Part 2 out of 9
vestments; some seemed to belong to the working class; others, again, to
the well-to-do class.
The same contrast of condition was observable among the persons who came to
see the prisoners; they were almost all of them women. Generally the
prisoners appear less sad than the visitors; for, strange as it may appear,
it is proved by experience, there are few sorrows and little shame which
resist three or four days of imprisonment passed in company.
Those who are most alarmed at this hideous communion are soon habituated;
the contagion reaches them; surrounded by degraded beings, hearing only
infamous words, a kind of ferocious emulation drags them on, and either to
impose upon their companions by rivaling their obduracy or to stupefy
themselves by this moral intoxication, almost always the newly-arrived show
as much depravity and insolent gayety as the old hands. Let us return to
the visitors' room.
Notwithstanding the humming noise of a great number of conversations
carried on in a low tone, from one side of the passage to the other,
prisoners and visitors succeeded, after some practice, in being able to
converse among themselves--on the absolute condition not to allow
themselves, for a moment, to be distracted or occupied with the
conversation of their neighbors, which created a kind of secret in the
midst of all this noisy exchange of words, each one being forced to hear,
but not to listen, to a word of that which was spoken around him.
Among the prisoners summoned to the visitors' room, and the furthest from
the place where the guardian was seated, was one whom we still
To the sad state of dejection he was in on his arrest had succeeded
impudent assurance. Already the contagious and detestable influence of
imprisonment _in common_ bore its fruits. Without doubt, if he had been
immediately transferred to a solitary cell, this wretch, still under the
blow of his first detection, the thought of his crimes constantly before
him, alarmed at the punishment which awaited him, might have experienced,
if not repentance, at least a salutary alarm, from which nothing might have
distracted him. And who knows what effect may be produced on a criminal by
an incessant, forced meditation on the crimes which he had committed, and
their punishment? Far from this, thrown into the midst of a ruffianly crowd
in whose eyes the least sign of repentance is cowardice, or, rather,
_treachery_, which they dearly expiate, for, in their savage obduracy and
in senseless distrust, they look upon as a spy every man (if there should
be such a one) who, sad and mournful, regretting his fault, does not
partake of their audacious thoughtlessness, and shudders at their contact.
Thrown among the bandits, this man, knowing, for a long time and by
tradition, the manners and ways of prisons, overcame his weakness, and
wished to appear worthy of a name already celebrated in the annals of
robbery and murder.
For it had been to him, Nicholas Martial, that Ferrand had applied when the
idea struck him to be rid of his housekeeper and Fleur-de-Marie at a blow.
His family were what are called ravageurs, that is dredgers, living on what
they could pick up out of the mud of the Seine. At least they were openly
these, but, secretly, they were river pirates, "lumpers," "light horsemen,"
housebreakers, and bravoes. The father had perished on the scaffold. His
widow, forty-five years old, was confirmed in crime, stern, hard, coldly
cruel, and bent on training all her children up into the life which would
most revenge on society the slaying of her husband. One son, Ambrose, had
been sold by Bras-Rouge (Red-Arm), a tavern keeper and fence, and now
languished in the Rochefort hulks. The eldest son, known as Martial, being
head of the family, was a poacher, a fisherman at unlawful seasons, but not
irreclaimably bad. The youngest children, François and Amandine, were not
yet spoiled by evil surroundings.
To this family, who added to their evil income by keeping a thieves' resort
in their house on Ravageur's Island, La Chouette had applied for the
murdering of Fleur-de-Marie. Nicholas and his sister, known as Calabash
(from her yellow complexion) had succeeded in drowning Ferrand's
housekeeper only. But, believing they had fulfilled the twofold bargain,
they had gone off rejoicing with their mother, to meet La Chouette, report
their success, and join in a fresh atrocity. This new crime, the robbery
and murder of a diamond-dealer in Red-Arm's public-house, was frustrated by
the landlord's secret connection with the police. They had made their
descent just as the jewel-broker was in the villains' hands, and arrested
the whole gang. Bras-Rouge (taken to prevent his fellows suspecting his
treachery), Nicholas Martial, and a scamp named Barbillon, were put in La
Force, widow Martial and Calabash in Saint Lazare. Another capture, a
ruffian called the Maitre d'École (Schoolmaster), from his caligraphic
abilities, who had killed La Chouette in a fit of madness, was put in the
Conciergerie Prison, in a cell for the insane.
To return to Nicholas Martial in La Force. Some veteran gallows-birds had
known his executed father, others, his brother, the galley-slave; he was
received and immediately patronized by these revelers in crime with savage
This paternal reception from murderer to murderer exhilarated the widow's
son, these praises bestowed on the hereditary perversity of his family
intoxicated him. Soon forgetting, in this hideous thoughtlessness, the
future which menaced him, he only remembered his past misdeeds but to
exaggerate them and glorify himself in the eyes of his companions. The
expression, then, of his face, was as impudent as his visitor's was uneasy
and concerned. This individual was one Micou, a receiver, dwelling in the
Passage de la Brasserie, to whose house Madame de Fermont and her daughter,
victims of the cupidity of Jacques Ferrand, had been obliged to retire.
Micou knew to what punishment he was subject, for having several times
acquired, at a miserable price, the fruits of Nicholas's robberies, and of
He being arrested, the receiver found himself almost at the discretion of
the bandit, who could point him out as his habitual fence. Although this
accusation might not be sustained by flagrant proofs, it was not the less
very dangerous for Micou: so he had immediately executed the orders which
Nicholas had sent him by a prisoner whose time had expired.
"Well! how do you get on, Daddy Micou?" said the thief.
"To serve you, sir," answered the receiver, eagerly. "As soon as I saw the
person you sent me, right away I--"
"Stop! why do you speak so loftily, Micou?" said Nicholas, interrupting
him, with a sardonic air. "Do you not despise me because I am in quod?"
"No, I despise no one," said the receiver, who did not care to make public
his past familiarity with this wretch.
"Well, then, speak as usual, or I shall believe you have no friendship for
me, and that would break my heart."
"As you like," said Micou, sighing. "I have busied myself with all your
"Well spoken, Micou. I knew well that you would not forget friends. The
"I have left two pounds at the office, my lad."
"Is it good?"
"And the ham?"
"Also left there, with a quartern loaf. I have added a little surprise you
did not expect--half a dozen hard-boiled eggs, and a fine Dutch cheese."
"That's what I call acting like a pal! And wine?"
"There are six bottles, sealed; but, you know, they will only give you one
bottle a day."
"What would you have? One ought to be content with that."
"I hope you are satisfied with me, my friend?"
"Certainly; and shall be still, and shall be again, Daddy Micou, for this
ham, cheese, eggs, and wine will only last the time to swallow them; but,
when there is no more, there will come some more, thanks to Daddy Micou,
who will give me some more sugar-plums, if I am a good boy."
"How? you wish--"
"In two or three days you would renew my little provision, Micou."
"May the devil burn me if I do. It is all very well for once."
"Good for once! Come, come; ham and wine are good always, you know that
"It is possible; but I am not obliged to feed you with dainties."
"Oh, Micou! it is wrong, it is unjust, to refuse ham to me, who have so
often brought you fat tripe (sheet-lead)."
"Hush!" said the alarmed receiver.
"No; I'll make the beak decide; I will tell him. Imagine that, Daddy
"Good, good!" cried the receiver, seeing, with as much fear as anger,
Nicholas was disposed to abuse the position which their dealings gave him;
"I consent--I will replenish your stock of provisions when they are
"It is just--nothing but just. Neither must you forget to send some coffee
to my mother and Calabash, who are at Saint Lazare; they used to take their
cup every morning--they will feel the want of it."
"Still more? But do you mean to ruin me, lad?"
"As you please, old Micou; let us speak no more about it. I will ask the
"Agreed, then, for the coffee," said the receiver, interrupting him. "But
may the devil take you! cursed be the day I knew you!"
"My old man, as for me, it is just the contrary. At this moment, I am
delighted to know you. I venerate you as my foster-father."
"I hope that you have nothing more to order?" answered Micou, with
"Yes! tell my mother and sister that, though I trembled when I was
arrested, I tremble no more, and that I am now as bold as both of them."
"I will tell them. Is that all?"
"Stop! I forgot to ask for two pair of warm woolen stockings--you do not
wish me to take cold, do you?"
"I wish you were froze!"
