wisdom was not
with you doctors, but with me."
"You believe it, sir!" exclaimed the other. "But you deceive
yourself." And he continued, driving home his point with a
finger which seemed to George to pierce his very soul. "Twenty
cases identical with your own have been patiently observed, from
the beginning to the end. Nineteen times the woman was infected
by her husband; you hear me, sir, nineteen times out of twenty!
You believe that the disease is without danger, and you take to
yourself the right to expose your wife to what you call the
chance of your being one of those exceptions, for whom our
remedies are without effect. Very well; it is necessary that you
should know the disease which your wife, without being consulted,
will run a chance of contracting. Take that book, sir; it is the
work of my teacher. Read it yourself. Here, I have marked the
He held out the open book; but George could not lift a hand to
take it.
"You do not wish to read it?" the other continued. "Listen to
me." And in a voice trembling with passion, he read: "'I have
watched the spectacle of an unfortunate young woman, turned into
a veritable monster by means of a syphilitic infection. Her
face, or rather let me say what was left of her face, was nothing
but a flat surface seamed with scars.'"
George covered his face, exclaiming, "Enough, sir! Have mercy!"
But the other cried, "No, no! I will go to the very end. I have
a duty to perform, and I will not be stopped by the sensibility
of your nerves."
He went on reading: "'Of the upper lip not a trace was left; the
ridge of the upper gums appeared perfectly bare.'" But then at
the young man's protests, his resolution failed him. "Come," he
said, "I will stop. I am sorry for you--you who accept for
another person, for the woman you say you love, the chance of a
disease which you cannot even endure to hear described. Now,
from whom did that woman get syphilis? It is not I who am
speaking, it is the book. 'From a miserable scoundrel who was
not afraid to enter into matrimony when he had a secondary
eruption.' All that was established later on--'and who,
moreover, had thought it best not to let his wife be treated for
fear of awakening her suspicions!'"
The doctor closed the book with a bang. "What that man has done,
sir, is what you want to do."
George was edging toward the door; he could no longer look the
doctor in the eye. "I should deserve all those epithets and
still more brutal ones if I should marry, knowing that my
marriage would cause such horrors. But that I do not believe.
You and your teachers--you are specialists, and consequently you
are driven to attribute everything to the disease you make the
subject of your studies. A tragic case, an exceptional case,
holds a kind of fascination for you; you think it can never be
talked about enough."
"I have heard that argument before," said the doctor, with an
effort at patience.
"Let me go on, I beg you," pleaded George. "You have told me
that out of every seven men there is one syphilitic. You have
told me that there are one hundred thousand in Paris, coming and
going, alert, and apparently well."
"It is true," said the doctor, "that there are one hundred
thousand who are actually at this moment not visibly under the
influence of the disease. But many thousands have passed into
our hospitals, victims of the most frightful ravages that our
poor bodies can support. These--you do not see them, and they do
not count for you. But again, if it concerned no one but
yourself, you might be able to argue thus. What I declare to
you, what I affirm with all the violence of my conviction, is
that you have not the right to expose a human creature to such
chances--rare, as I know, but terrible, as I know still better.
What have you to answer to that?"
"Nothing," stammered George, brought to his knees at last. "You
are right about that. I don't know what to think."
"And in forbidding you marriage," continued the doctor, "is it
the same as if I forbade it forever? Is it the same as if I told
you that you could never be cured? On the contrary, I hold out
to you every hope; but I demand of you a delay of three or four
years, because it will take me that time to find out if you are
among the number of those unfortunate ones whom I pity with all
my heart, for whom the disease is without mercy; because during
that time you will be dangerous to your wife and to your
children. The children I have not yet mentioned to you."
Here the doctor's voice trembled slightly. He spoke with moving
eloquence. "Come, sir, you are an honest man; you are too young
for such things not to move you; you are not insensible to duty.
It is impossible that I shan't be able to find a way to your
heart, that I shan't be able to make you obey me. My emotion in
speaking to you proves that I appreciate your suffering, that I
suffer with you. It is in the name of my sincerity that I
implore you. You have admitted it--that you have not the right
to expose your wife to such miseries. But it is not only your
wife that you strike; you may attack in her your own children. I
exclude you for a moment from my thought--you and her. It is in
the name of these innocents that I implore you; it is the future,
it is the race that I defend. Listen to me, listen to me! Out
of the twenty households of which I spoke, only fifteen had
children; these fifteen had twenty-eight. Do you know how many
out of these twenty-eight survived? Three, sir! Three out of
twenty-eight! Syphilis is above everything a murderer of
children. Herod reigns in France, and over all the earth, and
begins each year his massacre of the innocents; and if it be not
blasphemy against the sacredness of life, I say that the most
happy are those who have disappeared. Visit our children's
hospitals! We know too well the child of syphilitic parents; the
type is classical; the doctors can pick it out anywhere. Those
little old creatures who have the appearance of having already
lived, and who have kept the stigmata of all out infirmities, of
all our decay. They are the victims of fathers who have married,
being ignorant of what you know--things which I should like to go
and cry out in the public places."
The doctor paused, and then in a solemn voice continued: "I have
told you all, without exaggeration. Think it over. Consider the
pros and cons; sum up the possible misfortunes and the certain
miseries. But disregard yourself, and consider that there are in
one side of the scales the misfortunes of others, and in the
other your own. Take care that you are just."
George was at last overcome. "Very well," he said, "I give way.
I won't get married. I will invent some excuse; I will get a
delay of six months. More than that, I cannot do."
The doctor exclaimed, "I need three years--I need four years!"
"No, Doctor!" persisted George. "You can cure me in less time
than that."
The other answered, "No! No! No!"
George caught him by the hand, imploringly. "Yes! Science in
all powerful!"
"Science is not God," was the reply. "There are no longer any
"If only you wanted to do it!" cried the young man, hysterically.
"You are a learned man; seek, invent, find something! Try some
new plan with me; give me double the dose, ten times the does;
make me suffer. I give myself up to you; I will endure
everything--I swear it! There ought to be some way to cure me
within six months. Listen to me! I tell you I can't answer for
myself with that delay. Come; it is in the name of my wife, in
the name of my children, that I implore you. Do something for
The doctor had reached the limit of his patience. "Enough, sir!"
he cried. "Enough!"
But nothing could stop the wretched man. "On my knees!" he
cried. "I put myself on my knees before you! Oh! If only
you would do it! I would bless you; I would adore you, as one
adores a god! All my gratitude, all my life--half my fortune!
For mercy's sake, Doctor, do something; invent something; make
some discovery--have pity!"
The doctor answered gravely, "Do you wish me to do more for you
than for the others?"
George answered, unblushingly, 'answered, unblushingly, "Yes!"
He was beside himself with terror and distress.
The other's reply was delivered in a solemn tone. "Understand,
sir, for every one of out patients we do all that we can,
whether it be the greatest personage, or the last comer to out
hospital clinic. We have no secrets in reserve for those who are
more fortunate, or less fortunate than the others, and who are in
a hurry to be cured."
George gazed at him for a moment in bewilderment and despair, and
then suddenly bowed his head. "Good-by, Doctor," he answered.
"Au revoir, sir," the other corrected--with what proved to be
prophetic understanding. For George was destined to see him
again--even though he had made up his mind to the contrary!
George Dupont had the most important decision of his life to
make; but there was never very much doubt what his decision would
be. One the one hand was the definite certainty that if he took
the doctor's advice, he would wreck his business prospects, and
perhaps also lose the woman he loved. On the other hand were
vague and uncertain possibilities which it was difficult for him
to make real to himself. It was all very well to wait a while to
be cured of the dread disease; but to wait three or four years--
that was simply preposterous!
He decided to consult another physician. He would find one this
time who would not be so particular, who would be willing to take
some trouble to cure him quickly. He began to notice the
advertisements which were scattered over the pages of the
newspapers he read. There were apparently plenty of doctors in
Paris who could cure him, who were willing to guarantee to cure
him. After much hesitation, he picked out one whose
advertisement sounded the most convincing.
The office was located in a cheap quarter. It was a dingy place,
not encumbered with works of art, but with a few books covered
with dust. The doctor himself was stout and greasy, and he
rubbed his hands with anticipation at the sight of so
prosperous-looking a patient. But he was evidently a man of
experience, for he knew exactly what was the matter with George,
almost without the formality of an examination. Yes, he could
cure him, quickly, he said. There had recently been great
discoveries made--new methods which had not reached the bulk of
the profession. He laughed at the idea of three or four years.
That was the way with those specialists! When one got forty
francs for a consultation, naturally, one was glad to drag out
the case. There were tricks in the medical trade, as in all
others. A doctor had to live; when he had a big name, he had to
live expensively.
The new physician wrote out two prescriptions, and patted George
on the shoulder as he went away. There was no need for him to
worry; he would surely be well in three months. If he would put
off his marriage for six months, he would be doing everything
within reason. And meantime, there was no need for him to worry
himself--things would come out all right. So George went away,
feeling as if a mountain had been lifted from his shoulders.
He went to see Henriette that same evening, to get the matter
settled. "Henriette," he said, "I have to tell you something
very important--something rather painful. I hope you won't let
it disturb you too much."
She was gazing at him in alarm. "What is it?"
"Why," he said, blushing in spite of himself, and regretting that
he had begun the matter so precipitately, "for some time I've not
been feeling quite well. I've been having a slight cough. Have
you noticed it?"
"Why no!" exclaimed Henriette, anxiously.
"Well, today I went to see a doctor, and he says that there is a
possibility--you understand it is nothing very serious--but it
might be--I might possibly have lung trouble."
"George!" cried the girl in horror.
He put his hand upon hers. "Don't be frightened," he said. "It
will be all right, only I have to take care of myself." How very
dear of her, he thought--to be so much worried!
"George, you ought to go away to the country!" she cried. "You
have been working too hard. I always told you that if you shut
yourself up so much--"
"I am going to take care of myself," he said. "I realize that it
is necessary. I shall be all right--the doctor assured me there
was no doubt of it, so you are not to distress yourself. But
meantime, here is the trouble: I don't think it would be right
for me to marry until I am perfectly well."
Henriette gave an exclamation of dismay.
"I am sure we should put it off," he went on, "it would be only
fair to you."
"But, George!" she protested. "Surely it can't be that serious!"
"We ought to wait," he said. "You ought not to take the chance
of being married to a consumptive."
The other protested in consternation. He did not look like a
consumptive; she did not believe that he WAS a consumptive. She
was willing to take her chances. She loved him, and she was not
afraid. But George insisted--he was sure that he ought not to
marry for six months.
"Did the doctor advise that?" asked Henriette.
"No," he replied, "but I made up my mind after talking to him
that I must do the fair and honorable thing. I beg you to
forgive me, and to believe that I know best."
George stood firmly by this position, and so in the end she had
to give way. It did not seem quite modest in her to continue
George volunteered to write a letter to her father; and he hoped
this would settle the matter without further discussion. But in
this he was disappointed. There had to be a long correspondence
with long arguments and protestations from Henriette's father and
from his own mother. It seemed such a singular whim. Everybody
persisted in diagnosing his symptoms, in questioning him about
what the doctor had said, who the doctor was, how he had come to
consult him--all of which, of course, was very embarrassing to
George, who could not see why they had to make such a fuss. He
took to cultivating a consumptive look, as well as he could
imagine it; he took to coughing as he went about the house--and
it was all he could do to keep from laughing, as he saw the look
of dismay on his poor mother's face. After all, however, he told
himself that he was not deceiving her, for the disease he had was
quite as serious as tuberculosis.
It was very painful and very trying. But there was nothing that
could be done about it; the marriage had been put off for six
months, and in the meantime he and Henriette had to control their
impatience and make the best of their situation. Six months was
a long time; but what if it had been three or four years, as the
other doctor had demanded? That would have been a veritable
sentence of death.
George, as we have seen, was conscientious, and regular and
careful in his habits. He took the medicine which the new doctor
prescribed for him; and day by day he watched, and to his great
relief saw the troublesome symptoms gradually disappearing. He
began to take heart, and to look forward to life with his former
buoyancy. He had had a bad scare, but now everything was going
to be all right.
Three or four months passed, and the doctor told him he was
cured. He really was cured, so far as he could see. He was
sorry, now, that he had asked for so long a delay from Henriette;
but the new date for the wedding had been announced, and it would
be awkward to change it again. George told himself that he was
being "extra careful," and he was repaid for the inconvenience by
the feeling of virtue derived from the delay. He was relieved
that he did not have to cough any more, or to invent any more
tales of his interviews with the imaginary lung-specialist.
