Part 3 out of 3
So he went on with the man, leaving George with something to
think about. How much he could have told them about what had
happened to that young fellow when only fifteen years old! It
had not been altogether the fault of the women who were lurking
outside of the college gates; it was a fact that the boy's
classmates had teased him and ridiculed him, had literally made
his life a torment, until he had yielded to temptation.
It was the old, old story of ignorant and unguided schoolboys all
over the world! They thought that to be chaste was to be weak
and foolish; that a fellow was not a man unless he led a life of
debauchery like the rest. And what did they know about these
dreadful diseases? They had the most horrible superstitions--
ideas of cures so loathsome that they could not be set down in
print; ideas as ignorant and destructive as those of savages in
the heart of Africa. And you might hear them laughing and
jesting about one another's condition. They might be afflicted
with diseases which would have the most terrible after-effects
upon their whole lives and upon their families--diseases which
cause tens of thousands of surgical operations upon women, and a
large percentage of blindness and idiocy in children--and you
might hear them confidently express the opinion that these
diseases were no worse than a bad cold!
And all this mass of misery and ignorance covered over and
clamped down by a taboo of silence, imposed by the horrible
superstition of sex-prudery! George went out from the doctor's
office trembling with excitement over this situation. Oh, why
had not some one warned him in time? Why didn't the doctors and
the teachers lift up their voices and tell young men about these
frightful dangers? He wanted to go out in the highways and
preach it himself--except that he dared not, because he could not
explain to the world his own sudden interest in this forbidden
These was only one person he dared to talk to: that was his
mother--to whom he ought to have talked many, many years before.
He was moved to mention to her the interview he had overheard in
the doctor's office. In a sudden burst of grief he told her of
his struggles and temptations; he pleaded with her to go to
Henriette once more--to tell her these things, and try to make
her realize that he alone was not to blame for them, that they
were a condition which prevailed everywhere, that the only
difference between her husband and other men was that he had had
the misfortune to be caught.
There was pressure being applied to Henriette from several sides.
After all, what could she do? She was comfortable in her
father's home, so far as the physical side of things went; but
she knew that all her friends were gossiping and speculating
about her separation from her husband, and sooner or later she
would have to make up her mind, either to separate permanently
from George or to return to him. There was not much happiness
for her in the thought of getting a divorce from a man whom deep
in her heart she loved. She would be practically a widow the
rest of her life, and the home in which poor little Gervaise
would be brought up would not be a cheerful one.
George was ready to offer any terms, if only she would come back
to his home. They might live separate lives for as long as
Henriette wished. They would have no more children until the
doctor declared it was quite safe; and in the meantime he would
be humble and patient, and would try his best to atone for the
wrong that he had done her.
To these arguments Madame Dupont added others of her own. She
told the girl some things which through bitter experience she had
learned about the nature and habits of men; things that should be
told to every girl before marriage, but which almost all of them
are left to find out afterwards, with terrible suffering and
disillusionment. Whatever George's sins may have been, he was a
man who had been chastened by suffering, and would know how to
value a woman's love for the rest of his life. Not all men knew
that--not even those who had been fortunate in escaping from the
so-called "shameful disease."
Henriette was also hearing arguments from her father, who by this
time had had time to think things over, and had come to the
conclusion that the doctor was right. He had noted his son-in-
law's patience and penitence, and had also made sure that in
spite of everything Henriette still loved him. The baby
apparently was doing well; and the Frenchman, with his strong
sense of family ties, felt it a serious matter to separate a
child permanently from its father. So in the end he cast the
weight of his influence in favor of a reconciliation, and
Henriette returned to her husband, upon terms which the doctor
The doctor played in these negotiations the part which he had not
been allowed to play in the marriage. For the deputy was now
thoroughly awake to the importance of the duty he owed his
daughter. In fact, he had become somewhat of a "crank" upon the
whole subject. He had attended several of the doctor's clinics,
and had read books and pamphlets on the subject of syphilis, and
was now determined that there should be some practical steps
At the outset, he had taken the attitude of the average
legislator, that the thing to do was to strengthen the laws
against prostitution, and to enforce them more strictly. He
echoed the cry of the old man whom George had heard in the
doctor's office: "Are there not enough police?"
"We must go to the source," he declared. "We must proceed
against these miserable women--veritable poisoners that they
He really thought this was going to the source! But the doctor
was quick to answer his arguments. "Poisoners?" he said. "You
forget that they have first been poisoned. Every one of these
women who communicates the disease has first received it from
Monsieur Loches advanced to his second idea, to punish the men.
But the doctor had little interest in this idea either. He had
seen it tried so many times--such a law could never be enforced.
What must come first was education, and by this means a
modification of morals. People must cease to treat syphilis as a
mysterious evil, of which not even the name could be pronounced.
"But," objected the other, "one cannot lay it bare to children in
our educational institutions!"
"Why not?" asked the doctor.
"Because, sir, there are curiosities which it would be imprudent
The doctor became much excited whenever he heard this argument.
"You believe that you are preventing these curiosities from
awakening?" he demanded. "I appeal to those--both men and
women--who have passed through colleges and boarding schools!