"Thank you, Micou, that shall be later; at present, I prefer something
else. I wish to pass life calmly--at least, if they do not make me a head
shorter, like father, I shall have enjoyed life."
"Your life is very pleasant!"
"It is superb! Since I have been here, I have amused myself like a king. If
there had been lamps and guns, there would have been an illumination and a
salvo in my honor, when it was known that I was the son of the famous
"It is touching. Beautiful relationship!"
"Hold! there are many dukes and marquises; why, then, should not we of the
oldest family have our nobility?" said the thief with savage irony.
"Yes, Jack Ketch gives you your letters of nobility in Palace Square!"
"Very sure that it is not the parson! So much the more reason in prison one
should be of high Toby nobility, otherwise you are looked upon as a nobody.
You ought to see how they treat those mere fogle-hunters, and who do
their--Hold! there is one here named Germain, a young man who plays the
disgusted, and seems to despise us. Let him take care of his skin. He is a
sneak; he is suspected of being a spy. If this is so, they will slit his
nose, by way of warning!"
"Germain! A young man called Germain?"
"Yes. Do you know him? He is, then, in the family line, notwithstanding his
"I do not know him. But if it is the Germain of whom I have heard speak,
his lookout is good."
"He once escaped a snare which Velu and the Big Cripple laid for him."
"Why did they do it?"
"I don't know. They said that down among the yokels he had sold one of
"I was sure of it. Germain is a spy. Well! I will tell this to my friends;
that will give them an appetite. Does the Big Cripple still play tricks on
"I am rid of the villain! you will see him here to-day or to-morrow."
"Bravo! we shall have a laugh! He's another who never looks glum!"
"Because he is going to meet Germain here, is why I said his account was
good--if he is the same--"
"And why has the Cripple been nabbed?"
"For a robbery committed with a lagger (released convict) who wished to
remain honest and labor. Oh, yes! the Big Cripple nicely fixed him; he is
so wicked! I am sure it was he who forced the trunk of two women who occupy
my fourth floor."
"What women? Oh! the two, the youngest of whom was so handsome, old
"Oh, yes; but it is all over with her; for, at this present moment, the
mother must be dead, and the daughter not far from it. I shall be in for
two weeks' lodgings; but may the devil burn me if I give a rag to bury
them! I have had losses enough, without counting the presents which you
_beg_ me to give you and your family. This will nicely derange my business.
I have luck this year."
"Bah, bah! you are always complaining, old Micou; you are as rich as
Croesus. When you come to bring me some more provisions, you can give me
news of my mother and Calabash!"
"Yes, it must be so."
"Oh! I forget, while you are out, buy me also a new cap, of plaid velvet,
with a tassel; mine is no longer fit to be worn."
"Decidedly--you are joking!"
"No, Micou. I want a cap of plaid velvet; it is my notion."
"But you are determined, then, to make me sleep on straw?"
"Come, Daddy Micou, don't get vexed; it is yes or no; I do not force you.
The receiver, reflecting that he was at the mercy of Nicholas, arose,
fearing to be assailed with new demands if he prolonged his visit.
"You shall have your cap," said he; "but take care, if you ask me for
anything more, I shall give nothing; happen what may, you will lose as much
"Be tranquil, Micou; I shall not blackmail you any more than is necessary,
for this would be a pity; you pay much heavy postage as it is."
The receiver went out, shrugging his shoulders with rage, and the warder
reconducted Nicholas into the prison. At the moment Micou left, Rigolette
The warder, a man of forty years, an old soldier of energetic appearance,
was dressed in a jacket, cap, and trousers of blue cloth; two silver stars
were embroidered on the collar and skirts of his coat.
At sight of the grisette, his face brightened up, and assumed an expression
of affectionate benevolence. He had always been struck with the grace,
gentility, and touching goodness with which Rigolette consoled Germain when
she came to converse with him. Germain, on his part, was no ordinary
prisoner. His reserve, his mildness, his sadness, inspired interest in the
prison officials; an interest they were careful not to show him, for fear
of exposing him to the bad treatment of his vicious companions, who, as we
have shown, regarded him with suspicious hatred.
It rained in torrents, but thanks to her overshoes and umbrella, Rigolette
had courageously braved the wind and rain.
"What a horrible day, my poor girl!" said the guardian to her, kindly. "You
must have had a good deal of courage to come out such a time as this, at
"When one is thinking all along the way of the pleasure they are going to
give a poor prisoner, one does not pay much attention to the weather, sir!"
"I have no need to ask you whom you come to see?"
"Surely not. And how is my poor Germain?"
"My dear, I have seen many prisoners; they were sad, one or two days, but
by degrees they fell in with the rest, and the most sorrowful at first
often became the most gay. Germain is not so; he appears to grow sadder
"It is this that troubles me."
"When I am on service in the yards, I watch him out of the corner of my
eye; he is always alone. I have already told you, you should advise him not
to act thus, but to speak to his comrades, otherwise he will become their
butt. The yards are watched, but--a blow is soon struck!"
"Oh, sir! is there still more danger for him?" cried Rigolette.
"Not precisely; but the knaves see he is not one of them, and they hate him
because he appears honest and proud."
"Yet I have advised him to do what you have told me, sir; to endeavor to
converse with the least wicked; but it is too much for him; he cannot
overcome his repugnance."
"He is wrong--wrong; a quarrel is soon got up."
"Can he not be separated from the others?"
"Since I have noticed two or three days ago their evil intentions toward
him, I have advised him to take a room by himself."
"I did not think of one thing. A whole range of cells are comprised in the
repairs now going on in the prison, and the others are occupied."
"But these bad men are capable of killing him!" cried Rigolette, with her
eyes filled with tears. "If by chance he had some persons interested in his
fate, what could they do for him, sir?"
"Nothing more than to obtain what the prisoners can obtain themselves by
paying money--a separate cell."
"Alas! then he is lost, if they hate him in the prison."
"Don't disturb yourself; he shall be watched closely. But I repeat, my
dear, counsel him to be a little familiar with them; only the first step
"I will recommend him to do this with all my strength, sir; but for a good
and honest heart it is hard to be familiar with such people."
"Of two evils, choose the least. I go to ask for Germain. But, stop," said
the warder, reflecting; "there are only two visitors left; as soon as they
are gone--no more will come to-day, for it is now two o'clock--I will send
for Germain; you can talk more at ease. I can, even, when you are alone,
let him enter into the passage, so that you will be separated by one
grating instead of two; so much less."
"Oh, sir! how kind you are; how much I thank you!"
"Hush! let not any one hear you; it will cause jealousy. Seat yourself up
there, at the end of the bench, and as soon as this man and woman are gone,
I will send for Germain."
The warder returned to his post inside the passage. Rigolette went and
seated herself sadly at the extremity of the visitor's bench.
Thus we have a fine chance to draw the grisette's portrait.
Rigolette was hardly eighteen, of a middling size, perhaps rather small,
but so gracefully shaped, so finely modeled, so voluptuously developed,
that her size responded well to her bearing, fearless and yet modest; one
inch more in height would have caused her to lose much of her grace; the
movement of her small feet, always irreproachably confined in gaiter-boots
of black cloth, with rather thick soles, recalled to mind the coquettish,
light and discreet run of a quail. She did not appear to walk, she merely
touched the pavement; she slid rapidly on its surface. This walk, peculiar
to grisettes, ought to be attributed, without doubt, to three causes: To
their desire to be thought handsome; to their fear of an admiration
expressed in pantomime too expressive; to the desire that they always have
to lose as little time as possible in their peregrinations.
Rigolette's two broad thick bands of shining hair, black as jet, fell very
low on her forehead; her fine eyebrows seemed traced with ink, and
overshadowed large black eyes, sparkling and wicked; her full, plump cheeks
were like velvet of the freshest carnation, fresh to the sight, fresh to
the touch, like a rosy peach impregnated with the cold dew of the morning.