Sometimes he had guilty feelings because of all the lying he had
had to do; but he told himself that it was for Henriette's sake.
She loved him as much as he loved her. She would have suffered
needless agonies had she known the truth; she would never have
got over it--so it would have been a crime to tell her.
He really loved her devotedly, thoroughly. From the beginning he
had thought as much of her mental sufferings as he had of any
physical harm that the dread disease might do to him. How could
he possibly persuade himself to give her up, when he knew that
the separation would break her heart and ruin her whole life?
No; obviously, in such a dilemma, it was his duty to use his own
best judgment, and get himself cured as quickly as possible.
After that he would be true to her, he would take no more chances
of a loathsome disease.
The secret he was hiding made him feel humble--made him unusually
gentle in his attitude towards the girl. He was a perfect lover,
and she was ravished with happiness. She thought that all his
sufferings were because of his love for her, and the delay which
he had imposed out of his excess of conscientiousness. So she
loved him more and more, and never was there a happier bride than
Henriette Loches, when at last the great day arrived.
They went to the Riveria for their honeymoon, and then returned
to live in the home which had belonged to George's father. The
investment in the notary's practice had proven a good one, and so
life held out every promise for the young couple. They were
divinely happy.
After a while, the bride communicated to her husband the tidings
that she was expecting a child. Then it seemed to George that
the cup of his earthly bliss was full. His ailment had slipped
far into the background of his thoughts, like an evil dream which
he had forgotten. He put away the medicines in the bottom of his
trunk and dismissed the whole matter from his mind. Henriette
was well--a very picture of health, as every one agreed. The
doctor had never seen a more promising young mother, he declared,
and Madame Dupont, the elder, bloomed with fresh life and joy as
she attended her daughter-in-law.
Henriette went for the summer to her father's place in the
provinces, which she and George had visited before their
marriage. They drove out one day to the farm where they had
stopped. The farmer's wife had a week-old baby, the sight of
which made Henriette's heart leap with delight. He was such a
very healthy baby that George conceived the idea that this would
be the woman to nurse his own child, in case Henriette herself
should not be able to do it.
They came back to the city, and there the baby was born. As
George paced the floor, waiting for the news, the memory of his
evil dreams came back to him. He remembered all the dreadful
monstrosities of which he had read--infants that were born of
syphilitic parents. His heart stood still when the nurse came
into the room to tell him the tidings.
But it was all right; of course it was all right! He had been a
fool, he told himself, as he stood in the darkened room and gazed
at the wonderful little mite of life which was the fruit of his
love. It was a perfect child, the doctor said--a little small,
to be sure, but that was a defect which would soon be remedied.
George kneeled by the bedside and kissed the hand of his wife,
and went out of the room feeling as if he had escaped from a
All went well, and after a couple of weeks Henriette was about
the house again, laughing all day and singing with joy. But the
baby did not gain quite as rapidly as the doctor had hoped, and
it was decided that the country air would be better for her. So
George and his mother paid a visit to the farm in the country,
and arranged that the country woman should put her own child to
nurse elsewhere and should become the foster-mother of little Gervaise.
George paid a good price for the service, far more than would
have been necessary, for the simple country woman was delighted
with the idea of taking care of the grandchild of the deputy of
her district. George came home and told his wife about this and
had a merry time as he pictured the woman boasting about it to
the travelers who stopped at her door. "Yes, ma'am, a great
piece of luck I've got, ma'am. I've got the daughter of the
daughter of our deputy--at your service ma'am. My! But she is
as fat as out little calf--and so clever! She understands
everything. A great piece of luck for me, ma'am. She's the
daughter of the daughter of our deputy!" Henriette was vastly
entertained, discovering in her husband a new talent, that of an
As for George's mother, she was hardly to be persuaded from
staying in the country with the child. She went twice a week, to
make sure that all went well. Henriette and she lived with the
child's picture before them; they spent their time sewing on caps
and underwear--all covered with laces and frills and pink and
blue ribbons. Every day, when George came home from his work, he
found some new article completed, and was ravished by the scent
of some new kind of sachet powder. What a lucky man he was!
You would think he must have been the happiest man in the whole
city of Paris. But George, alas, had to pay the penalty for his
early sins. There was, for instance, the deception he had
practiced upon his friend, away back in the early days. Now he
had friends of his own, and he could not keep these friends from
visiting him; and so he was unquiet with the fear that some one
of them might play upon him the same vile trick. Even in the
midst of his radiant happiness, when he knew that Henriette was
hanging upon his every word, trembling with delight when she
heard his latchkey in the door--still he could not drive away the
horrible thought that perhaps all this might be deception.
There was his friend, Gustave, for example. He had been a friend
of Henriette's before her marriage; he had even been in love with
her at one time. And now he came sometimes to the house--once or
twice when George was away! What did that mean? George
wondered. He brooded over it all day, but dared not drop any
hint to Henriette. But he took to setting little traps to catch
her; for instance, he would call her up on the telephone,
disguising his voice. "Hello! Hello! Is that you, Madame
Dupont?" And when she answered, "It is I, sir," all
unsuspecting, he would inquire, "Is George there?"
"No, sir," she replied. "Who is this speaking?"
He answered, "It is I, Gustave. How are you this morning?" He
wanted to see what she would answer. Would she perhaps say,
"Very well, Gustave. How are you?"--in a tone which would betray
too great intimacy!
But Henriette was a sharp young person. The tone did not sound
like Gustave's. She asked in bewilderment, "What?" and then
again, "What?"
So, at last, George, afraid that his trick might be suspected,
had to burst out laughing, and turn it into a joke. But when he
came home and teased his wife about it, the laugh was not all on
his side. Henriette had guessed the real meaning of his joke!
She did not really mind--she took his jealousy as a sign of love,
and was pleased with it. It is not until a third party come upon
the scene that jealousy begins to be annoying.
So she had a merry time teasing George. "You are a great fellow!
You have no idea how well I understand you--and after only a year
of marriage!"
"You know me?" said the husband, curiously. (It is always so
fascinating when anybody thinks she know us better than we know
ourselves!) "Tell me, what do you think about me?"
"You are restless," said Henriette. "You are suspicious. You
pass your time putting flies in your milk, and inventing wise
schemes to get them out."
"Oh, you think that, do you?" said George, pleased to be talked
"I am not annoyed," she answered. "You have always been that
way--and I know that it's because at bottom you are timid and
disposed to suffer. And then, too, perhaps you have reasons for
not having confidence in a wife's intimate friends--lady-killer
that you are!"
George found this rather embarrassing; but he dared not show it,
so he laughed gayly. "I don't know what you mean," he said--
"upon my word I don't. But it is a trick I would not advise
everybody to try."
There were other embarrassing moments, caused by George's having
things to conceal. There was, for instance, the matter of the
six months' delay in the marriage--about which Henriette would
never stop talking. She begrudged the time, because she had got
the idea that little Gervaise was six months younger than she
otherwise would have been. "That shows your timidity again," she
would say. "The idea of your having imagined yourself a
Poor George had to defend himself. "I didn't tell you half the
truth, because I was afraid of upsetting you. It seemed I had
the beginning of chronic bronchitis. I felt it quite keenly
whenever I took a breath, a deep breath--look, like this. Yes--I
felt--here and there, on each side of the chest, a heaviness--a
"The idea of taking six months to cure you of a thing like that!"
exclaimed Henriette. "And making our baby six months younger
than she ought to be!"
"But," laughed George, "that means that we shall have her so much
the longer! She will get married six months later!"
"Oh, dear me," responded the other, "let us not talk about such
things! I am already worried, thinking she will get married some
"For my part," said George, "I see myself mounting with her on my
arm the staircase of the Madeleine."
"Why the Madeleine?" exclaimed his wife. "Such a very
magnificent church!"
"I don't know--I see her under her white veil, and myself all
dressed up, and with an order."
"With an order!" laughed Henriette. "What do you expect to do to
win an order?"
"I don't know that--but I see myself with it. Explain it as you
will, I see myself with an order. I see it all, exactly as if I
were there--the Swiss guard with his white stockings and the
halbard, and the little milliner's assistants and the scullion
lined up staring."
"It is far off--all that," said Henriette. "I don't like to talk
of it. I prefer her as a baby. I want her to grow up--but then
I change my mind and think I don't. I know your mother doesn't.
Do you know, I don't believe she ever thinks about anything but
her little Gervaise."
"I believe you," said the father. "The child can certainly boast
of having a grandmother who loves her."
"Also, I adore your mother," declared Henriette. "She makes me
forget my misfortune in not having my own mother. She is so
"We are all like that in our family," put in George.
"Really," laughed the wife. "Well, anyhow--the last time that we
went down in the country with her--you had gone out, I don't know
where you had gone--"
"To see the sixteenth-century chest," suggested the other.
"Oh, yes," laughed Henriette; "your famous chest!" (You must
excuse this little family chatter of theirs--they were so much in
love with each other!)
"Don't let's talk about that," objected George. "You were
"You were not there. The nurse was out at mass, I think--"
"Or at the wine merchant's! Go on, go on."
"Well, I was in the little room, and mother dear thought she was
all alone with Gervaise. I was listening; she was talking to the
baby--all sorts of nonsense, pretty little words--stupid, if you
like, but tender. I wanted to laugh, and at the same time I
wanted to weep."
"Perhaps she called her 'my dear little Savior'?"
"Exactly! Did you hear her?"
"No--but that is what she used to call me when I was little."
"It was that day she swore that the little one had recognized
her, and laughed!"
"Oh, yes!"
"And then another time, when I went into her room--mother's
room--she didn't hear me because the door was open, but I saw
her. She was in ecstasy before the little boots which the baby
wore at baptism--you know?"
"Yes, yes."
"Listen, then. She had taken them and she was embracing them!"
"And what did you say then?"
"Nothing; I stole out very softly, and I sent across the
threshold a great kiss to the dear grandmother!"
Henriette sat for a moment in thought. "It didn't take her very
long," she remarked, "today when she got the letter from the
nurse. I imagine she caught the eight-fifty-nine train!"
"Any yet," laughed George, "it was really nothing at all."
"Oh no," said his wife. "Yet after all, perhaps she was right--
and perhaps I ought to have gone with her."
"How charming you are, my poor Henriette! You believe everything
you are told. I, for my part, divined right away the truth. The
nurse was simply playing a game on us; she wanted a raise. Will
you bet? Come, I'll bet you something. What would you like to
bet? You don't want to? Come, I'll bet you a lovely necklace--
you know, with a big pearl."
"No," said Henriette, who had suddenly lost her mood of gayety.
"I should be too much afraid of winning."
"Stop!" laughed her husband. "Don't you believe I love her as
much as you love her--my little duck? Do you know how old she
is? I mean her EXACT age?"
Henriette sat knitting her brows, trying to figure.
"Ah!" he exploded. "You see you don't know! She is ninety-one
days and eight hours! Ha, ha! Imagine when she will be able to
walk all alone. Then we will take her back with us; we must wait
at least six months." Then, too late, poor George realized that
he had spoken the fatal phrase again.
"If only you hadn't put off our marriage, she would be able to
walk now," said Henriette.
He rose suddenly. "Come," he said, "didn't you say you had to
dress and pay some calls?"
Henriette laughed, but took the hint.
"Run along, little wife," he said. "I have a lot of work to do
in the meantime. You won't be down-stairs before I shall have my
nose buried in my papers. Bye-bye."
"Bye-bye," said Henriette. But they paused to exchange a dozen
or so kisses before she went away to dress.
Then George lighted a cigarette and stretched himself out in the
big armchair. He seemed restless; he seemed to be disturbed
about something. Could it be that he had not been so much at
ease as he had pretended to be, since the letter had come from
the baby's nurse? Madame Dupont had gone by the earliest train
that morning. She had promised to telegraph at once--but she had
not done so, and now it was late afternoon.
George got up and wandered about. He looked at himself in the
glass for a moment; then he went back to the chair and pulled up
another to put his geet upon. He puffed away at his cigarette
until he was calmer. But then suddenly he heard the rustle of a
dress behind him, and glanced about, and started up with an
exclamation, "Mother!"
Madame Dupont stood in the doorway. She did not speak. Her veil
was thrown back and George noted instantly the look of agitation
upon her countenance.
"What's the matter?" he cried. "We didn't get any telegram from
you; we were not expecting you till tomorrow."
Still his mother did not speak.
