Part 2 out of 3
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!"
"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?"
"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
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
"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 our 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
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."
"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 with 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
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
"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
"But, Doctor, if we put her on the bottle--our little one--she
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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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.
"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
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.
"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."
"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?
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"No, sir," said the woman, dropping her eyes.
"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
"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
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!"
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
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
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 daughter-
in-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 thousand-
fold 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
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
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
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?"
"He took no care of himself?"
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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 good-
naturedly, "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
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
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
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