Her little turned-up nose, saucy and cunning, would have made the fortune
of a stage chambermaid; her mouth, somewhat large, with lips of rose well
moistened, and little, white, pearly teeth, was smiling and provoking; of
three charming dimples, which gave enticing grace to her face, two buried
themselves in her cheeks, the other in her chin, not far from a beauty
spot, a little black patch most killingly placed near the corner of her
Up to the day of Germain's arrest, Rigolette had had no sorrows but those
of others; she sympathized with all her flowers--devoted herself, body and
soul, to those who suffered--but thought no more about it when her back was
turned. Often she ceased from laughing to weep sincerely, and then she
ceased from weeping to laugh again. A true child of Paris--she preferred
noise to solitude, movement to repose the resounding harmony of the
orchestra at the Chartreuse or Coliseum balls, to the soft murmur of the
winds, the waters, and the foliage--the deafening noise of the streets of
Paris to the solitude of the country--the glare of fireworks, the glitter
of a ball, the noise of rockets, to the serenity of a fine night, with
stars and darkness and silence. Alas! yes; the good girl frankly preferred
the black mud of the streets of the capital to the verdure of the flowery
meadows--its dirty or scorching pavements to fresh and velvet moss of
wood-paths perfumed with violets--the suffocating dust of the barriers or
the boulevards to the waving of golden corn, enameled with the scarlet
flowers of the wild poppy and the azure of the bluebells. Rigolette only
left her room on Sundays--and each morning, to lay in her provision of
chickweed, bread, milk, and hempseed, for herself and her two birds, but
she lived in Paris for Paris' sake. She would have been in despair to have
lived elsewhere than in the capital.
Another anomaly: notwithstanding this taste for Parisian pleasures;
notwithstanding the liberty, or, rather, the state of abandonment in which
she found herself, being alone in the world; notwithstanding the rigid
economy which she was obliged to use in her smallest expenses in order to
live on thirty sous a day; notwithstanding the most mischievous and
adorable little face in the world, never had Rigolette been a man's prey.
Early in life, she had lost her parents by the cholera, and, at ten years
of age, strangers had taken care of her, until she left them to find her
own living. At this period she had made Fleur-de-Marie's passing
acquaintance, and later, as she dwelt in Rudolph's lodging-house--that of
the prince whom she only thought to be a workman--she had been in the habit
of going out on Sundays and other holidays with young men of her house, but
they had given up the companionship when they found how virtuous she was,
without knowing it. Germain, also her neighbor in the house, had, however,
fallen desperately in love with Rigolette, without daring to breathe one
word respecting it. Far from imitating his predecessors, who resorted to
other sources of solace, without losing their regard for her, Germain had
delightfully enjoyed his intimacy with the girl, and the pleasure afforded
by her society on Sundays and every other evening that he was disengaged.
During these long hours, Rigolette was always gay and merry, and Germain
affectionate, serious, and attentive, and often slightly melancholy. This
sadness was his only disadvantage, for his manners, being naturally
refined, did not suffer by comparison with the ridiculous pretensions of M.
Girandeau, a traveling clerk, or with the boisterous eccentricities of
Cabrion, an artist, though Girandeau, by his excessive loquacity, and the
painter, by his no less excessive hilarity, had the advantage of Germain,
whose gentlemanly gravity rather awed his lively neighbor.
Rigolette had never evinced any partiality for either of her three lovers;
but, with excellent judgment, she soon discovered that Germain combined all
the qualities which would render any reasonable woman happy.
When the latter was imprisoned, her feeling manifested itself as love.
The prisoner who was placed alongside of Barbillon in the visitor's room,
was a man about forty years of age, and of slender make, and with a
cunning, intelligent, jovial, and jeering face; he had an enormous mouth,
almost entirely without teeth; when he spoke he twisted it from side to
side, according to the pretty general custom of those who address the
populace of market places; his nose was flat, his head immensely large, and
almost entirely bald; he wore an old gray waistcoat, trousers of an
indescribable color, pieced in a thousand different places; his naked feet,
red from the cold, half wrapped up in old linen, were thrust into wooden
This man, named Fortune Gobert, nick-named Pique-Vinaigre (Sharp Vinegar,
to prevent mistakes), formerly a juggler, and a prisoner for the crime of
passing counterfeit money, was accused of breaking the terms of his
ticket-of-leave, and of burglary.
Confined but for a few days at La Force, already Pique-Vinaigre filled, to
the general satisfaction of his prison companions, the post of
story-teller. At the present day these are rare, but formerly each ward
generally had, at the expense of a light, individual contribution, its
tale-teller, who, by his improvisations, made the interminable winter
evenings appear less long, the prisoners retiring to rest at nightfall.
Pique-Vinaigre excelled in that kind of heroic recital where weakness,
after a thousand crosses, finishes by triumphing over its persecutors.
Pique-Vinaigre possessed, besides, an immense fund of irony, which had
given him his nickname. He had just entered the room.
Opposite him, on the other side of the railing, was a woman of about
thirty-five, with a pale, sweet, and interesting face, poorly but neatly
clad; she wept bitterly, and kept her handkerchief to her eyes.
Pique-Vinaigre looked at her with a mixture of impatience and affection.
"Come now, Jeanne," said he, "do not be a child; it is sixteen years since
we have met; if you keep your handkerchief over your eyes, we won't know
"My brother, my poor Fortune--I suffocate--I cannot speak."
"Ain't you droll! what ever is the matter with you?"
This sister--for this woman was his sister--restrained her sobs, dried her
eyes, and regarding him with stupor, answered, "What is the matter? I find
you again in prison, who had already been in fifteen years!"
"It is true; to-day six months I came out of Melun prison, without going to
see you at Paris, because the _capital_ was forbidden to me."
"Already retaken! What have you then done? Why did you leave Beaugency,
where you were sent, with orders to report yourself now and then?"
"Why? You ought to ask me why I went there?"
"You are right."
"In the first place, my poor Jeanne, since these gratings are between us
both, imagine that I have embraced you, folded you in my arms, as one ought
to do when he sees a sister after an age. Now, let us chat. A prisoner of
Melun, called the Big Cripple, told me that there was at Beaugency an old
galley-slave of his acquaintance, who employed liberated convicts in a
manufactory of white-lead. Do you know what that is?"
"It is a very fine trade; those who are employed in it, at the end of a
month or two, have the painter's colic; of three attacked, about one dies.
To be just, the two others die also, but at their ease; they take their
time; take good care of themselves, and they may last a year, eighteen
months at the most. After all, the trade is not so badly paid as some
others, and there are some folks born already dressed, who hold out two or
three years; but these are the old folks, the centenaries of the
_white-leaders_. They die, it is true, but that's not fatiguing."
"And why did you choose a trade so dangerous, my poor Fortune?"
"And what would you have me do? When I entered Melun for this affair of
false money, I was a juggler. As in the prison there was no work-shop for
my trade, and as I was no stronger than a fly, they put me at making toys
for children. It was a manufacturer of Paris who found it advantageous to
have made by the prisoners his harlequins, his trumpets of wood, and his
swords of ditto. Thus, I tell you, haven't I sharpened, and cut, and carved
for fifteen years, these toys! I am sure that I supplied the pets of an
entire quarter of Paris--it was, above all, on the trumpet I excelled; and
rattles too! With these two instruments one could have put on edge the
teeth of a whole battalion! I pride myself, on it. My time out, behold me
with the degree of penny-trumpet manufacturer. They allowed me to choose
for my residence three or four places, at forty leagues from Paris; I had
for sole resource my knowledge of trumpet-making. Now, admitting that, from
old men to babies, all the inhabitants of the town should have had a
passion to play toot-too on my trumpets. I should have had, even then,
trouble enough to pay my expenses; but I could not seduce a whole village
into blowing trumpets from morning to night. They would have taken me for a
"You always laugh."
"That is better than to cry. Finally, seeing that at forty leagues from
Paris my trade as a juggler would be of no more resource to me than my
trumpets, I demanded an exchange to Beaugency, wishing to engage myself in
the white-lead factory. It is a pastry which gives you an indigestion of
misery; but, until one dies from it, one has a living; it is always
something gained, and I like that trade as well as that of a robber; to
steal I am not brave or strong enough, and it was by pure chance I have
committed the act of which I shall speak directly."
"You would have been brave and strong if you had only had the _idea_
not to steal any more."
"Ah! you believe that, do you?"
"Yes, at the bottom you are not wicked; for, in this dangerous affair of
false money, you had been dragged into it in spite of yourself, almost
forced--you know it well."
"Yes, my girl--but, do you see, fifteen years in a prison, that spoils a
man like my old pipe which you see, whenever it comes in the jail white as
a new pipe; on coming out of Melun, then, I felt myself too cowardly to
"And you had the courage to follow a deadly calling. Hold, Fortune! I tell
you that you wish to make yourself worse than you are."