"Henriette was just going out," he exclaimed nervously; "I had
better call her."
"No!" said his mother quickly. Her voice was low and trembling.
"I did not want Henriette to be here when I arrived."
"But what's the matter?" cried George.
Again there was a silence before the reply came. He read
something terrible in the mother's manner, and he found himself
trembling violently.
"I have brought back the child and the nurse," said Madame
"What! Is the little one sick?"
"What's the matter with her?"
"Nothing dangerous--for the moment, at least."
"We must send and get the doctor!" cried George.
"I have just come from the doctor's," was the reply. "He said it
was necessary to take out child from the nurse and bring her up
on the bottle."
Again there was a pause. George could hardly bring himself to
ask the next question. Try as he would, he could not keep his
voice from weakening. "Well, now, what is her trouble?"
The mother did not answer. She stood staring before her. At
last she said, faintly, "I don't know."
"You didn't ask?"
"I asked. But it was not to our own doctor that I went."
"Ah!" whispered George. For nearly a minute neither one of them
spoke. "Why?" he inquired at last.
"Because--he--the nurse's doctor--had frightened me so--"
"Yes. It is a disease--" again she stopped.
George cried, in a voice of agony, "and then?"
"Then I asked him if the matter was so grave that I could not be
satisfied with our ordinary doctor."
"And what did he answer?"
"He said that if we had the means it would really be better to
consult a specialist."
George looked at his mother again. He was able to do it, because
she was not looking at him. He clenched his hands and got
himself together. "And--where did he send you?"
His mother fumbled in her hand bag and drew out a visiting card.
"Here," she said.
And George looked at the card. It was all he could do to keep
himself from tottering. It was the card of the doctor whom he
had first consulted about his trouble! The specialist in
venereal diseases!
It was all George could do to control his voice. "You--you went
to see him?" he stammered.
"Yes," said his mother. "You know him?"
"No, no," he answered. "Or--that is--I have met him, I think. I
don't know." And then to himself, "My God!"
There was a silence. "He is coming to talk to you," said the
mother, at last.
George was hardly able to speak. "Then he is very much
"No, but he wants to talk to you."
"To me?"
"Yes. When the doctor saw the nurse, he said, 'Madame, it is
impossible for me to continue to attend this child unless I have
had this very day a conversation wit the father.' So I said
'Very well,' and he said he would come at once."
George turned away, and put his hands to his forehead. "My poor
little daughter!" he whispered to himself.
"Yes," said the mother, her voice breaking, "she is, indeed, a
poor little daughter!"
A silence fell; for what could words avail in such a situation?
Hearing the door open, Madame Dupont started, for her nerves were
all a-quiver with the strain she had been under. A servant came
in and spoke to her, and she said to George, "It is the doctor.
If you need me, I shall be in the next room."
Her son stood trembling, as if he were waiting the approach of an
executioner. The other came into the room without seeing him and
he stood for a minute, clasping and unclasping his hands, almost
overcome with emotion. Then he said, "Good-day, doctor." As the
man stared at him, surprised and puzzled, he added, "You don't
recognize me?"
The doctor looked again, more closely. George was expecting him
to break out in rage; but instead his voice fell low. "You!" he
exclaimed. "It is you!"
At last, in a voice of discouragement than of anger, he went on,
"You got married, and you have a child! After all that I told
you! You are a wretch!"
"Sir," cried George, "let me explain to you!"
"Not a word!" exclaimed the other. "There can be no explanation
for what you have done."
A silence followed. The young man did not know what to say.
Finally, stretching out his arms, he pleaded, "You will take care
of my little daughter all the same, will you not?"
The other turned away with disgust. "Imbecile!" he said.
George did not hear the word. "I was able to wait only six
months," he murmured.
The doctor answered in a voice of cold self-repression, "That is
enough, sir! All that does not concern me. I have done wrong
even to let you see my indignation. I should have left you to
judge yourself. I have nothing to do here but with the present
and with the future--with the infant and with the nurse."
"She isn't in danger?" cried George.
"The nurse is in danger of being contaminated."
But George had not been thinking about the nurse. "I mean my
child," he said.
"Just at present the symptoms are not disturbing."
George waited; after a while he began, "You were saying about the
nurse. Will you consent that I call my mother? She knows better
than I."
"As you wish," was the reply.
The young man started to the door, but came back, in terrible
distress. "I have one prayer to offer you sir; arrange it so
that my wife--so that no one will know. If my wife learned that
it is I who am the cause--! It is for her that I implore you!
She--she isn't to blame."
Said the doctor: "I will do everything in my power that she may
be kept ignorant of the true nature of the disease."
"Oh, how I thank you!" murmured George. "How I thank you!"
"Do not thank me; it is for her, and not for you, that I will
consent to lie."
"And my mother?"
"Your mother knows the truth."
"I pray you, sir--we have enough to talk about, and very serious
So George went to the door and called his mother. She entered
and greeted the doctor, holding herself erect, and striving to
keep the signs of grief and terror from her face. She signed to
the doctor to take a seat, and then seated herself by a little
table near him.
"Madame Dupont," he began, "I have prescribed a course of
treatment for the child. I hope to be able to improve its
condition, and to prevent any new developments. But my duty and
yours does not stop there; if there is still time, it is
necessary to protect the health of the nurse."
"Tell us what it is necessary to do, Doctor?" said she.
"The woman must stop nursing the child."
"You mean we have to change the nurse?"
"Madame, the child can no longer be brought up at the breast,
either by that nurse or by any other nurse."
"But why, sir?"
"Because the child would give her disease to the woman who gave
her milk."
"But, Doctor, if we put her on the bottle--our little one--she
will die!"
And suddenly George burst out into sobs. "Oh, my poor little
daughter! My God, my God!"
Said the doctor, "If the feeding is well attended to, with
sterilized milk--"
"That can do very well for healthy infants," broke in Madame
Dupont. "But at the age of three months one cannot take from the
breast a baby like ours, frail and ill. More than any other such
an infant has need of a nurse--is that not true?"
"Yes," the doctor admitted, "that is true. But--"
"In that case, between the life of the child, and the health of
the nurse, you understand perfectly well that my choice is made."
Between her words the doctor heard the sobbing of George, whose
head was buried in his arms. "Madame," he said, "your love for
that baby has just caused you to utter something ferocious! It
is not for you to choose. It is not for you to choose. I forbid
the nursing. The health of that woman does not belong to you."
"No," cried the grandmother, wildly, "nor does the health of out
child belong to you! If there is a hope of saving it, that hope
is in giving it more care than any other child; and you would
wish that I put it upon a mode of nourishment which the doctors
condemn, even for vigorous infants! You expect that I will let
myself be taken in like that? I answer you: she shall have the
milk which she needs, my poor little one! If there was a single
thing that one could do to save her--I should be a criminal to
neglect it!" And Madame Dupont broke out, with furious scorn,
"The nurse! The nurse! We shall know how to do our duty--we
shall take care of her, repay her. But our child before all! No
sir, no! Everything that can be done to save our baby I shall
do, let it cost what it will. To do what you say--you don't
realize it--it would be as if I should kill the child!" In the
end the agonized woman burst into tears. "Oh, my poor little
angel! My little savior!"
George had never ceased sobbing while his mother spoke; at these
last words his sobs became loud cries. He struck the floor with
his foot, he tore his hair, as if he were suffering from violent
physical pain. "Oh, oh, oh!" he cried. "My little child! My
little child!" And then, in a horrified whisper to himself, "I
am a wretch! A criminal!"
"Madame," said the doctor, "you must calm yourself; you must both
calm yourselves. You will not help out the situation by
lamentations. You must learn to take it with calmness."
Madame Dupont set her lips together, and with a painful effort
recovered her self-control. "You are right, sir," she said, in a
low voice. "I ask your pardon; but if you only knew what that
child means to me! I lost one at that age. I am an old woman, I
am a widow--I had hardly hoped to live long enough to be a
grandmother. But, as you say--we must be calm." She turned to
the young man, "Calm yourself, my son. It is a poor way to show
our love for the child, to abandon ourselves to tears. Let us
talk, Doctor, and seriously--coldly. But I declare to you that
nothing will ever induce me to put the child on the bottle, when
I know that it might kill her. That is all I can say."
The doctor replied: "This isn't the first time that I find
myself in the present situation. Madame, I declare to you that
always--ALWAYS, you understand--persons who have rejected my
advice have had reason to repent it cruelly."
"The only thing of which I should repent--" began the other.
"You simply do not know," interrupted the doctor, "what such a
nurse is capable of. You cannot imagine what bitterness--
legitimate bitterness, you understand--joined to the rapacity,
the cupidity, the mischief-making impulse--might inspire these
people to do. For them the BOURGEOIS is always somewhat of an
enemy; and when they find themselves in position to avenge their
inferiority, they are ferocious."
"But what could the woman do?"
"What could she do? She could bring legal proceedings against
"But she is much too stupid to have that idea."
"Others will put it into her mind."
"She is too poor to pay the preliminary expenses."
"And do you propose then to profit by her ignorance and
stupidity? Besides, she could obtain judicial assistance."
"Why, surely," exclaimed Madame Dupont, "such a thing was never
heard of! Do you mean that?"
"I know a dozen prosecutions of that sort; and always when there
has been certainty, the parents have lost their case."
"But surely, Doctor, you must be mistaken! Not in a case like
ours--not when it is a question of saving the life of a poor
little innocent!"
"Oftentimes exactly such facts have been presented."
Here George broke in. "I can give you the dates of the
decisions." He rose from his chair, glad of an opportunity to be
useful. "I have the books," he said, and took one from the case
and brought it to the doctor.
"All of that is no use--" interposed the mother.
But the doctor said to George, "You will be able to convince
yourself. The parents have been forced once or twice to pay the
nurse a regular income, and at other times they have had to pay
her an indemnity, of which the figure has varied between three
and eight thousand francs."
Madame Dupont was ready with a reply to this. "Never fear, sir!
If there should be a suit, we should have a good lawyer. We
shall be able to pay and choose the best--and he would demand,
without doubt, which of the two, the nurse or the child, has
given the disease to the other."
The doctor was staring at her in horror. "Do you not perceive
that would be a monstrous thing to do?"
"Oh, I would not have to say it," was the reply. "The lawyer
would see to it--is not that his profession? My point is this:
by one means or another he would make us win our case."
"And the scandal that would result," replied the other. "Have
you thought of that?"
Here George, who had been looking over his law-books, broke in.
"Doctor, permit me to give you a little information. In cases of
this sort, the names are never printed."
"Yes, but they are spoken at the hearings."
"That's true."
"And are you certain that there will not be any newspaper to
print the judgment?"
"What won't they stoop to," exclaimed Madame Dupont--"those
filthy journals!"
"Ah," said the other, "and see what a scandal? What a shame it
would be to you!"
"The doctor is right, mother," exclaimed the young man.
But Madame Dupont was not yet convinced. "We will prevent the
woman from taking any steps; we will give her what she demands
from us."
"But then," said the other, "you will give yourselves up to the
risk of blackmail. I know a family which has been thus held up
for over twelve years."
"If you will permit me, Doctor," said George, timidly, "she could
be made to sign a receipt."
"For payment in full?" asked the doctor, scornfully.
"Even so."
"And then," added his mother, "she would be more than delighted
to go back to her country with a full purse. She would be able
to buy a little house and a bit of ground--in that country one
doesn't need so much in order to live."
At this moment there was a tap upon the door, and the nurse
entered. She was a country woman, robust, rosy-cheeked, fairly
bursting with health. When she spoke one got the impression that
her voice was more than she could contain. It did not belong in
a drawing-room, but under the open sky of her country home.
"Sir," she said, addressing the doctor, "the baby is awake."
"I will go and see her," was the reply; and then to Madame
Dupont, "We will take up this conversation later on."
"Certainly," said the mother. "Will you have need of the nurse?"
"No, Madame," the doctor answered.
"Nurse," said the mother, "sit down and rest. Wait a minute, I
wish to speak to you." As the doctor went out, she took her son
to one side and whispered to him, "I know the way to arrange
everything. If we let her know what is the matter, and if she
accepts, the doctor will have nothing more to say. Isn't that
"Obviously," replied the son.
"I am going to promise that we will give her two thousand francs
when she goes away, if she will consent to continue nursing the
"Two thousand francs?" said the other. "Is that enough?"
"I will see," was the reply. "If she hesitates, I will go
further. Let me attend to it."
