Part 1 out of 3
Damaged Goods, The Great Play "Les Avaries" of Eugene Brieux
Novelized by Upton Sinclair
Typed by John P. Roberts, III
The Great Play "Les Avaries" of Eugene Brieux
Novelized with the approval of the author
by Upton Sinclair
THE PRODUCTION OF EUGENE BRIEUX'S PLAY, "LES AVARIES," OR,
TO GIVE IT ITS ENGLISH TITLE, "DAMAGED GOODS," HAS INITIATED A
MOVEMENT IN THIS COUNTRY WHICH MUST BE REGARDED AS EPOCH-MAKING.
--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.
PRESS COMMENTS ON THE PLAY
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:
RABBI SIMON, OF THE WASHINGTON HEBREW CONGREGATION--If I could
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
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.
JUSTICE DANIEL THEW WRIGHT--I feel quite sure that DAMAGED GOODS
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 is 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 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
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
A letter to Mr. Bennett from Dr. Hills, Pastor of Plymouth
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,
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
whole 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
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 right 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 full-
blooded 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
"But why?" asked the mother. "Henriette is a lovely girl and a
"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
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, nor 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 whole 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 truth-
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
"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
The doctor returned, calm and impassive, and seated himself in
"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
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--
"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
"Yes, yes," exclaimed George, "but the remedies are worse than
"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
"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.
"I repeat it to you; if you take care of yourself properly for a
long time, conscientiously, you have little to fear."
"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?
"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 in 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
"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
The other answered, "No! No! No!"
George caught him by the hand, imploringly. "Yes! Science in
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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