"Stop a moment, then; all greenhorn that I was, I had an idea, may the
devil burn me if I know why! that I would not care for the colic, that the
malady would find too little in me to feed on, and that it would go
elsewhere; in fine, that I would become one of the old white-leaders. On
leaving the prison I began by squandering my savings, augmented,
understand, by what I had gained by relating stories at night in our ward."
"As you used to tell us in old times, my brother? It used to amuse our
mother so much, do you remember?"
"Pardieu! good woman! And she never suspected before she died that I was at
"Never: to her last moments she thought you had gone to the islands."
"What could I do, my girl? My escapades were the fault of my father, who
brought me up to play the clown, to assist him in his juggling, to eat flax
and spit fire; that was the cause that I had not the time to associate with
the sons of peers of France, and that I made bad acquaintances. But, to
return to Beaugency: once out of Melun, I spent my money as I had a right.
After fifteen years in a cage one must have a little air, and amuse one's
self so much the more, as, without being too greedy, the white lead might
give me a last indigestion; then, what good would my pension money be to
me? I ask you. Finally, I arrived at Beaugency almost without a sou: I
asked for _Velu_, the friend of Big Cripple, the chief of the factory.
Serviteur! no more manufactory of white-lead than you could put under your
hand; eleven persons had died there in one year; the old galley-slave had
shut up shop. Here I was in this village, with my talents for making wooden
trumpets for my dinner, and my convict's passport for my sole
recommendation. I asked for employment suited to my strength, and, as I had
no strength, you can comprehend how I was received; robber here, gueux
there, jail bird! in fine, as soon as I made my appearance anywhere, every
one clapped their hands on their pockets; I could not, then, prevent myself
from starving with hunger in a hole which I was not to leave for five
years. Seeing this, I broke my 'parole' to come to Paris to use my talents.
As I had not the means to come in a carriage and four, I came begging all
along the road; avoiding the constables as a dog does a kick. I was
lucky--I arrived without difficulty at Auteuil. I was worried, I was as
hungry as the devil, I was dressed, as you see, without profuseness." And
Pique-Vinaigre cast a merry glance at his rags. "I had not a sou; I could
at any moment be arrested as a vagabond. Faith, an opportunity offered, the
devil tempted me, and, in spite of my cowardice--"
"Enough, my brother, enough," said his sister, fearing that the warder,
although at this moment some distance off, might hear the dangerous
"You are afraid that some one will listen?" answered he: "be tranquil, I do
not conceal it; I was taken in the act; there are no means to deny it; I
have confessed all; I know what I have to expect; my account is good."
"Alas!" answered the poor woman, weeping, "with what ease you speak of
"If I were to speak of it with uneasiness, what should I gain? Come, be
reasonable, Jeanne; must _I_ console _you?_" Jeanne wiped away her tears,
"But to return to my affair," said Pique-Vinaigre; "I arrived near Auteuil
in the dusk of the evening. I could go no further; I did not wish to enter
Paris but at night; I seated myself behind a hedge to repose and reflect
upon my plans. From the intensity of my thoughts I fell asleep; a noise of
voices awoke me; it was quite dark; I listened, it was a man and a woman
talking on the road, on the other side of my hedge; the man said to the
woman, 'Who do you think would rob us? have we not left the house alone a
hundred times?' 'Yes,' answered the woman, 'but then we did not leave a
hundred francs in our chest.' 'Who knows it, fool?' said the husband. 'You
are right,' replied the woman, and they passed on. The chance appeared too
favorable for me to lose--there was no danger.
"I waited until they had got a little distance to come out from behind my
hedge; I looked around: at twenty steps off I saw a small cottage; that
must be the house with the hundred francs; there was no other hovel on the
road but this one; Auteuil was five hundred yards off. I said to myself,
'Courage, my old boy, there is no one there, it is night, if there is no
dog (you know I always was afraid of dogs), the affair is done.' Luckily
there was no dog. To be still more sure, I knocked against the
door--nothing; that encouraged me. The shutters of the ground floor were
closed: I passed my stick between the two, I forced them, I entered through
the window into a chamber; there was some fire in the fireplace; this
served as a light; I saw a chest from whence the key had been taken; I took
the tongs, I forced the drawers, and under a heap of linen I found the
treasure, wrapped up in an old woolen stocking; I did not amuse myself by
taking anything else; I jumped out of the window and I fell--guess where?
"On the back of the watchman who was going to the village."
"What a misfortune!"
"The moon had risen, he saw me coming out of the window; he seized me. He
was a giant who could have eaten ten such as me. Too cowardly to resist, I
resigned myself to my fate. I still held the stocking in my hand; he heard
the money jingle, he took it all, put it in his bag, and compelled me to
follow him to Auteuil. He went to the mayor's with the usual accompaniment
of boys and constables; they waited for the proprietors to return; they
made their declaration. I could not deny it; I confessed all, they put on
the handcuffs, and off we went!"
"And here you are in prison again, perhaps for a long time!"
"Listen, Jeanne, I do not wish to deceive you, my girl, so I will tell you
"What more now?"
"Come, take courage!"
"But speak, then!"
"Well! there is no more prison for me."
"How is that?"
"On account of the burglary in an inhabited house, the lawyer told me,
'It's a safe thing.' I shall have fifteen or twenty years at the galleys
and a berth in the pillory to boot."
"The galleys! but you are so weak you will die there!" cried the unhappy
woman, bursting into tears.
"How if I had enrolled myself among the white-leaders?"
"But the galleys, oh! the galleys!"
"It is a prison in the open air, with a red cap instead of a brown one,
and, besides, I have always been curious to see the ocean. What a starer I
"But the pillory! To be exposed there to the contempt of all the world, oh!
my brother." And the unfortunate woman began again to weep.
"Come, come, Jeanne, be reasonable. It is a bad quarter of an hour to pass,
but I believe one is seated. And, besides, am I not accustomed to a crowd?
When I played juggler I always had people around me; I will imagine that I
am at my old trade, and if it has too much effect upon me I will close my
eyes; it will absolutely be the same as if they did not see me."
Speaking with so much stoicism, this unfortunate man wished less to appear
insensible of his criminal actions than to console and satisfy his sister
by this apparent indifference. For a man accustomed to prison
_manners_, and with whom all shame is necessarily dead--even the
galleys were only a change of condition, a "change of caps," as
Pique-Vinaigre said, with frightful truth.
Many of the prisoners of the central prisons even prefer the galleys on
account of the lively, animated life which is led there, committing often
attempts at murder to be sent to Brest or Toulon. This can be imagined
before they enter the galleys they have almost as much work, according to
their declaration. The condition of the most honest workman of the forts is
not less rude than that of the convicts. They enter the workshop, and leave
it, at the same hour, and the beds on which they repose their limbs,
exhausted by fatigue, are often no better than those of the galleys.
They are free, some one will say. Yes, free one day, Sunday, and this is
also a day of repose for the convict. But feel they no shame and contempt?
What is shame for these poor wretches, who, each day, bronze the soul in
this infamy, in this mutual school of perdition, where the most criminal
are the most distinguished? Such are the consequences of the present system
of punishment. Incarceration is very much sought after. The galleys--often
"Twenty years in the galleys!" repeated the poor sister of Pique-Vinaigre.
"But be comforted, Jeanne; they will only pay me in my own coin; I am too
feeble to be placed at hard labor. If there is not a manufactory of
trumpets and wooden swords, as at Melun, they will give me easy work, and
employ me in the infirmary. I am not refractory; I am good-natured. I will
tell stories as I do here, I will make myself adored by the keepers,
esteemed by my comrades, and I will send you some cocoanuts nicely carved,
and some straw boxes for my nephews and nieces; in short. as we make our
bed, so must we lie on it!"
"If you had only written that you were coming to Paris, I would have tried
to conceal and lodge you while you were waiting for work."
"I reckoned to go to your house, but I prepared to come with my hands full;
for, besides, from your appearance I see that you do not ride in your
carriage. How about your children and husband?"
"Do not speak to me about him."
"Always a rattler, it is a pity, for he is a good workman."
"He does me much harm--I have had troubles enough of my own, without having
yours added to them."
"How? your husband--"
"Left me three years ago, after having sold all our furniture, leaving me
with the children, without any thing, my straw bed excepted."
"You did not tell me this!"
"For what good? It would have grieved you."
"Poor Jeanne! How have you managed, all alone with your three children?"