George nodded his assent, and Madame Dupont returned to the
nurse. "You know," she said, "that our child is a little sick?"
The other looked at her in surprise. "Why no, ma'am!"
"Yes," said the grandmother.
"But, ma'am, I have taken the best of care of her; I have always
kept her proper."
"I am not saying anything to the contrary," said Madame Dupont,
"but the child is sick, the doctors have said it."
The nurse was not to be persuaded; she thought they were getting
ready to scold her. "Humph," she said, "that's a fine thing--the
doctors! If they couldn't always find something wrong you'd say
they didn't know their business."
"But our doctor is a great doctor; and you have seen yourself
that our child has some little pimples."
"Ah, ma'am," said the nurse, "that's the heat--it's nothing but
the heat of the blood breaking out. You don't need to bother
yourself; I tell you it's only the child's blood. It's not my
fault; I swear to you that she had not lacked anything, and that
I have always kept her proper."
"I am not reproaching you--"
"What is there to reproach me for? Oh, what bad luck! She's
tiny--the little one--she's a bit feeble; but Lord save us, she's
a city child! And she's getting along all right, I tell you."
"No," persisted Madame Dupont, "I tell you--she has got a cold in
her head, and she has an eruption at the back of the throat."
"Well," cried the nurse, angrily, "if she has, it's because the
doctor scratched her with that spoon he put into her mouth wrong
end first! A cold in the head? Yes, that's true; but if she has
caught cold, I can't say when, I don't know anything about it--
nothing, nothing at all. I have always kept her well covered;
she's always had as much as three covers on her. The truth is,
it was when you came, the time before last; you were all the time
insisting upon opening the windows in the house!"
"But once more I tell you," cried Madame Dupont, "we are not
putting any blame on you."
"Yes," cried the woman, more vehemently. "I know what that kind
of talk means. It's no use--when you're a poor country woman."
"What are you imagining now?" demanded the other.
"Oh, that's all right. It's no use when you're a poor country
"I repeat to you once more," cried Madame Dupont, with difficulty
controlling her impatience, "we have nothing whatever to blame
you for."
But the nurse began to weep. "If I had known that anything like
this was coming to me--"
"We have nothing to blame you for," declared the other. "We only
wish to warn you that you might possibly catch the disease of the
The woman pouted. "A cold in the head!" she exclaimed. "Well,
if I catch it, it won't be the first time. I know how to blow my
"But you might also get the pimples."
At this the nurse burst into laughter so loud that the
bric-a-brac rattled. "Oh, oh, oh! Dear lady, let me tell you,
we ain't city folks, we ain't; we don't have such soft skins.
What sort of talk is that? Pimples--what difference would that
make to poor folks like us? We don't have a white complexion like the ladies
of Paris. We are out all day in the fields, in the sun and the rain, instead
of rubbing cold cream on our muzzles! No offense, ma'am--but I say if you're
looking for an excuse to get rid of me, you must get a better one than that."
"Excuse!" exclaimed the other. "What in the world do you mean?"
"Oh, I know!" said the nurse, nodding her head.
"But speak!"
"It's no use, when you're only a poor country woman."
"I don't understand you! I swear to you that I don't understand
"Well," sneered the other, "I understand."
"But then--explain yourself."
"No, I don't want to say it."
"But you must; I wish it."
"Go ahead."
"I'm only a poor country woman, but I am no more stupid than the
others, for all that. I know perfectly well what your tricks
mean. Mr. George here has been grumbling because you promised me
thirty francs more a month, if I came to Paris." And then,
turning upon the other, she went on--"But, sir, isn't it only
natural? Don't I have to put my own child away somewheres else?
And then, can my husband live on his appetite? We're nothing but
poor country people, we are."
"You are making a mistake, nurse," broke in George. "It is
nothing at all of that sort; mother is quite right. I am so far
from wanting to reproach you, that, on the contrary, I think she
had not promised enough, and I want to make you, for my part,
another promise. When you go away, when baby is old enough to be
weaned, by way of thanking you, we wish to give you--"
Madame Dupont broke in, hurriedly, "We wish to give you,--over
and above your wages, you understand--we wish to give you five
hundred francs, and perhaps a thousand, if the little one is
altogether in good health. You understand?"
The nurse stared at her, stupefied. "You will give me five
hundred francs--for myself?" She sought to comprehend the words.
"But that was not agreed, you don't have to do that at all."
"No," admitted Madame Dupont.
"But then," whispered the nurse, half to herself, "that's not
"Yes," the other hurried on, "it is because the baby will have
need of extra care. You will have to take more trouble; you will
have to give it medicines; your task will be a little more
delicate, a little more difficult."
"Oh, yes; then it's so that I will be sure to take care of her?
I understand."
"Then it's agreed?" exclaimed Madame Dupont, with relief.
"Yes ma'am," said the nurse.
"And you won't come later on to make reproaches to us? We
understand one another clearly? We have warned you that the
child is sick and that you could catch the disease. Because of
that, because of the special need of care which she has, we
promise you five hundred francs at the end of the nursing.
That's all right, is it?
"But, my lady," cried the nurse, all her cupidity awakened, "you
spoke just now of a thousand francs."
"Very well, then, a thousand francs."
George passed behind the nurse and got his mother by the arm,
drawing her to one side. "It would be a mistake," he whispered,
"if we did not make her sign an agreement to all that."
His mother turned to the nurse. "In order that there may be no
misunderstanding about the sum--you see how it is, I had
forgotten already that I had spoken of a thousand francs--we will
draw up a little paper, and you, on your part, will write one for
"Very good, ma'am," said the nurse, delighted with the idea of so
important a transaction. "Why, it's just as you do when you rent
a house!"
"Here comes the doctor," said the other. "Come, nurse, it is
"Yes, ma'am," was the answer. But all the same, as she went out
she hesitated and looked sharply first at the doctor, and then at
George and his mother. She suspected that something was wrong,
and she meant to find out if she could.
The doctor seated himself in George's office chair, as if to
write a prescription. "The child's condition remains the same,"
he said; "nothing disturbing."
"Doctor," said Madame Dupont, gravely, "from now on, you will be
able to devote your attention to the baby and the nurse without
any scruple. During your absence we have arranged matters
nicely. The nurse has been informed about the situation, and she
does not mind. She has agreed to accept an indemnity, and the
amount has been stated."
But the doctor did not take these tidings as the other had hoped
he might. He replied: "The malady which the nurse will almost
inevitably contract in feeding the child is too grave in its
consequences. Such consequences might go as far as complete
helplessness, even as far as death. So I say that the indemnity,
whatever it might be, would not pay the damage."
"But," exclaimed the other, "she accepts it! She is mistress of
herself, and she has the right--"
"I am not at all certain that she has the right to sell her own
health. And I am certain that she has not the right to sell the
health of her husband and her children. If she becomes infected,
it is nearly certain that she will communicate the disease to
them; the health and the life of the children she might have
later on would be greatly compromised. Such things she cannot
possibly sell. Come, madame, you must see that a bargain of this
sort isn't possible. If the evil has not been done, you must do
everything to avoid it."
"Sir," protested the mother, wildly, "you do not defend our
"Madame," was the reply, "I defend those who are weakest."
"If we had called in our own physician, who knows us," she
protested, "he would have taken sides with us."
The doctor rose, with a severe look on his face. "I doubt it,"
he said, "but there is still time to call him."
George broke in with a cry of distress. "Sir, I implore you!"
And the mother in turn cried. "Don't abandon us, sir! You ought
to make allowances! If you knew what that child is to me! I
tell you it seems to me as if I had waited for her coming in
order to die. Have pity upon us! Have pity upon her! You speak
of the weakest--it is not she who is the weakest? You have seen
her, you have seen that poor little baby, so emaciated! You have
seen what a heap of suffering she is already; and cannot that
inspire in you any sympathy? I pray you, sir--I pray you!"
"I pity her," said the doctor, "I would like to save her--and I
will do everything for her. But do not ask me to sacrifice to a
feeble infant, with an uncertain and probably unhappy life, the
health of a sound and robust woman. It is useless for us to
continue such a discussion as that."
Whereupon Madame Dupont leaped up in sudden frenzy. "Very Well!"
she exclaimed. "I will not follow your counsels, I will not
listen to you!"
Said the doctor in a solemn voice: "There is already some one
here who regrets that he did not listen to me."
"Yes," moaned George, "to my misfortune, to the misfortune of all
of us."
But Madame Dupont was quite beside herself. "Very well!" she
cried. "If it is a fault, if it is a crime, if I shall have to
suffer remorse for it in this life, and all the punishments in
the life to come--I accept it all for myself alone! Myself
alone, I take that responsibility! It is frightfully heavy, but
I accept it. I am profoundly a Christian sir; I believe in
eternal damnation; but to save my little child I consent to lose
my soul forever. Yes, my mind is made up--I will do everything
to save that life! Let God judge me; and if he condemns me, so
much the worse for me!"
The doctor answered: "That responsibility is one which I cannot
let you take, for it will be necessary that I should accept my
part, and I refuse it."
"What will you do?"
"I shall warn the nurse. I shall inform her exactly,
completely--something which you have not done, I feel sure."
"What?" cried Madame Dupont, wildly. "You, a doctor, called into
a family which gives you its entire confidence, which hands over
to you its most terrible secrets, its most horrible miseries--you
would betray them?"
"It is not a betrayal," replied the man, sternly. "It is
something which the law commands; and even if the law were
silent, I would not permit a family of worthy people to go astray
so far as to commit a crime. Either I give up the case, or you
have the nursing of the child stopped."
"You threaten! You threaten!" cried the woman, almost frantic.
"You abuse the power which your knowledge gives you! You know
that it is you whose attention we need by that little cradle; you
know that we believe in you, and you threaten to abandon us!
Your abandonment means the death of the child, perhaps! And if I
listen to you, if we stop the nursing of the child--that also
means her death!"
She flung up her hands like a mad creature. "And yet there is no
other means! Ah, my God! Why do you not let it be possible for
me to sacrifice myself? I would wish nothing more than to be
able to do it--if only you might take my old body, my old flesh,
my old bones--if only I might serve for something! How quickly
would I consent that it should infect me--this atrocious malady!
How I would offer myself to it--with what joys, with what
delights--however disgusting, however frightful it might be,
however much to be dreaded! Yes, I would take it without fear,
without regret, if my poor old empty breasts might still give to
the child the milk which would preserve its life!"
She stopped; and George sprang suddenly from his seat, and fled
to her and flung himself down upon his knees before her, mingling
his sobs and tears with hers.
The doctor rose and moved about the room, unable any longer to
control his distress. "Oh, the poor people!" he murmured to
himself. "The poor, poor people!"
The storm passed, and Madame Dupont, who was a woman of strong
character, got herself together. Facing the doctor again, she
said, "Come, sir, tell us what we have to do."
"You must stop the nursing, and keep the woman here as a dry
nurse, in order that she may not go away to carry the disease
elsewhere. Do not exaggerate to yourself the danger which will
result to the child. I am, in truth, extremely moved by your
suffering, and I will do everything--I swear it to you--that your
baby may recover as quickly as possible its perfect health. I
hope to succeed, and that soon. And now I must leave you until
"Thank you, Doctor, thank you," said Madame Dupont, faintly.
The young man rose and accompanied the doctor to the door. He
could not bring himself to speak, but stood hanging his head
until the other was gone. Then he came to his mother. He sought
to embrace her, but she repelled him--without violence, but
Her son stepped back and put his hands over his face. "Forgive
me!" he said, in a broken voice. "Are we not unhappy enough,
without hating each other?"
His mother answered: "God has punished you for your debauch by
striking at your child."
But, grief-stricken as the young man was, he could not believe
that. "Impossible!" he said. "There is not even a man
sufficiently wicked or unjust to commit the act which you
attribute to your God!"
"Yes," said his mother, sadly, "you believe in nothing."
"I believe in no such God as that," he answered.
A silence followed. When it was broken, it was by the entrance
of the nurse. She had opened the door of the room and had been
standing there for some moments, unheeded. Finally she stepped
forward. "Madame," she said, "I have thought it over; I would
rather go back to my home at once, and have only the five hundred
Madame Dupont stared at her in consternation. "What is that you
are saying? You want to return to your home?"
"Yes, ma'am," was the answer.
"But," cried George, "only ten minutes ago you were not thinking
of it."
"What has happened since then?" demanded Madame Dupont.
"I have thought it over."
"Thought it over?"