Such curiosities cannot be smothered, and they satisfy themselves
as best they can, basely, vilely. I tell you, sir, there is
nothing immoral about the act which perpetuates life by means of
love. But we organize around it, so far as concerns our
children, a gigantic and rigorous conspiracy of silence. The
worthy citizen takes his daughter and his son to popular musical
comedies, where they listen to things which would make a monkey
blush; but it is forbidden to discuss seriously before the young
that act of love which people seem to think they should only know
of through blasphemies and profanations! Either that act is a
thing of which people can speak without blushing--or else, sir,
it is a matter for the innuendoes of the cabaret and the
witticisms of the messroom! Pornography is admitted, but science
is not! I tell you, sir, that is the thing which must be
changed! We must elevate the soul of the young man by taking
these facts out of the realm of mystery and of slang. We must
awaken in him a pride in that creative power with which each one
of us is endowed. We must make him understand that he is a sort
of temple in which is prepared the future of the race, and we
must teach him that he must transmit, intact, the heritage
entrusted to him--the precious heritage which has been built out
of the tears and miseries and sufferings of an interminable line
So the doctor argued. He brought forth case after case to prove
that the prostitute was what she was, not because of innate
vileness, but because of economic conditions. It happened that
the deputy came to one of the clinics where he met Therese. The
doctor brought her into his consulting room, after telling her
that the imposing-looking gentleman was a friend of the director
of the opera, and might be able to recommend her for a position
on the stage to which she aspired. "Tell him all about
yourself," he said, "how you live, and what you do, and what you
would like to do. You will get him interested in you."
So the poor girl retold the story of her life. She spoke in a
matter-of-fact voice, and when she came to tell how she had been
obliged to leave her baby in the foundling asylum, she was
surprised that Monsieur Loches showed horror. "What could I do?"
she demanded. "How could I have taken care of it?"
"Didn't you ever miss it?" he asked.
"Of course I missed it. But what difference did that make? It
would have died of hunger with me."
"Still," he said, "it was your child--"
"It was the father's child, too, wasn't it? Much attention he
paid to it! If I had been sure of getting money enough, I would
have put it out to nurse. But with the twenty-five or thirty
francs a month I could have earned as a servant, could I have
paid for a baby? That's the situation a girl faces--so long as I
wanted to remain honest, it was impossible for me to keep my
child. You answer, perhaps, 'You didn't stay honest anyway.'
That's true. But then--when you are hungry, and a nice young
fellow offers you dinner, you'd have to be made of wood to refuse
him. Of course, if I had had a trade--but I didn't have any. So
I went on the street--You know how it is."
"Tell us about it," said the doctor. "This gentleman is from the
"Is that so?" said the girl. "I never supposed there was anyone
who didn't know about such things. Well, I took the part of a
little working-girl. A very simple dress--things I had made
especially for that--a little bundle in a black napkin carried in
my hand--so I walked along where the shops are. It's tiresome,
because to do it right, you have to patter along fast. Then I
stop before a shop, and nine times out of ten, there you are! A
funny thing is that the men--you'd imagine they had agreed on the
words to approach you with. They have only two phrases; they
never vary them. It's either, 'You are going fast, little one.'
Or it's, 'Aren't you afraid all alone?' One thing or the other.
One knows pretty well what they mean. Isn't it so?" The girl
paused, then went on. "Again, I would get myself up as a young
widow. There, too, one has to walk fast: I don't know why that
should be so, but it is. After a minute or two of conversation,
they generally find out that I am not a young widow, but that
doesn't make any difference--they go on just the same."
"Who are the men?" asked the deputy. "Clerks? Traveling
"Not much," she responded. "I keep a lookout for gentlemen--like
"They SAY they are gentlemen," he suggested.
"Sometimes I can see it," was the response. "Sometimes they wear
orders. It's funny--if they have on a ribbon when you first
notice them, they follow you, and presto--the ribbon is gone! I
always laugh over that. I've watched them in the glass of the
shop windows. They try to look unconcerned, but as they walk
along they snap out the ribbon with their thumb--as one shells
little peas, you know."
She paused; then, as no one joined in her laugh, she continued,
"Well, at last the police got after me, That's a story that I've
never been able to understand. Those filthy men gave me a nasty
disease, and then I was to be shut in prison for it! That was a
little too much, it seems to me."
"Well," said the doctor, grimly, "you revenged yourself on them--
from what you have told me."
The other laughed. "Oh, yes," she said. "I had my innings."
She turned to Monsieur Loches. "You want me to tell you that?
Well, just on the very day I learned that the police were after
me, I was coming home furious, naturally. It was on the
Boulevard St. Denis, if you know the place--and whom do you think
I met? My old master--the one who got me into trouble, you know.
There it was, God's own will! I said to myself, 'Now, my good
fellow, here's the time where you pay me what you owe me, and
with interest, too!' I put on a little smile--oh, it didn't take
very long, you may be sure!"
The woman paused; her face darkened, and she went on, in a voice
trembling with agitation: "When I had left him, I was seized
with a rage. A sort of madness got into my blood. I took on all
the men who offered themselves, for whatever they offered me, for
nothing, if they didn't offer me anything. I took as many as I
could, the youngest ones and the handsomest ones. Just so! I
only gave them back what they had given to me. And since that
time I haven't really cared about anyone any more. I just turned
it all into a joke." She paused, and then looking at the deputy,
and reading in his face the horror with which he was regarding
her, "Oh, I am not the only one!" she exclaimed. "There are lots
of other women who do the same. To be sure, it is not for
vengeance--it is because they must have something to eat. For
even if you have syphilis, you have to eat, don't you? Eh?"
She had turned to the doctor, but he did not answer. There was a
long silence; and then thinking that his friend, the deputy, had
heard enough for one session, the doctor rose. He dismissed the
woman, the cause of all George Dupont's misfortunes, and turning
to Monsieur Loches, said: "It was on purpose that I brought that
wretched prostitute before you. In her the whole story is summed
up--not merely the story of your son-in-law, but that of all the
victims of the red plague. That woman herself is a victim, and
she is a symbol of the evil which we have created and which falls
upon our own heads again. I could add nothing to her story, I
only ask you, Monsieur Loches--when next you are proposing new
laws in the Chamber of Deputies, not to forget the horrors which
that poor woman has exposed to you!"