"Holy Virgin! I had much trouble; I worked by the job as a fringe-maker, as
well as I could, my neighbors helped me a little, taking care of my
children when I went out; and then I, who do not always have luck, had it
for once in my life, but it did not profit me, on account of my husband."
"How is that?"
"The lace-maker had spoken of my troubles to one of his customers,
informing him how my husband had left me without anything, after having
sold all my furniture, and that in spite of it I worked with all my
strength to bring up my children; one day, on returning home, what do I
find? my room newly furnished, a good bed, linen, and so on; it was the
charity of my lace-maker's customer."
"Good customer! Poor sister! Why the devil did you not write me about your
poverty? Instead of spending my earnings, I would have sent you some
"I, free, to ask from you, a prisoner!"
"Exactly; I was fed, warmed, lodged at the expense of the government; what
I earned was so much gained; knowing that my brother-in-law was a good
workman, and you a good manager, I was easy, and I fiddled away my money
with my eyes shut and my mouth open."
"My husband was a good workman, it is true, but he became dissipated; in
fine, thanks to this unexpected succor, I took fresh courage; my eldest
daughter began to earn something; we were happy, except for the sorrow of
knowing that you were at Melun. Work was plenty, my children were properly
dressed, they wanted scarcely anything; that made me take heart. At length
I had even saved thirty-five francs, when, suddenly, my husband returned. I
had not seen him for a year. Finding me comfortably fixed and well clad, he
made no bones about it; he took the money, settled himself at home, got
drunk every day, and beat me when I complained."
"This is not all: he had lodged in a room of our apartments a bad woman
with whom he lived; I had to submit to that. For the second time he began
to sell little by little the furniture I had. Foreseeing what would happen,
I went to a lawyer who lived in the house, and asked him what I should do
to prevent my husband from placing me and my children on straw again."
"It was very plain, you ought to have thrust him out of doors."
"Yes, but I had not the right. The lawyer told me that my husband could
dispose of everything, and remain in the house without doing anything; that
it was a shame, but that I must submit; that the circumstance of his
mistress, who lived under one roof, gave me the right to demand the
separation of bed and board, as it is called; so much the more as I had
proofs my husband beat me; that I could plead against him, but that it
would cost me at least four or five hundred francs to obtain my divorce,
you may judge; it is almost all that I could earn in a year! Where could I
borrow such a sum? And, besides, it is not only to borrow--but to return.
And five hundred francs--all at once--it is a fortune."
"There is, however, a very simple way to amass five hundred francs," said
Pique-Vinaigre, with bitterness; "it is to hang up one's appetite for a
year--to live on air, but work just the same. It is astonishing that the
lawyer did not give you this advice."
"You are always joking."
"Oh! this time, no!" cried Pique-Vinaigre, with indignation; "for it is
infamous that the law should be too dear for poor folks. For look at you,
good and worthy mother of a family, working with all your might to bring up
your children honestly. Your husband is an arrant scoundrel; he beats you,
abuses you, robs you, and spends at the tavern the money you earn; you
apply to justice, that it may protect you, and keep from the clutches of
this rascal your bread and your children's. The people of the law tell you,
'Yes, you are right, your husband is a bad fellow, justice shall be done
you; but this justice will cost you five hundred francs.' Five hundred
francs! that would support you and your family for a whole year! Now, do
you see, Jeanne? all this proves what the proverb says, that there are only
two kinds of people: those who are hung and those who deserve to be."
Rigolett, alone and pensive, having no one else to listen to, had not lost
a word of this conversation, and sympathized deeply in the misfortunes of
this poor woman. She promised herself to mention this to Rudolph as soon as
she should see him, not doubting that he would assist her.
Rigolette, feeling a lively interest in the sad fate of the sister of
Pique-Vinaigre, did not take her eyes from her, and was endeavoring to
approach a little nearer, when, unfortunately, a new visitor entering asked
for a prisoner, and seated himself on the bench between Jeanne and the
grisette. She, at the sight of this man, could not restrain a movement of
surprise, almost fear. She recognized one of the two bailiffs who had come
to arrest Morel, putting in execution the judgment obtained against the
jeweler by Jacques Ferrand.
This circumstance, recalling to Rigolette's mind the untiring persecutor of
Germain, redoubled her sadness, from which her attention had been slightly
withdrawn by the touching and painful communications of the sister of
Pique-Vinaigre. Retreating as far as she could from her new neighbors, the
grisette leaned against the wall, and abandoned herself to her sad
"Hold, Jeanne," resumed Pique-Vinaigre, whose jovial face had become
suddenly clouded; "I am neither strong nor brave; but if I had been there
while your husband was causing you so much misery, very playful things
would not have passed between us. But you did not act rightly--you--"
"What could I do? I have been obliged to suffer what I could not prevent!
As long as there was anything to be sold, my husband sold it, so that he
might go to the tavern with his mistress--everything, even to my little
girl's Sunday frock."
"But your daily earnings, why did you give them to him? Why did you not
"I did hide them; but he beat me so much that I was obliged to give them
up. It was not on account of the blows that I yielded, but because I said
to myself, in the end he will wound me so seriously that I shall not be
able to work for some time. Suppose he breaks my arm, then what will become
of me--who will take care of and feed my children? If I am forced to go the
hospital, they will die of hunger then. Thus you can imagine, my brother, I
preferred to give my money to my husband, not on account of the beating,
but that I might not be wounded, and remain _able to work_."
"Poor woman. Bah! they talk of martyrdom--it is you who are a martyr!"
"And yet I have never harmed any one; I only ask to work to take care of my
children; but what would you? There are the happy and unhappy, as there are
the good and the wicked."
"Yes, and it is astonishing how happy the good are! But you have finally
got rid of that scoundrel of a husband?"
"I hope so, for he did not leave me until he had sold my bedstead, and the
cradle of my two little children. But I think he wished to do something
"What do you mean?"
"I say him, but it was rather this bad woman who urged him; it is on that
account I speak of it. 'I say,' one day he said to me, 'when in a family
there is a pretty girl of fifteen like ours, it is very stupid not to make
use of her beauty.'"
"Oh! good! I understand. After having sold the clothes, he wished to sell
"When he said that, Fortune, my blood boiled; and, to be just, I made him
blush with shame at my reproaches: and as this bad woman wished to meddle
in our quarrel by asserting that my husband could do with his daughter as
he pleased, I treated her so badly, the wretch, that my husband beat me,
and since that time I have not seen them."
"Look here, Jeanne, there are folks condemned to ten years' imprisonment,
who would not have done like your husband; at least, they only despoil
"At bottom he is not wicked, look you; it is bad company at the taverns
which has ruined him."
"Yes, he would not harm a child; but to a grown person it is different."
"What would you have? One must take life as it comes. At least, my husband
gone, I had no longer any fear of being lamed by any blow. I took fresh
courage. Not having anything to purchase a mattress with, for before all
one must eat and pay rent, and my poor daughter Catherine and myself could
hardly earn together forty sous a day, my two other children being too
young to work--for want of a mattress we slept upon a straw bed, made with
straw that we picked up at the door of a packer in our street."
"And I have squandered my earnings!"
"How could you know my trouble, since I did not tell you? Well, we doubled
our work, Catherine and I. Poor child, if you knew how virtuous, and
industrious, and good she is! always with her eyes on mine to know what I
wish her to do; never a complaint, and yet--she has already seen so much
misery, although only fifteen! Ah, it is a great consolation, Fortune to
have such a child," said Jeanne, wiping her eyes.
"It is just your own picture, I see; you should have this consolation, at
"I assure you that it is more on her account that I complain than on my
own; for, do you see, the last two months she has not stopped working for a
moment; once every week she goes out to wash at the boats near the Pont-au
Change, at three sous the hour, the few clothes my husband left us: all the
rest of the time at the stake like a poor dog. True, misfortune came to her
too soon; I knew well enough that it must come; but at least their are some
who have one or two years of tranquillity. That which has also caused me
much sorrow in all this, Fortune, is, that I could give you no assistance
in anything; yet I will try."
"Do you think I would accept? On the contrary, I'll ask a sou for each pair
of ears that listens to my stories; I will ask two, or they will have to do
without Pique-Vinaigre's romances, and that will help you a little in your
housekeeping. But why don't you go into lodgings? Then your husband can't
"In lodgings? Why, only reflect, we are four; they would ask us at least
twenty sous a days; how much would remain for our living! while our room
only costs us fifty francs a year."