"Well, I am getting lonesome for my little one and for my
"In the last ten minutes?" exclaimed George.
"There must be something else," his mother added. "Evidently
there must be something else."
"No!" insisted the nurse.
"But I say yes!"
"Well, I'm afraid the air of Paris might not be good for me."
"You had better wait and try it."
"I would rather go back at once to my home."
"Come, now," cried Madame Dupont, "tell us why?"
"I have told you. I have thought it over."
"Thought what over?"
"Well, I have thought."
"Oh," cried the mother, "what a stupid reply! 'I have thought it
over! I have thought it over!' Thought WHAT over, I want to
"Well, everything."
"Don't you know how to tell us what?"
"I tell you, everything."
"Why," exclaimed Madame Dupont, "you are an imbecile!"
George stepped between his mother and the nurse. "Let me talk to
her," he said.
The woman came back to her old formula: "I know that we're only
poor country people."
"Listen to me, nurse," said the young man. "Only a little while
ago you were afraid that we would send you away. You were
satisfied with the wages which my mother had fixed. In addition
to those wages we had promised you a good sum when you returned
to your home. Now you tell us that you want to go away. You
see? All at once. There must be some reason; let us understand
it. There must certainly be a reason. Has anybody done anything
to you?"
"No, sir," said the woman, dropping her eyes.
"Well, then?"
"I have thought it over."
George burst out, "Don't go on repeating always the same thing--
'I have thought it over!' That's not telling us anything."
Controlling himself, he added, gently, "Come, tell me why you
want to go away?"
There was a silence. "Well?" he demanded.
"I tell you, I have thought--"
George exclaimed in despair, "It's as if one were talking to a
block of wood!"
His mother took up the conversation again. "You must realize,
you have not the right to go away."
The woman answered, "I WANT to go."
"But I will not let you leave us."
"No," interrupted George angrily, "let her go; we cannot fasten
her here."
"Very well, then," cried the exasperated mother, "since you want
to go, go! But I have certainly the right to say to you that you
are as stupid as the animals on your farm!"
"I don't say that I am not," answered the woman.
"I will not pay you the month which has just begun, and you will
pay your railroad fare for yourself."
The other drew back with a look of anger. "Oho!" she cried.
"We'll see about that!"
"Yes, we'll see about it!" cried George. "And you will get out
of here at once. Take yourself off--I will have no more to do
with you. Good evening."
"No, George," protested his mother, "don't lose control of
yourself." And then, with a great effort at calmness, "That
cannot be serious, nurse! Answer me."
"I would rather go off right away to my home, and only have my
five hundred francs."
"WHAT?" cried George, in consternation.
"What's that you are telling me?" exclaimed Madame Dupont.
"Five hundred francs?" repeated her son.
"What five hundred francs?" echoed the mother.
"The five hundred francs you promised me," said the nurse.
"We have promised you five hundred francs? WE?"
"When the child should be weaned, and if we should be satisfied
with you! That was our promise."
"No. You said you would give them to me when I was leaving. Now
I am leaving, and I want them."
Madame Dupont drew herself up, haughtily. "In the first place,"
she said, "kindly oblige me by speaking to me in another tone; do
you understand?"
The woman answered, "You have nothing to do but give me my money,
and I will say nothing more."
George went almost beside himself with rage at this. "Oh, it's
like that?" he shouted. "Very well; I'll show you!" And he
sprang to the door and opened it.
But the nurse never budged. "Give me my five hundred francs!"
she said.
George seized her by the arm and shoved her toward the door.
"You clear out of here, do you understand me? And as quickly as
you can!"
The woman shook her arm loose, and sneered into his face. "Come
now, you--you can talk to me a little more politely, eh?"
"Will you go?" shouted George, completely beside himself. "Will
you go, or must I go out and look for a policeman?"
"A policeman!" demanded the woman. "For what?"
"To put you outside! You are behaving yourself like a thief."
"A thief? I? What do you mean?"
"I mean that you are demanding money which doesn't belong to
"More than that," broke in Madame Dupont, "you are destroying
that poor little baby! You are a wicked woman!"
"I will put you out myself!" shouted George, and seized her by
the arm again.
"Oh, it's like that, is it?" retorted the nurse. "Then you
really want me to tell you why I am going away?"
"Yes, tell me!" cried he.
His mother added, "Yes, yes!"
She would have spoken differently had she chanced to look behind
her and seen Henriette, who at that moment appeared in the
doorway. She had been about to go out, when her attention had
been caught by the loud voices. She stood now, amazed, clasping
her hands together, while the nurse, shaking her fist first at
Madame Dupont and then at her son, cried loudly, "Very well! I'm
going away because I don't want to catch a filthy disease here!"
"HUSH!" cried Madame Dupont, and sprang toward her, her hands
clenched as if she would choke her.
"Be silent!" cried George, wild with terror.
But the woman rushed on without dropping her voice, "Oh, you need
not be troubling yourselves for fear anyone should overhear! All
the world knows it! Your other servants were listening with me
at your door! They heard every word your doctor said!"
"Shut up!" screamed George.
Her mother seized the woman fiercely by the arm. "Hold your
tongue!" she hissed.
But again the other shook herself loose. She was powerful, and
now her rage was not to be controlled. She waved her hands in
the air, shouting, "Let me be, let me be! I know all about your
brat--that you will never be able to raise it--that it's rotten
because it's father has a filthy disease he got from a woman of
the street!"
She got no farther. She was interrupted by a frenzied shriek
from Henriette. The three turned, horrified, just in time to see
her fall forward upon the floor, convulsed.
"My God!" cried George. He sprang toward her, and tried to lift
her, but she shrank from him, repelling him with a gesture of
disgust, of hatred, of the most profound terror. "Don't touch
me!" she screamed, like a maniac. "Don't touch me!"
It was in vain that Madame Dupont sought to control her daughterin-
law. Henriette was beside herself, frantic, she could not be
brought to listen to any one. She rushed into the other room,
and when the older woman followed her, shrieked out to be left
alone. Afterwards, she fled to her own room and barred herself
in, and George and his mother waited distractedly for hours until
she should give some sign.
Would she kill herself, perhaps? Madame Dupont hovered on guard
about the door of the nursery for fear that the mother in her fit
of insanity might attempt some harm to her child.
The nurse had slunk away abashed when she saw the consequences of
her outburst. By the time she had got her belongings packed, she
had recovered her assurance. She wanted her five hundred; also
she wanted her wages and her railroad fare home. She wanted them
at once, and she would not leave until she got them. George and
his mother, in the midst of all their anguish of mind, had to go
through a disgusting scene with this coarse and angry woman.
They had no such sum of money in the house, and the nurse refused
to accept a check. She knew nothing about a check. It was so
much paper, and might be some trick that they were playing on
her. She kept repeating her old formula, "I am nothing but a
poor country woman." Nor would she be contented with the promise
that she would receive the money the next day. She seemed to be
afraid that if she left the house she would be surrendering her
claim. So at last the distracted George to sally forth and
obtain the cash from some tradesmen in the neighborhood.
The woman took her departure. They made her sign a receipt in
full for all claims and they strove to persuade themselves that
this made them safe; but in their hearts they had no real
conviction of safety. What was the woman's signature, or her
pledged word, against the cupidity of her husband and relatives.
Always she would have the dreadful secret to hold over them, and
so they would live under the shadow of possible blackmail.
Later in the day Henriette sent for her mother-in-law. She was
white, her eyes were swollen with weeping, and she spoke in a
voice choked with sobs. She wished to return at once to her
father's home, and to take little Gervaise with her. Madame
Dupont cried out in horror at this proposition, and argued and
pleaded and wept--but all to no purpose. The girl was immovable.
She would not stay under her husband's roof, and she would take
her child with her. It was her right, and no one could refuse
The infant had been crying for hours, but that made no
difference. Henriette insisted that a cab should be called at
So she went back to the home of Monsieur Loches and told him the
hideous story. Never before in her life had she discussed such
subjects with any one, but now in her agitation she told her
father all. As George had declared to the doctor, Monsieur
Loches was a person of violent temper; at this revelation, at the
sight of his daughter's agony, he was almost beside himself. His
face turned purple, the veins stood out on his forehead; a
trembling seized him. He declared that he would kill George--
there was nothing else to do. Such a scoundrel should not be
permitted to live.
The effort which Henriette had to make to restrain him had a
calming effect upon herself. Bitter and indignant as she was,
she did not want George to be killed. She clung to her father,
beseeching him to promise her that he would not do such a thing;
and all that day and evening she watched him, unwilling to let
him out of her sight.
There was a matter which claimed her immediate attention, and
which helped to withdraw them from the contemplation of their own
sufferings. The infant must be fed and cared for--the unhappy
victim of other people's sins, whose life was now imperiled. A
dry nurse must be found at once, a nurse competent to take every
precaution and give the child every chance. This nurse must be
informed of the nature of the trouble--another matter which
required a great deal of anxious thought.
That evening came Madame Dupont, tormented by anxiety about the
child's welfare, and beseeching permission to help take care of
it. It was impossible to refuse such a request. Henriette could
not endure to see her, but the poor grandmother would come and
sit for hours in the nursery, watching the child and the nurse,
in silent agony.
This continued for days, while poor George wandered about at
home, suffering such torment of mind as can hardly be imagined.
Truly, in these days he paid for his sins; he paid a thousandfold
in agonized and impotent regret. He looked back upon the
course of his life, and traced one by one the acts which had led
him and those he loved into this nightmare of torment. He would
have been willing to give his life if he could have undone those
acts. But avenging nature offered him no such easy deliverance
as that. We shudder as we read the grim words of the Jehovah of
the ancient Hebrews; and yet not all the learning of modern times
has availed to deliver us from the cruel decree, that the sins of
the fathers shall be visited upon the children.
George wrote notes to his wife, imploring her forgiveness. He
poured out all his agony and shame to her, begging her to see him
just once, to give him a chance to plead his defense. It was not
much of a defense, to be sure; it was only that he had done no
worse than the others did--only that he was a wretched victim of
ignorance. But he loved her, he had proven that he loved her,
and he pleaded that for the sake of their child she would forgive
When all this availed nothing, he went to see the doctor, whose
advice he had so shamefully neglected. He besought this man to
intercede for him--which the doctor, of course, refused to do.
It was an extra-medical matter, he said, and George was absurd to
expect him to meddle in it.
But, as a matter of fact, the doctor had already been
interceding--he had gone farther in pleading George's cause than
he was willing to have George know. For Monsieur Loches had paid
him a visit--his purpose being to ask the doctor to continue
attendance upon the infant, and also to give Henriette a
certificate which she could use in her suit for a divorce from
her husband.
So inevitably there had been a discussion of the whole question
between the two men. The doctor had granted the first request,
but refused the second. In the first place, he said, there was a
rule of professional secrecy which would prevent him. And when
the father-in-law requested to know if the rule of professional
secrecy compelled him to protect a criminal against honest
people, the doctor answered that even if his ethics permitted it,
he would still refuse the request. "I would reproach myself
forever," he said, "if I had aided you to obtain such a divorce."
"Then," cried the old man, vehemently, "because you profess such
and such theories, because the exercise of your profession makes
you the constant witness of such miseries--therefore it is
necessary that my daughter should continue to bear that man's
name all her life!"
The doctor answered, gently, "Sir, I understand and respect your
grief. But believe me, you are not in a state of mind to decide
about these matters now."
"You are mistaken," declared the other, controlling himself with
an effort. "I have been thinking about nothing else for days. I
have discussed it with my daughter, and she agrees with me.
Surely, sir, you cannot desire that my daughter should continue
to live with a man who has struck her so brutal, so cowardly, a
"If I refuse your request," the doctor answered, "it is in the
interest of your daughter." Then, seeing the other's excitement
returning, he continued, "In your state of mind, Monsieur Loches,
I know that you will probably be abusing me before five minutes
has passed. But that will not trouble me. I have seen many
cases. And since I have made the mistake of letting myself be
trapped into this discussion, I must explain to you the reason
for my attitude. You ask of me a certificate so that you may
prove in court that your son-in-law is afflicted with syphilis."
"Precisely," said the other.
"And have you not reflected upon this--that at the same time you
will be publicly attesting that your daughter has been exposed to
the contagion? With such an admission, an admission officially
registered in the public records, do you believe that she will
find it easy to re-marry later on?"
"She will never re-marry," said the father.
"She says that today, but can you affirm that she will say the
same thing five years from now, ten years from now? I tell you
you will not obtain that divorce, because I will most certainly
refuse you the necessary certificate."
"Then," cried the other, "I will find other means of establishing
proofs. I will have the child examined by another doctor!"
The other answered. "Then you do not find that that poor little
one has been already sufficiently handicapped at the outset of
its life? Your granddaughter has a physical defect. Do you wish
to add to that a certificate of hereditary syphilis, which will
follow her all her life?"
Monsieur Loches sprang from his chair. "You mean that if the
victims seek to defend themselves, they will be struck the
harder! You mean that the law gives me no weapon against a man
who, knowing his condition, takes a young girl, sound, trusting,
innocent, and befouls her with the result of his debauches--makes
her the mother of a poor little creature, whose future is such
that those who love her the most do not know whether they ought
to pray for her life, or for her immediate deliverance? Sir," he
continued, in his orator's voice, "that man has inflicted upon
the woman he has married a supreme insult. He has made her the
victim of the most odious assault. He has degraded her--he has
brought her, so to speak, into contact with the woman of the
streets. He has created between her and that common woman I know
not what mysterious relationship. It is the poisoned blood of
the prostitute which poisons my daughter and her child; that
abject creature, she lives, she lives in us! She belongs to our
family--he has given her a seat at our hearth! He has soiled the
imagination and the thoughts of my poor child, as he has soiled
her body. He has united forever in her soul the idea of love
which she has placed so high, with I know not what horrors of the
hospitals. He has tainted her in her dignity and her modesty, in
her love as well as in her baby. He has struck her down with
physical and moral decay, he has overwhelmed her with vileness.
And yet the law is such, the customs of society are such, that
the woman cannot separate herself from that man save by the aid
of legal proceedings whose scandal will fall upon herself and
upon her child!"
Monsieur Loches had been pacing up and down the room as he spoke,
and now he clenched his fists in sudden fury.
"Very well! I will not address myself to the law. Since I
learned the truth I have been asking myself if it was not my duty
to find that monster and to put a bullet into his head, as one
does to a mad dog. I don't know what weakness, what cowardice,
has held me back, and decided me to appeal to the law. Since the
law will not protect me, I will seek justice for myself. Perhaps
his death will be a good warning for the others!"
The doctor shrugged his shoulders, as if to say that this was no
affair of his and that he would not try to interfere. But he
remarked, quietly: "You will be tried for your life."
"I shall be acquitted!" cried the other.
"Yes, but after a public revelation of all your miseries. You
will make the scandal greater, the miseries greater--that is all.
And how do you know but that on the morrow of your acquittal, you
will find yourself confronting another court, a higher and more
severe one? How do you know but that your daughter, seized at
last by pity for the man you have killed, will not demand to know
by what right you have acted so, by what right you have made an
orphan of her child? How can you know but that her child also
may some day demand an accounting of you?"
Monsieur Loches let his hands fall, and stood, a picture of
crushed despair. "Tell me then," he said, in a faint voice,
"what ought I to do?"
For a while the doctor sat looking at him. "Sir," he said, at
last, "tell me one thing. You are inflexible; you feel you have
the right to be inflexible. But are you really so certain that
it was not your duty, once upon a time, to save your daughter
from the possibility of such misfortune?"
"What?" cried the other. "My duty? What do you mean?"
"I mean this, sir. When that marriage was being discussed, you
certainly took precautions to inform yourself about the financial
condition of your future son-in-law. You demanded that he should
prove to you that his stocks and bonds were actual value, listed
on the exchange. Also, you obtained some information about his
character. In fact, you forgot only one point, the most
important of all--that was, to inquire if he was in good health.
You never did that."
The father-in-law's voice had become faint. "No," he said.
"But why not?"
"Because that is not the custom."
"Very well, but that ought to be the custom. Surely the father
of a family, before he gives his daughter to a man, should take
as much precaution as a business concern which accepts an
"You are right," was the reply, "there should be a law." The man
spoke as a deputy, having authority in these matters.
But the doctor cried, "No, no, sir! Do not make a new law. We
have too many already. There is no need of it. It would suffice
that people should know a little better what syphilis is. The
custom would establish itself very quickly for a suitor to add to
all the other documents which he presents, a certificate of a
doctor, as proof that he could be received into a family without
bringing a pestilence with him. That would be very simple. Once
let the custom be established, then the suitor would go to the
doctor for a certificate of health, just as he goes to the priest
for a certificate that he has confessed; and by that means you
would prevent a great deal of suffering in the world. Or let me
put it another way, sir. Nowadays, before you conclude a
marriage, you get the lawyers of the two families together. It
would be of at least equal importance to get their two doctors
together. You see, sir, your inquiry concerning your son-in-law
was far from complete. So your daughter may fairly ask you, why
you, being a man, being a father who ought to know these things,
did not take as much care of her health as you took of her
fortune. So it is, sir, that I say to you, forgive!"
But Monsieur Loches said again, "Never!"
And again the doctor sat and watched him for a minute. "Come,
sir," he began, finally, "since it is necessary to employ the
last argument, I will do so. To be so severe and so pitiless--
are you yourself without sin?"
The other answered, "I have never had a shameful disease."
"I do not ask you that," interrupted the doctor. "I ask you if
you have never exposed yourself to the chance of having it." And
then, reading the other's face, he went on, in a tone of quiet
certainty. "Yes, you have exposed yourself. Then, sir, it was
not virtue that you had; it was good fortune. That is one of the
things which exasperate me the most--that term 'shameful disease'
which you have just used. Like all other diseases, that is one
of our misfortunes, and it is never shameful to be unfortunate--
even if one has deserved it." The doctor paused, and then with
some excitement he went on: "Come, sir, come, we must understand
each other. Among men the most exacting, among those who with
their middle-class prudery dare not pronounce the name of
syphilis, or who make the most terrifying faces, the most
disgusted, when they consent to speak of it--who regard the
syphilitic as sinners--I should wish to know how many there are
who have never exposed thenselves to a similar misadventure.
They and they alone have the right to speak. How many are there?
Among a thousand men, are there four? Very well, then.
Excepting those four, between all the rest and the syphilitic
there is nothing but the difference of chance."
There came into the doctor's voice at this moment a note of
intense feeling; for these were matters of which evidence came to
him every day. "I tell you, sir, that such people are deserving
of sympathy, because they are suffering. If they have committed
a fault, they have at least the plea that they are expiating it.
No, sir, let me hear no more of that hypocrisy. Recall your own
youth, sir. That which afflicts your son-in-law, you have
deserved it just as much as he--more than he, perhaps.
Therefore, have pity on him; have for him the toleration which
the unpunished criminal ought to have for the criminal less
fortunate than himself upon whom the penalty has fallen. Is that
not so?"
Monsieur Loches had been listening to this discourse with the
feeling of a thief before the bar. There was nothing that he
could answer. "Sir," he stammered, "as you present this thing to
"But am I not right?" insisted the doctor.
"Perhaps you are," the other admitted. "But--I cannot say all
that to my daughter, to persuade her to go back to her husband."
"You can give her other arguments," was the answer.
"What arguments, in God's name?"
"There is no lack of them. You will say to her that a separation
would be a misfortune for all; that her husband is the only one
in the world who would be devoted enough to help her save her
child. You will say to her that out of the ruins of her first
happiness she can build herself another structure, far stronger.
And, sir, you will add to that whatever your good heart may
suggest--and we will arrange so that the next child of the pair
shall be sound and vigorous."
Monsieur Loches received this announcement with the same surprise
that George himself had manifested. "Is that possible?" he
The doctor cried: "Yes, yes, yes--a thousand times yes! There
is a phrase which I repeat on every occasion, and which I would
wish to post upon the walls. It is that syphilis is an imperious
mistress, who only demands that one should recognize her power.
She is terrible for those who think her insignificant, and gentle
with those who know how dangerous she is. You know that kind of
mistress--who is only vexed when she is neglected. You may tell
this to your daughter--you will restore her to the arms of her
husband, from whom she has no longer anything to fear, and I will
guarantee that you will be a happy grandfather two years from
Monsieur Loches at last showed that he was weakened in his
"Doctor," he said, "I do not know that I can ever go so far as
forgiveness, but I promise you that I will do no irreparable act,
and that I will not oppose a reconciliation if after the lapse of
some time--I cannot venture to say how long--my poor child should
make up her mind to a reconciliation."
"Very good," said the other. "But let me add this: If you have
another daughter, take care to avoid the fault which you
committed when you married off the first."
"But," said the old man, "I did not know."
"Ah, surely!" cried the other. "You did not know! You are a
father, and you did not know! You are a deputy, you have assumed
the responsibility and the honor of making our laws--and you did
not know! You are ignorant about syphilis, just as you probably
are ignorant about alcoholism and tuberculosis."
"No," exclaimed the other, quickly.
"Very well," said the doctor, "I will leave you out, if you wish.
I am talking of the others, the five hundred, and I don't know
how many more, who are there in the Chamber of Deputies, and who
call themselves representatives of the people. They are not able
to find a single hour to discuss these three cruel gods, to which
egotism and indifference make every day such frightful human
sacrifices. They have not sufficient leisure to combat this
ferocious trinity, which destroys every day thousands of lives.
Alcoholism! It would be necessary to forbid the manufacture of
poisons, and to restrict the number of licenses; but as one has
fear of the great distillers, who are rich and powerful, and of
the little dealers, who are the masters of universal suffrage,
one puts one's conscience to sleep by lamenting the immorality of
the working-class, and publishing little pamphlets and sermons.
Imbeciles! . . .Tuberculosis! Everybody knows the true remedy,
which would be the paying of sufficient wages, and the tearing
down of the filthy tenements into which the laborers are packed--
those who are the most useful and the most unfortunate among our
population! But needless to say, no one wants that remedy, so we
go round begging the workingmen not to spit on the sidewalks.
Wonderful! But syphilis--why do you not occupy yourself with
that? Why, since you have ministers whose duty it is to attend
to all sorts of things, do you not have a minister to attend to
the public health?"
"My dear Doctor," responded Monsieur Loches, "you fall into the
French habit of considering the government as the cause of all
evils. Show us the way, you learned gentlemen! Since that is a
matter about which you are informed, and we are ignorant, begin
by telling us what measures you believe to be necessary."
"Ah, ah!" exclaimed the other. "That's fine, indeed! It was
about eighteen years ago that a project of that nature, worked
out by the Academy of Medicine, and approved by it UNANIMOUSLY,
was sent to the proper minister. We have not yet heard his
"You really believe," inquired Monsieur Loches, in some
bewilderment, "you believe that there are some measures--"
"Sir," broke in the doctor, "before we get though, you are going
to suggest some measures yourself. Let me tell you what happened
today. When I received your card I did not know that you were
the father-in-law of George Dupont. I say that you were a
deputy, and I thought that you wanted to get some information
about these matters. There was a woman patient waiting to see
me, and I kept her in my waiting-room--saying to myself, "This is
just the sort of person that our deputies ought to talk to."
The doctor paused for a moment, then continued: "Be reassured, I
will take care of your nerves. This patient has no trouble that
is apparent to the eye. She is simply an illustration of the
argument I have been advancing--that our worst enemy is
ignorance. Ignorance--you understand me? Since I have got you
here, sir, I am going to hold you until I have managed to cure a
little of your ignorance! For I tell you, sir, it is a thing
which drives me to distraction--we MUST do something about these
conditions! Take this case, for example. Here is a woman who is
very seriously infected. I told her--well, wait; you shall see
for yourself.
The doctor went to the door and summoned into the room a woman
whom Monsieur Loches had noticed waiting there. She was verging
on old age, small, frail, and ill-nourished in appearance, poorly
dressed, and yet with a suggestion of refinement about her. She
stood near the door, twisting her hands together nervously, and
shrinking from the gaze of the strange gentleman. The doctor
began in an angry voice. "Did I not tell you to come and see me
once every eight days? Is that not true?"
The woman answered, in a faint voice, "Yes, sir."
"Well," he exclaimed, "and how long has it been since you were
"Three months, sir."
"Three months! And you believe that I can take care of you under
such conditions? I give you up! Do you understand? You
discourage me, you discourage me." There was a pause. Then,
seeing the woman's suffering, he began, in a gentler tone, "Come
now, what is the reason that you have not come? Didn't you know
that you have a serious disease--most serious?"
"Oh, yes, sir," replied the woman, "I know that very well--since
my husband died of it."
The doctor's voice bore once again its note of pity. "Your
husband died of it?"
"Yes, sir."
"He took no care of himself?"