"That is true, my girl," said Pique-Vinaigre, with bitter irony; "work,
break your back to fix up your room a little; as soon as you get something,
your husband will rob you again, and some fine day he will sell your
daughter as he has sold your clothes."
"Oh! before that he must kill me!--my poor Catherine!"
"He will not kill you, and he will sell your poor Catherine. He is your
husband, is he not? He is the head of the family, as your lawyer told you,
as long as you are not separated by law, and as you have not five hundred
francs to give for that, you must be resigned; your husband has the right
to take his daughter from you, and where he pleases. Once he and his
mistress have a hankering after this poor little child, they will have
"But, if this infamy was possible, would there be any justice?"
"Justice," said Pique-Vinaigre, with a burst of sardonic laughter, "is like
meat; it is too dear for the poor to eat. Only, understand me, if it is in
question to send them to Melun, to put them in the pillory, or throw them
into the galleys, it is another affair; they give them this justice
_gratis_. If they cut their throats, it is again _gratis_--always
_gratis_. Ta-a-a-ake your tickets!" added Pique-Vinaigre, imitating a
mountebank; "it is not ten sous, two sous, one you, a centime that it will
cost you. No, ladies and gentlemen, it will cost you the trifle of nothing
at all; it suits every one's pockets; you have only to furnish the
_head_--the cutting and curling are at the expense of the government. Here
is justice _gratis_. But the justice which would prevent an honest mother
of a family from being beaten and despoiled by a vagabond of a husband, who
wishes to make money out of his daughter, this kind of justice costs five
hundred francs; you must give it up, my poor Jeanne."
"Fortune," said the unhappy mother, bursting into tears, "you kill me!"
"And does it not kill me to think of your lot, and that of your family, and
seeing that I can do nothing? I seem always gay; but do not be deceived; I
have two kinds of gayety, Jeanne; my gayety gay, and my gayety sad. I have
neither the strength nor the courage to be bad, angry, nor malicious, as
others are, that always passes over with me in words more or less farcical.
My cowardice and my weakness of body have prevented me from becoming worse
than I am. It needed the chance of this lonely hut, where there was neither
cat, nor, above all, a dog, to have urged me to steal. And then, again, it
chanced to be a fine moonlight night; for alone, and in the dark, I am as
cowardly as the devil!"
"That is what I have always said, my poor Fortune, that you are better than
you think. Thus I hope the judges will have pity on you."
"Pity on me? a returned criminal? reckon on it! After that, I don't wish
it; to be here, there, or elsewhere, all the same to me; and then, you are
right, I am not wicked; and those who are, I hate them, after my fashion,
by making fun of them; you must think that, from relating stories where, to
please my audience, I make it come out that those who torment others from
pure cruelty receive, in the end, their pay, I become accustomed to feel as
"Do these people like stories, my brother? I should not have thought it."
"A moment! If I tell them a story where a fellow who robs, or who kills to
rob, is strung up at the end, they will not let me finish; but if it is
concerning a woman or child, or, for example, a poor devil like me, who
would be thrown to the ground if he was only blown upon, and let him be
ill-treated by a Bluebeard, who persecutes him solely for the pleasure of
persecuting him, for honor, as they say; oh! then they shout with joy when,
at the end, the Bluebeard receives his pay. I have, above all, a history
called Gringalet and Cut-in-half, which created the greatest sensation at
the Centrale de Melun, and which I have not yet related here. I have
promised it for tonight; but they must subscribe largely to my money-box,
and you shall profit by it. Without extra charge, I will write it out for
your children. My yarn will amuse them; very religious people would read
this story; so be easy."
"In fine, poor Fortune, what consoles me a little is, to see that you are
not as unhappy as others, thanks to your character."
"I am very sure that if I were like a prisoner of our ward, I should be
hateful to myself. Poor fellow! I am much afraid that before the end of the
day he will bleed; it grows red-hot for him; there is a bad plot formed
against him for to-night."
"Oh! they wish to do him harm? you will have nothing to do with it, at
"Not such a fool! I might be spattered. As I went backward and forward
among them, I heard them muttering. They spoke of a gag, to prevent him
from crying out; and then, to hinder any one from seeing the execution,
they mean to make a circle around him, pretending to listen to one of them
who should be reading a paper or something else."
"But why do they wish to injure him thus?"
"As he is always alone, and speaks to no one, because he seems disgusted
with them, they imagine he is a spy, which is very stupid; for, on the
contrary, he would keep company with every one, if he wished to spy.
Besides, he has the air of a gentleman, and that eclipses them. It is the
_captain_ of the ward, called the Living Skeleton, who is at the head of
this plot. He is like a real _bloody bones_ after this poor Germain--their
intended victim is so named. Let them make their own arrangements--it is
their business; I can do nothing. But you see, Jeanne, what good comes from
being sad in prison; right away you are suspected. I have never been
suspected, not I. But, my girl--enough talk; go and see if I am at your
house; you lose too much precious time by coming here. I can only talk;
with you it is different; therefore goodnight. Come here from time to time;
you know I shall be glad to see you."
"My brother, still a few moments, I beg you."
"No, no; your children are expecting you. Ah, you do not tell them, I hope,
that their uncle is a boarder here?"
"They think you are at the islands, as my mother did formerly. In this way,
I hope, I can talk to them of you."
"Very good. Go! quickly!"
"Yes, but listen, my poor brother. I have not much, yet I will not leave
you thus. You must be cold--no stockings, and this wretched waistcoat! I
will fix something for you, with Catherine's aid. Fortune, you know that it
is not the will to do something for you that is wanting."
"What? clothes? why, I have my trunks full. As soon as they arrive, I shall
have wherewithal to dress myself like a prince. Come, laugh, then, a
little. No? Well! seriously, my girl, I do not refuse, while waiting for
Gringalet and Cut-in-half to fill my money-box. Then I will return it.
Adieu, my good Jeanne; the next time you come, may I love my name of Pique
Vinaigre, if I do not make you laugh. Go away; I have already kept you too
"But, brother, listen!"
"My good man! my good man!" cried Pique-Vinaigre to the warder seated at
the other end, "I have finished my conversation; I wish to go in; talked
"Oh! Fortune, it is not kind to send me away thus," said Jeanne.
"On the contrary, it is very right. Come, adieu; keep up your courage, and
to-morrow morning say to the children that you have dreamed of their uncle,
who is in the West Indies, and that he begged you to embrace them. Adieu."
"Adieu, Fortune," said the poor woman, all in tears at seeing her brother
enter the prison.
Rigolette, since the bailiff had seated himself alongside of her, had not
been able to hear the conversation of Pique-Vinaigre and Jeanne; but she
had not taken off her eyes from them, thinking how to find out the address
of this poor woman, so as to be able, according to her first idea, to
recommend her to Rudolph. When Jeanne rose from the bench to leave, the
grisette approached her, saying, timidly, "Madame, just now, without
wishing to listen to you, I heard that you were a lace fringe-maker."
"Yes, my friend," answered Jeanne, a little surprised but prepossessed in
favor of Rigolette by her pleasing manners and charming face.
"I am a dressmaker," answered the grisette. "Now that fringes and lace are
in fashion, I have sometimes some customers who ask me for trimmings after
their own taste; I have thought perhaps it would be cheaper to apply to the
makers; and, besides, I could give you more than your employer does,"
"It is true; by buying the silk on my own account I should gain something.
You are very kind to think of me. I am quite surprised."
"I will speak to you frankly. I await a person I came to see; having no one
to talk with, just now, before this gentleman placed himself between us,
without wishing it, I assure you, I have heard you talk to your brother of
your sorrows, of your children; I said to myself, poor folks ought to
assist each other. The idea struck me at the time that I might be of some
use to you, since you are a fringe-maker. If, indeed, what I have proposed
suits you, here is my address; give me yours, so that when I shall have a
little order to give you I shall know where to find you."
And Rigolette gave one of her cards to the sister of Pique-Vinaigre. She,
quite touched at the proceedings, said gratefully:
"Your face has not deceived me; and, besides, do not take it for pride, but
you have a resemblance to my eldest daughter, which made me look at you
twice on entering. I thank you much; if you employ me, you shall be
satisfied with my work; it shall be done conscientiously. I am called
Jeanne Duport. I live at No. 1, Rue de la Barillerie."
"No. 1, it is not difficult to remember. Thank you, madame."
"It is for me to thank you, my dear, it is so kind in you to have thought
at once of serving me! Once more I express my surprise."