"No, sir."
"And was not that a warning to you?"
"Doctor," the woman replied, "I would ask nothing better than to
come as often as you told me, but the cost is too great."
"How--what cost? You were coming to my free clinic."
"Yes, sir," replied the woman, "but that's during working hours,
and then it is a long way from home. There are so many sick
people, and I have to wait my turn, It is in the morning--
sometimes I lose a whole day--and then my employer is annoyed,
and he threatens to turn me off. It is things like that that
keep people from coming, until they dare not put it off any
longer. Then, too, sir--" the woman stopped, hesitating.
"Well," demanded the doctor.
"Oh, nothing, sir," she stammered. "You have been too good to me
"Go on," commanded the other. "Tell me."
"Well," murmured the woman, "I know I ought not to put on airs,
but you see I have not always been so poor. Before my husband's
misfortune, we were well fixed. So you see, I have a little
pride. I have always managed to take care of myself. I am not a
woman of the streets, and to stand around like that, with
everybody else, to be obliged to tell all one's miseries out loud
before the world! I am wrong, I know it perfectly well; I argue
with myself--but all the same, it's hard, sir; I assure you, it
is truly hard."
"Poor woman!" said the doctor; and for a while there was a
silence. Then he asked: "It was your husband who brought you
the disease?"
"Yes, sir," was the reply. "Everything which happened to us came
from him. We were living in the country when he got the disease.
He went half crazy. He no longer knew how to manage his affairs.
He gave orders here and there for considerable sums. We were not
able to find the money."
"Why did he not undergo treatment?"
"He didn't know then. We were sold out, and we came to Paris.
But we hadn't a penny. He decided to go to the hospital for
"And then?"
"Why, they looked him over, but they refused him any medicine."
"How was that?"
"Because we had been in Paris only three months. If one hasn't
been a resident six months, one has no right to free medicine."
"Is that true?" broke in Monsieur Loches quickly.
"Yes," said the doctor, "that's the rule."
"So you see," said the woman, "it was not our fault."
"You never had children?" inquired the doctor.
"I was never able to bring one to birth," was the answer. "My
husband was taken just at the beginning of our marriage--it was
while he was serving in the army. You know, sir--there are women
about the garrisons--" She stopped, and there was a long
"Come," said the doctor, "that's all right. I will arrange it
with you. You can come here to my office, and you can come on
Sunday mornings." And as the poor creature started to express
her gratitude, he slipped a coin into her hand. "Come, come;
take it," he said gruffly. "You are not going to play proud with
me. No, no, I have no time to listen to you. Hush!" And he
pushed her out of the door.
Then he turned to the deputy. "You heard her story, sir," he
said. "Her husband was serving his time in the army; it was you
law-makers who compelled him to do that. And there are women
about the garrisons--you heard how her voice trembled as she said
that? Take my advice, sir, and look up the statistics as to the
prevalence of this disease among our soldiers. Come to some of
my clinics, and let me introduce you to other social types. You
don't care very much about soldiers, perhaps--they belong to the
lower classes, and you think of them as rough men. But let me
show you what is going on among our college students--among the
men our daughters are some day to marry. Let me show you the
women who prey upon them! Perhaps, who knows--I can show you the
very woman who was the cause of all the misery in your own
And as Monsieur Loches rose from his chair, the doctor came to
him and took him by the hand. "Promise me, sir," he said,
earnestly, "that you will come back and let me teach you more
about these matters. It is a chance that I must not let go--the
first time in my life that I ever got hold of a real live deputy!
Come and make a study of this subject, and let us try to work out
some sensible plan, and get seriously to work to remedy these
frightful evils!"
George lived with his mother after Henriette had left his home.
He was wretchedly unhappy and lonely. He could find no interest
in any of the things which had pleased him before. He was
ashamed to meet any of his friends, because he imagined that
everyone must have heard the dreadful story--or because he was
not equal to making up explanations for his mournful state. He
no longer cared much about his work. What was the use of making
a reputation or earning large fees when one had nothing to spend
them for?
All his thoughts were fixed upon the wife and child he had lost.
He was reminded of Henriette in a thousand ways, and each way
brought him a separate pang of grief. He had never realized how
much he had come to depend upon her in every little thing--until
now, when her companionship was withdrawn from him, and
everything seemed to be a blank. He would come home at night,
and opposite to him at the dinner-table would be his mother,
silent and spectral. How different from the days when Henriette
was there, radiant and merry, eager to be told everything that
had happened to him through the day!
There was also his worry about little Gervaise. He might no
longer hear how she was doing, for he could not get up courage to
ask his mother the news. Thus poor George was paying for his
sins. He could make no complaints against the price, however
high--only sometimes he wondered whether he would be able to pay
it. There were times of such discouragement that he thought of
different ways of killing himself.
A curious adventure befell him during this period. He was
walking one day in the park, when he saw approaching a girl whose
face struck him as familiar. At first he could not recollect
where he had seen her. It was only when she was nearly opposite
him that he realized--it was the girl who had been the cause of
all his misery!
He tried to look away, but he was too late. Her eyes had caught
his, and she nodded and then stopped, exclaiming, "Why, how do
you do?"
George had to face her. "How do you do?" he responded, weakly.
She held out her hand and he had to take it, but there was not
much welcome in his clasp. "Where have you been keeping
yourself?" she asked. Then, as he hesitated, she laughed goodnaturedly,
"What's the matter? You don't seem glad to see me."
The girl--Therese was her name--had a little package under her
arm, as if she had been shopping. She was not well dressed, as
when George had met her before, and doubtless she thought that
was the reason for his lack of cordiality. This made him rather
ashamed, and so, only half realizing what he was doing, he began
to stroll along with her.
"Why did you never come to see me again?" she asked.
George hesitated. "I--I--" he stammered--"I've been married
since then."
She laughed. "Oh! So that's it!" And then, as they came to a
bench under some trees, "Won't you sit down a while?" There was
allurement in her glance, but it made George shudder. It was
incredible to him that he had ever been attracted by this crude
girl. The spell was now broken completely.
She quickly saw that something was wrong. "You don't seem very
cheerful," she said. "What's the matter?"
And the man, staring at her, suddenly blurted out, "Don't you
know what you did to me?"
"What I did to you?" Therese repeated wonderingly.
"You must know!" he insisted.
And then she tried to meet his gaze and could not. "Why--" she
There was silence between them. When George spoke again his
voice was low and trembling. "You ruined my whole life," he
said--"not only mine, but my family's. How could you do it?"
She strove to laugh it off. "A cheerful topic for an afternoon
For a long while George did not answer. Then, almost in a
whisper, he repeated, "How could you do it?"
"Some one did it to me first," was the response. "A man!"
"Yes," said George, "but he didn't know."
"How can you tell whether he knew or not?"
"You knew?" he inquired, wonderingly.
Therese hesitated. "Yes, I knew," she said at last, defiantly.
"I have known for years."
"And I'm not the only man."
She laughed. "I guess not!"
There followed a long pause. At last he resumed, "I don't want
to blame you; there's nothing to be gained by that; it's done,
and can't be undone. But sometimes I wonder about it. I should
like to understand--why did you do it?"
"Why? That's easy enough. I did it because I have to live."
"You live that way?" he exclaimed.
"Why of course. What did you think?"
"I thought you were a--a--" He hesitated.
"You thought I was respectable," laughed Therese. "Well, that's
just a little game I was playing on you."
"But I didn't give you any money!" he argued.
"Not that time," she said, "but I thought you would come back."
He sat gazing at her. "And you earn your living that way still?"
he asked. "When you know what's the matter with you! When you
"What can I do? I have to live, don't I?"
"But don't you even take care of yourself? Surely there must be
some way, some place--"
"The reformatory, perhaps," she sneered. "No, thanks! I'll go
there when the police catch me, not before. I know some girls
that have tried that."
"But aren't you afraid?" cried the man. "And the things that
will happen to you! Have you ever talked to a doctor--or read a
"I know," she said. "I've seen it all. If it comes to me, I'll
go over the side of one of the bridges some dark night."
George sat lost in thought. A strange adventure it seemed to
him--to meet this girl under such different circumstances! It
was as if he were watching a play from behind the scenes instead
of in front. If only he had had this new view in time--how
different would have been his life! And how terrible it was to
think of the others who didn't know--the audience who were still
sitting out in front, watching the spectacle, interested in it!"
His thoughts came back to Therese. He was curious about her and
the life she lived. "Tell me a little about it," he said. "How
you came to be doing this." And he added, "Don't think I want to
preach; I'd really like to understand."
"Oh, it's a common story," she said--"nothing especially
romantic. I came to Paris when I was a girl. My parents had
died, and I had no friends, and I didn't know what to do. I got
a place as a nursemaid. I was seventeen years old then, and I
didn't know anything. I believed what I was told, and I believed
my employer. His wife was ill in a hospital, and he said he
wanted to marry me when she died. Well, I liked him, and I was
sorry for him--and then the first thing I knew I had a baby. And
then the wife came back, and I was turned off. I had been a
fool, of course. If I had been in her place should have done
just what she did."
The girl was speaking in a cold, matter-of-fact voice, as of
things about which she was no longer able to suffer. "So, there
I was--on the street," she went on. "You have always had money,
a comfortable home, education, friends to help you--all that.
You can't imagine how it is to be in the world without any of
these things. I lived on my savings as long as I could; then I
had to leave my baby in a foundling's home, and I went out to do
my five hours on the boulevards. You know the game, I have no
Yes, George knew the game. Somehow or other he no longer felt
bitter towards this poor creature. She was part of the system of
which he was a victim also. There was nothing to be gained by
hating each other. Just as the doctor said, what was needed was
enlightenment. "Listen," he said, "why don't you try to get
"I haven't got the price," was the answer.
"Well," he said, hesitatingly, "I know a doctor--one of the
really good men. He has a free clinic, and I've no doubt he
would take you in if I asked him to."
"YOU ask him?" echoed the other, looking at George in surprise.
The young man felt somewhat uncomfortable. He was not used to
playing the role of the good Samaritan. "I--I need not tell him
about us," he stammered. "I could just say that I met you. I
have had such a wretched time myself, I feel sorry for anybody
that's in the same plight. I should like to help you if I
The girl sat staring before her, lost in thought. "I have
treated you badly, I guess," she said. "I'm sorry. I'm ashamed
of myself."
George took a pencil and paper from his pocket and wrote the
doctor's address. "Here it is," he said, in a business-like way,
because he felt that otherwise he could become sentimental. He
was half tempted to tell the woman what had happened to him, and
all about Henriette and the sick child; but he realized that that
would not do. So he rose and shook hands with her and left.
The next time he saw the doctor he told him about this girl. He
decided to tell him the truth--having already made so many
mistakes trying to conceal things. The doctor agreed to treat
the woman, making the condition that George promise not to see
her again.
The young man was rather shocked at this. "Doctor," he
exclaimed, "I assure you you are mistaken. The thing you have in
mind would be utterly impossible."
"I know," said the other, "you think so. But I think, young man,
that I know more about life than you do. When a man and a woman
have once committed such a sin, it is easy for them to slip back.
The less time they spend talking about their misfortunes, and
being generous and forbearing to each other, the better for them
"But, Doctor," cried George. "I love Henriette! I could not
possibly love anyone else. It would be horrible to me!"
"Yes," said the doctor. "But you are not living with Henriette.
You are wandering round, not knowing what to do with yourself
There was no need for anybody to tell George that. "What do you
think?" he asked abruptly. "Is there any hope for me?"
"I think there is," said the other, who, in spite of his
resolution, had become a sort of ambassador for the unhappy
husband. He had to go to the Loches house to attend the child,
and so he could not help seeing Henriette, and talking to her
about the child's health and her own future. He considered that
George had had his lesson, and urged upon the young wife that he
would be wiser in future, and safe to trust.
George had indeed learned much. He got new lessons every time he
went to call at the physician's office--he could read them in the
faces of the people he saw there. One day when he was alone in
the waiting-room, the doctor came out of his inner office,
talking to an elderly gentleman, whom George recognized as the
father of one of his classmates at college. The father was a
little shopkeeper, and the young man remembered how pathetically
proud he had been of his son. Could it be, thought George, that
this old man was a victim of syphilis?
But it was the son, and not the father, who was the subject of
the consultation. The old man was speaking in a deeply moved
voice, and he stood so that George could not help hearing what he
said. "Perhaps you can't understand," he said, "just what it
means to us--the hopes we had of that boy! Such a fine fellow he
was, and a good fellow, too, sir! We were so proud of him; we
had bled our veins to keep him in college--and now just see!"
"Don't despair, sir," said the doctor, "we'll try to cure him."
And he added with that same note of sorrow in his voice which
George had heard, "Why did you wait so long before you brought
the boy to me?"
"How was I to know what he had?" cried the other. "He didn't
dare tell me, sir--he was afraid of my scolding him. And in the
meantime the disease was running its course. When he realized
that he had it, he went secretly to one of the quacks, who robbed
him, and didn't cure him. You know how it is, sir."
"Yes, I know," said the doctor.
"Such things ought not to be permitted," cried the old man.
"What is our government about that it allows such things to go
on? Take the conditions there at the college where my poor boy
was ruined. At the very gates of the building these women are
waiting for the lads! Ought they to be permitted to debauch
young boys only fifteen years old? Haven't we got police enough
to prevent a thing like that? Tell me, sir!"
"One would think so," said the doctor, patiently.
"But is it that the police don't want to?"
"No doubt they have the same excuse as all the rest--they don't
know. Take courage, sir; we have cured worse cases than your
son's. And some day, perhaps, we shall be able to change these
So he went on with the man, leaving George with something to
think about. How much he could have told them about what had
happened to that young fellow when only fifteen years old! It
had not been altogether the fault of the women who were lurking
outside of the college gates; it was a fact that the boy's
classmates had teased him and ridiculed him, had literally made
his life a torment, until he had yielded to temptation.
It was the old, old story of ignorant and unguided schoolboys all
over the world! They thought that to be chaste was to be weak
and foolish; that a fellow was not a man unless he led a life of
debauchery like the rest. And what did they know about these
dreadful diseases? They had the most horrible superstitions--
ideas of cures so loathsome that they could not be set down in
print; ideas as ignorant and destructive as those of savages in
the heart of Africa. And you might hear them laughing and
jesting about one another's condition. They might be afflicted
with diseases which would have the most terrible after-effects
upon their whole lives and upon their families--diseases which
cause tens of thousands of surgical operations upon women, and a
large percentage of blindness and idiocy in children--and you
might hear them confidently express the opinion that these
diseases were no worse than a bad cold!
And all this mass of misery and ignorance covered over and
clamped down by a taboo of silence, imposed by the horrible
superstition of sex-prudery! George went out from the doctor's
office trembling with excitement over this situation. Oh, why
had not some one warned him in time? Why didn't the doctors and
the teachers lift up their voices and tell young men about these
frightful dangers? He wanted to go out in the highways and
preach it himself--except that he dared not, because he could not
explain to the world his own sudden interest in this forbidden
These was only one person he dared to talk to: that was his
mother--to whom he ought to have talked many, many years before.
He was moved to mention to her the interview he had overheard in
the doctor's office. In a sudden burst of grief he told her of
his struggles and temptations; he pleaded with her to go to
Henriette once more--to tell her these things, and try to make
her realize that he alone was not to blame for them, that they
were a condition which prevailed everywhere, that the only
difference between her husband and other men was that he had had
the misfortune to be caught.
There was pressure being applied to Henriette from several sides.
After all, what could she do? She was comfortable in her
father's home, so far as the physical side of things went; but
she knew that all her friends were gossiping and speculating
about her separation from her husband, and sooner or later she
would have to make up her mind, either to separate permanently
from George or to return to him. There was not much happiness
for her in the thought of getting a divorce from a man whom deep
in her heart she loved. She would be practically a widow the
rest of her life, and the home in which poor little Gervaise
would be brought up would not be a cheerful one.
George was ready to offer any terms, if only she would come back
to his home. They might live separate lives for as long as
Henriette wished. They would have no more children until the
doctor declared it was quite safe; and in the meantime he would
be humble and patient, and would try his best to atone for the
wrong that he had done her.
To these arguments Madame Dupont added others of her own. She
told the girl some things which through bitter experience she had
learned about the nature and habits of men; things that should be
told to every girl before marriage, but which almost all of them
are left to find out afterwards, with terrible suffering and
disillusionment. Whatever George's sins may have been, he was a
man who had been chastened by suffering, and would know how to
value a woman's love for the rest of his life. Not all men knew
that--not even those who had been fortunate in escaping from the
so-called "shameful disease."
Henriette was also hearing arguments from her father, who by this
time had had time to think things over, and had come to the
conclusion that the doctor was right. He had noted his son-inlaw's
patience and penitence, and had also made sure that in
spite of everything Henriette still loved him. The baby
apparently was doing well; and the Frenchman, with his strong
sense of family ties, felt it a serious matter to separate a
child permanently from its father. So in the end he cast the
weight of his influence in favor of a reconciliation, and
Henriette returned to her husband, upon terms which the doctor
laid down.
The doctor played in these negotiations the part which he had not
been allowed to play in the marriage. For the deputy was now
thoroughly awake to the importance of the duty he owed his
daughter. In fact, he had become somewhat of a "crank" upon the
whole subject. He had attended several of the doctor's clinics,
and had read books and pamphlets on the subject of syphilis, and
was now determined that there should be some practical steps
towards reform.
At the outset, he had taken the attitude of the average
legislator, that the thing to do was to strengthen the laws
against prostitution, and to enforce them more strictly. He
echoed the cry of the old man whom George had heard in the
doctor's office: "Are there not enough police?"
"We must go to the source," he declared. "We must proceed
against these miserable women--veritable poisoners that they
He really thought this was going to the source! But the doctor
was quick to answer his arguments. "Poisoners?" he said. "You
forget that they have first been poisoned. Every one of these
women who communicates the disease has first received it from
some man."
Monsieur Loches advanced to his second idea, to punish the men.
But the doctor had little interest in this idea either. He had
seen it tried so many times--such a law could never be enforced.
What must come first was education, and by this means a
modification of morals. People must cease to treat syphilis as a
mysterious evil, of which not even the name could be pronounced.
"But," objected the other, "one cannot lay it bare to children in
our educational institutions!"
"Why not?" asked the doctor.
"Because, sir, there are curiosities which it would be imprudent
to awaken."
The doctor became much excited whenever he heard this argument.
"You believe that you are preventing these curiosities from
awakening?" he demanded. "I appeal to those--both men and
women--who have passed through colleges and boarding schools!
Such curiosities cannot be smothered, and they satisfy themselves
as best they can, basely, vilely. I tell you, sir, there is
nothing immoral about the act which perpetuates life by means of
love. But we organize around it, so far as concerns our
children, a gigantic and rigorous conspiracy of silence. The
worthy citizen takes his daughter and his son to popular musical
comedies, where they listen to things which would make a monkey
blush; but it is forbidden to discuss seriously before the young
that act of love which people seem to think they should only know
of through blasphemies and profanations! Either that act is a
thing of which people can speak without blushing--or else, sir,
it is a matter for the innuendoes of the cabaret and the
witticisms of the messroom! Pornography is admitted, but science
is not! I tell you, sir, that is the thing which must be
changed! We must elevate the soul of the young man by taking
these facts out of the realm of mystery and of slang. We must
awaken in him a pride in that creative power with which each one
of us is endowed. We must make him understand that he is a sort
of temple in which is prepared the future of the race, and we
must teach him that he must transmit, intact, the heritage
entrusted to him--the precious heritage which has been built out
of the tears and miseries and sufferings of an interminable line
of ancestors!"
So the doctor argued. He brought forth case after case to prove
that the prostitute was what she was, not because of innate
vileness, but because of economic conditions. It happened that
the deputy came to one of the clinics where he met Therese. The
doctor brought her into his consulting room, after telling her
that the imposing-looking gentleman was a friend of the director
of the opera, and might be able to recommend her for a position
on the stage to which she aspired. "Tell him all about
yourself," he said, "how you live, and what you do, and what you
would like to do. You will get him interested in you."
So the poor girl retold the story of her life. She spoke in a
matter-of-fact voice, and when she came to tell how she had been
obliged to leave her baby in the foundling asylum, she was
surprised that Monsieur Loches showed horror. "What could I do?"
she demanded. "How could I have taken care of it?"
"Didn't you ever miss it?" he asked.
"Of course I missed it. But what difference did that make? It
would have died of hunger with me."
"Still," he said, "it was your child--"
"It was the father's child, too, wasn't it? Much attention he
paid to it! If I had been sure of getting money enough, I would
have put it out to nurse. But with the twenty-five or thirty
francs a month I could have earned as a servant, could I have
paid for a baby? That's the situation a girl faces--so long as I
wanted to remain honest, it was impossible for me to keep my
child. You answer, perhaps, 'You didn't stay honest anyway.'
That's true. But then--when you are hungry, and a nice young
fellow offers you dinner, you'd have to be made of wood to refuse
him. Of course, if I had had a trade--but I didn't have any. So
I went on the street--You know how it is."
"Tell us about it," said the doctor. "This gentleman is from the
"Is that so?" said the girl. "I never supposed there was anyone
who didn't know about such things. Well, I took the part of a
little working-girl. A very simple dress--things I had made
especially for that--a little bundle in a black napkin carried in
my hand--so I walked along where the shops are. It's tiresome,
because to do it right, you have to patter along fast. Then I
stop before a shop, and nine times out of ten, there you are! A
funny thing is that the men--you'd imagine they had agreed on the
words to approach you with. They have only two phrases; they
never vary them. It's either, 'You are going fast, little one.'
Or it's, 'Aren't you afraid all alone?' One thing or the other.
One knows pretty well what they mean. Isn't it so?" The girl
paused, then went on. "Again, I would get myself up as a young
widow. There, too, one has to walk fast: I don't know why that
should be so, but it is. After a minute or two of conversation,
they generally find out that I am not a young widow, but that
doesn't make any difference--they go on just the same."
"Who are the men?" asked the deputy. "Clerks? Traveling
"Not much," she responded. "I keep a lookout for gentlemen--like
"They SAY they are gentlemen," he suggested.
"Sometimes I can see it," was the response. "Sometimes they wear
orders. It's funny--if they have on a ribbon when you first
notice them, they follow you, and presto--the ribbon is gone! I
always laugh over that. I've watched them in the glass of the
shop windows. They try to look unconcerned, but as they walk
along they snap out the ribbon with their thumb--as one shells
little peas, you know."
She paused; then, as no one joined in her laugh, she continued,
"Well, at last the police got after me, That's a story that I've
never been able to understand. Those filthy men gave me a nasty
disease, and then I was to be shut in prison for it! That was a
little too much, it seems to me."
"Well," said the doctor, grimly, "you revenged yourself on them--
from what you have told me."
The other laughed. "Oh, yes," she said. "I had my innings."
She turned to Monsieur Loches. "You want me to tell you that?
Well, just on the very day I learned that the police were after
me, I was coming home furious, naturally. It was on the
Boulevard St. Denis, if you know the place--and whom do you think
I met? My old master--the one who got me into trouble, you know.
There it was, God's own will! I said to myself, 'Now, my good
fellow, here's the time where you pay me what you owe me, and
with interest, too!' I put on a little smile--oh, it didn't take
very long, you may be sure!"
The woman paused; her face darkened, and she went on, in a voice
trembling with agitation: "When I had left him, I was seized
with a rage. A sort of madness got into my blood. I took on all
the men who offered themselves, for whatever they offered me, for
nothing, if they didn't offer me anything. I took as many as I
could, the youngest ones and the handsomest ones. Just so! I
only gave them back what they had given to me. And since that
time I haven't really cared about anyone any more. I just turned
it all into a joke." She paused, and then looking at the deputy,
and reading in his face the horror with which he was regarding
her, "Oh, I am not the only one!" she exclaimed. "There are lots
of other women who do the same. To be sure, it is not for
vengeance--it is because they must have something to eat. For
even if you have syphilis, you have to eat, don't you? Eh?"
She had turned to the doctor, but he did not answer. There was a
long silence; and then thinking that his friend, the deputy, had
heard enough for one session, the doctor rose. He dismissed the
woman, the cause of all George Dupont's misfortunes, and turning
to Monsieur Loches, said: "It was on purpose that I brought that
wretched prostitute before you. In her the whole story is summed
up--not merely the story of your son-in-law, but that of all the
victims of the red plague. That woman herself is a victim, and
she is a symbol of the evil which we have created and which falls
upon our own heads again. I could add nothing to her story, I
only ask you, Monsieur Loches--when next you are proposing new
laws in the Chamber of Deputies, not to forget the horrors which
that poor woman has exposed to you!"

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