"Why, that is very plain, Madame Duport," said Rigolette, with a charming
smile. "Since I look like your daughter Catherine, that which you call my
kindness ought not to surprise you."
"How kind! Thanks to you, I go away from here less sad than I thought; and
then, perhaps, we may meet here again, for you come, like me, to see a
"Yes, madame," answered Rigolette, sighing.
"Then, adieu. I shall see you again; at least, I hope so, Miss Rigolette,"
said Jeanne Duport, after having cast her eyes on the address of the
"At least," thought Rigolette, resuming her seat, "I know now the address
of this poor woman; and certainly M. Rudolph will interest himself for her
when he knows how unfortunate she is, for he has always told me, 'If you
know any one much to be pitied, address yourself to me.'"
And Rigolette taking her place, awaited with impatience the end of the
conversation of her neighbor, in order to be able to ask for Germain.
Now a few words on the preceding scene. Unfortunately, it must be
confessed, the indignation of the brother of Jeanne Duport was legitimate.
Yes: in saying the law was _too dear_ for the poor, he said the truth.
To plead before the civil tribunals is to incur enormous expenses, quite
out of the reach of artisans, who barely exist on their scanty wages.
Let a mother or father of a family belonging to this ever-sacrificed class
wish to obtain an obliteration of the conjugal tie; let them have all right
to obtain it: will they obtain it? No; for there is no workman in a
condition to spend four or five hundred francs for the onerous formalities
of such a judgment.
Yet the poor have no other life than a domestic one; the good or bad
conduct of the head of an artisan's family is not only a question of
morality; but of _bread_. The fate of a woman of the people, such as
we have endeavored to paint, does it deserve less interest, less
protection, than that of a rich woman, who suffers from the bad conduct or
infidelities of her husband, think you?
Nothing is more worthy of pity, doubtless, than the griefs of the heart.
But when to these griefs is added, for an unfortunate mother, the misery of
her children, is it not monstrous that the poverty of this woman places her
without the law, and leaves her and her family without defense against the
odious treatment of a drunken and worthless husband?
Yet this monstrosity exists. [Footnote: Translator's Note.--How singular
that, as this new edition of the _sensational romancist's_ work is
issued, the Imperial Parliament should have a bill to redress this very
oversight before it.]
And a liberated criminal can, in this circumstance as in others, deny, with
right and reason, the impartiality of the institutions in the name of which
he is condemned. Is it necessary to say what there is in this dangerous to
society, to justify such attacks?
What will be the influence, the moral authority, of those laws whose
application is absolutely subordinate to a question of money? Ought not
civil justice, like criminal justice, to be accessible to all?
When people are too poor to be able to invoke the benefits of a law
eminently preservative and tutelary, ought not society to assure the
application, through respect for the honor and repose of families?
But let us leave this woman, who will remain all her life the victim of a
brutal and perverted husband, because she is too poor to obtain a
matrimonial separation by law. Let us speak of Jeanne Duport's brother.
This man left a den of corruption to enter the world again; he has paid the
penalty of his crime by expiation. What precautions has society taken to
prevent his falling back into crime? None.
Has any one, with charitable foresight, rendered possible his return to
well-doing, in order to be able to punish, as one should punish, in a
becoming manner, if he shows himself incorrigible? No.
The contagious influence of your jails is so well known, and so justly
dreaded, that he who comes out from them is everywhere an object of
scorn, aversion, and alarm. Were he twenty times an honest man, he would
scarcely find occupation anywhere. And what is more: the penalty of a
ticket-of-leave banishes him to small localities, where his past life
must be well known; and here he will have no means of exercising the
exceptionable employment often imposed on the prisoners by the contractors
of the maisons centrales. If the liberated convict has the courage to
resist temptation, he abandons himself to some of those murderous
occupations of which we have spoken, to the preparation of certain
chemical productions, by which one in ten perishes; or, if he has the
strength, he goes to get out stone in the forest of Fontainebleau, an
employment which he survives, average time, six years! The condition of
a liberated convict is, then, much worse, more painful, more difficult,
than it was before his first criminal action: he lives surrounded by
shackles and dangers; he is obliged to brave repulses and disdain--often
the deepest misery. And if he succumbs to all these frightful temptations
to criminality, and commits a second crime, you show yourself ten times
more severe toward him than for his first fault. That is unjust; for it
is almost always the necessity you impose on him which conducts him to a
second crime. Yes; for it is shown that, instead of correcting him, your
penitentiary system depraves. Instead of ameliorating, it makes worse;
instead of curing slight moral affections, it renders them incurable.
Your aggravation of punishment, applied without pity to the backslider,
is, then, iniquitous, barbarous, since this backsliding is, thus to
express it, a forced consequence of your penal institutions. The terrible
punishment which awaits this _double guilt_ would be just and excusable if
your prisons improved the morals, purified the prisoners, and if, at the
expiration of the sentence, good conduct was, if not easy, at least
generally possible. If any one is surprised at these contradictions of the
law, what would he be when he compares certain penalties to certain
crimes--either on account of their inevitable consequences, or on account
of the disproportion which exists in their punishment? The conversation of
the prisoner whom the bailiff came to see will offer to us one of these
The prisoner who entered at the moment that Pique-Vinaigre left it was a
man of about thirty years of age, with red hair, and a jovial, fat, and
rubicund face; his middling stature rendered still more remarkable by his
enormous corpulency. This prisoner, so rosy and stout, was wrapped up in a
long, warm coat of gray swan's-down, with gaiter trousers of the same
material. A kind of hooded cap of red velvet completed the costume of this
personage, who wore excellent furred slippers. Although the fashion of
wearing trinkets was over, the golden watch-chain sustained a goodly number
of fine gold seals and rings. Finally, several rings, enriched with
precious stones, sparkled on the fat red fingers of this prisoner, known as
Boulard the Bailiff, accused of breach of trust.
[Illustration: THE REQUEST FOR A FRIENDLY SERVICE]
His visitor was Pierre Bourdin, one of the officers charged with the arrest
of Morel the jeweler. Bourdin was rather shorter, but quite as fat, and
attired after his patron, whose magnificence he admired. Having, like him,
a partiality for jewels, he wore on this day a huge topaz pin, and a long
gold chain, suspended from his neck, was entwined among the buttonholes of
"Good-day! faithful Bourdin; I was quite sure you would not be missing at
the roll-call," said Boulard, joyously, in a faint, cracked voice, which
singularly contrasted with his fat body and blooming face.
"Missing at the roll-call!" answered the bailiff; "I am incapable of such
an act, general!" It was thus that Bourdin, with a pleasantry at once
familiar and respectful, called the bailiff, under whose orders he acted;
this military form of speech being often used among certain classes of
"I see with pleasure that friendship remains faithful to the unfortunate,"
said Boulard, with cordial gayety; "yet I began to be uneasy. Three days
since I wrote to you, and no Bourdin till now."
"Imagine, general, quite a history. You recollect well the handsome
viscount in the Rue de Chaillot?"
"Exactly! you know how he laughed at our writs?"
"It was quite indecent."
"To be sure it was. Malicorne and I were quite stupefied at it, if that
"It is impossible, brave Bourdin."
"Happily, general, but here is the fact; this handsome viscount has got new
"Has he become a count?"
"No! from a cheat he has become a robber."
"They are at his heels for some diamonds he has stolen; and, by way of
parenthesis, they belong to that jeweler who employed this sneak of a
Morel, the lapidary whom we went to nab in the Rue du Temple, when a tall
slim jockey, with black mustaches, paid for the starved rat, and came near
pitching headforemost down the stairs Malicorne and me."
"Oh! yes, yes; I recollect. You told me that, my poor Bourdin; it was very
funny. The best of the farce was that the portress of the house emptied on
your backs a saucepan of boiling soup."
"Saucepan included, general, which burst like a bomb at our feet. The old
"That will be taken into your charge. But this handsome viscount?"
"I tell you, then, that Saint Rémy was prosecuted for a robbery, after
having made his ninny of a father believe that he had blown his brains out.
An agent of the police, one of my friends, knowing that I had for a long
time tracked this lord, asked me if I could not put him on the scent. I
learned too late, at the time of our last writ, which he had escaped, that
he was burrowed in a farm at Arnouville, at five leagues from Paris. But
when we arrived there it was too late; the bird had flown!
"Besides, he had the following day paid this bill of exchange, thanks to a
certain great lady, they say. Yes, general; but no matter, I knew the rest.
He had once been concealed there; he might well enough be concealed there a
second time. That is what I said to my friend in the police. He proposed
for me to lend a hand, as an amateur, and conduct him to the farm. I had
nothing to do--it was a nice party to the country--I accepted."
"Well! the viscount?"
"Not to be found. After having at first wandered around the farm, and
having afterward introduced ourselves there, we returned as wise as we
went; and this is the reason I have not been able to render myself sooner
to your orders, general."
"I was very sure there was an impossibility on your part, my good fellow."
"But, if it is not improper, tell me, how the devil did you get here?"
"Vulgar people, my dear--a herd of riff-raff, who, for the miserable sum of
sixty thousand francs, of which they pretend I have despoiled them, have
carried a complaint against me for an abuse of confidence, and forced me to
give up my commission."
"Really! general? Ah, well! this is a misfortune! How--shall we work no
more for you?"
"I am on half-pay, my good Bourdin; here I am on an allowance."
"But who is, then, so savage?"
"Just imagine that one of the most severe against me is a liberated robber,
who gave me to collect a bill of seven hundred miserable francs, for which
it was necessary to prosecute. I did prosecute; I was paid, and I pocketed
the money; and because, in consequence of speculations which did not
succeed, I have spent this money, as well as that of many others, all the
rubbishing lot have made such a brawling, that a writ was issued to arrest
me, and thus you see me here, my good fellow; neither more nor less than a
"Take care that don't hurt you, general."
"Yes; but what is most curious is, this convict has written to me, some
days since, that this money, being his sole resource for rainy days, and
that these days had now arrived (I do not know what lie means by that), I
was responsible for the crimes he might commit to escape starvation."
"It is charming, on my word!"
"Is it not? Nothing more convenient. The droll fellow is capable of giving
that as an excuse. Happily, the law knows no such accomplices."
"After all, you are only accused of an abuse of confidence, is it not, my
"Certainly! Do you take me for a thief, Master Bourdin?"
"Oh! general. I meant to say there was nothing serious in all this; after
all, there is not enough to whip a cat."
"Have I a despairing look, my good fellow?"
"Not at all; I never saw you look more cheerful. Indeed, if you are
condemned, you will only have two or three months' imprisonment, and
twenty-five francs fine. I know my code."
"And these two or three months I shall be allowed, I am sure, to pass at my
ease in a lunatic asylum. I have one deputy under my thumb."
"Oh! then your affair is sure."
"Hold, Bourdin, I can hardly keep from laughing; these fools who have sent
me here will gain much by it! They shall never see a sou of the money they
claim. They force me to sell my commission--all the same. I am aware of the
duty I owe my predecessor. You see it is these muffs who will be the geese
of the farce, as Robert Macaire says."
"That produces the same effect on me, general; so much the worse for them."
"My good fellow, let us come to the subject which made me beg you to come
here; it is touching a delicate mission concerning a female," said Boulard,
with a mysterious air.
"Ah! rogue of a general, I recognize you there! What is it? Count on me."
"I interest myself particularly in a young actress of the
Folies-Dramatiques; I pay her board, and, in exchange, she pays me in
return--at least, I think so; for, my good fellow, you know, the absent are
often in the wrong. Now, I am the more tenacious to know if I am wrong, as
Alexandrine--she is called Alexandrine--has sent for some money. I have
never been stingy with the fair sex; but I do not wish to be made a fool
of. Thus, before playing the generous with this dear friend, I wish to know
if she deserves it by her fidelity. I know there is nothing more absurd
than fidelity; but it is a weakness I have. You will render me, then, a
friendly service, my dear comrade, if you can for a few days have a
supervision over my love, and let me know how to act either by talking with
the landlady of Alexandrine, or--"
"Sufficient, general," interrupting. "This is nothing worse than watching,
spying, and following a creditor. Have confidence in me; I shall find out
if Lady Alexandrine sticks a penknife in the contract, which appears to me
quite improbable; for, without flattery, general, you are too handsome a
man, and too generous not to be valued."
"I ought to be a handsome man; yet I am absent, my dear comrade, and it is
a great wrong; in fine, I count on you to know the truth."
"You shall know it, I will answer for it."
"Ah! my dear comrade, how can I express my gratitude?"
"Come, come, now, general."
"It is understood, my good Bourdin, that in this affair your fees shall be
the same as for an arrest."
"General, I will not allow it; so long as I acted under your orders, have
you not always allowed me to grind the debtors to the quick, treble the
fees of arrest, costs, which you have afterward prosecuted to payment with
as much activity as if they had been due to yourself?"
"But, my dear comrade, that is different; in my turn I will not allow--"
"General, you will humiliate me, if you do not allow me to offer you this
as a feeble proof of my gratitude."
"Very well; I shall struggle no longer with your generosity. Besides, your
devotion will be a sweet recompense for the freedom that I have always
maintained in our business affairs."
"That is what I expect, my general; but can I not serve you in any other
way? you must be horribly situated here, you, who like to be so much at
your ease! You are in a cell by yourself, I hope?"
"Certainly, and I arrived just in time, for I have the last vacant room. I
have arranged myself as well as I can in my cell; I am not very badly off;
I have a stove; I sent for a good arm-chair; I make three long repasts; I
digest, I walk and sleep. Saving the inquietude which Alexandrine causes
me, you see I am not much to be pitied."
"But you are so much of a _gourmand_, general! the resources of the prison
are so meager!"
"But the provision merchant who lives in this street has been created, as
it were, for my service. I have an open account with him, and every day he
sends me a nice little basket; and while on this subject, and you are ready
to do me a favor, beg good Mrs. Michonneau, who, by the way, is not so
"Ah! rogue--rogue of a general!"
"Come, my dear comrade, no evil thoughts," said the bailiff, "I am only a
good customer and neighbor. Pray dear Mrs. Michonneau to put into my basket
to-morrow some pickled funny fish; it is now in season; it will be good for
my digestion, and make me thirsty."
"And then, let her send a hamper of Burgundy, Champagne, and Bordeaux, just
like the last--she knows what that means! and let her add two bottles of
her old 1817 Cognac, and a pound of pure Mocha, fresh ground and burned."
"I will just note down the date of the brandy, so as not to forget it,"
said Bourdin, taking his notebook from his pocket.
"Since you are writing, my dear comrade, have the goodness to note down to
ask at my house for my eiderdown coverlet."
"All this shall be executed to the letter, general. Be easy; I feel now a
little more assured as to your good living. But do you take your walks
pell-mell among the low prisoners?"
"Yes, and it is very gay, very animated; I come out of my room after
breakfast. I go sometimes into one court, sometimes into another; and, as
you say, I mix with the dregs. I assure you that, at the bottom, they
appear to be very good fellows; some of them are very amusing. The most
abandoned assemble in what they call the Lions' Den. Ah! my dear comrade,
what hangdog faces! There is one among them named Skeleton! I have never
seen his fellow."
"What a singular name!"
"He is so thin, or, rather, so fleshless, that it is no nickname; I tell
you, he is frightful; and with all this, he is provost-marshal of his ward;
he is by far the greatest villain of them all. He comes from the galleys,
and he has again robbed and murdered; but his last murder is so horrible,
that he knows very well he will be condemned to death to a certainty, but
he laughs at it like fun."
"What a ruffian!"
"All the prisoners admire, and tremble before him. I put myself at once in
his good graces, by giving him some cigars; he has taken me into his
friendship, and teaches me slang. I make progress."
"Oh! oh! what a good lark! my general learning flash!"
"I tell you I amuse myself like anything. These jockeys adore me; some of
them are even familiar as relations. I am not proud, like a little
gentleman, Germain, a barefoot, who has not the means to be separate, and
yet pretends to play the disdainful with them."
"But he must have been delighted to find a man so much at home as you are,
to talk with, if he is so highly disgusted with the others?"
"Bah! he did not seem to remark who I was; but had he remarked it, I should
have been very guarded to respond to his advances. He is the butt of the
prison. They will play him, sooner or later, a bad turn, and I have not, of
course, any desire to partake of the aversion of which he is the object."
"You are very right."
"That would spoil my recreation; for my promenade with the prisoners is a
real promenade. Only these robbers have not a great opinion of me,
mentally. You comprehend--my accusation of a simple abuse of confidence--it
is a sad thing for such fellows. Thus they look upon me as no great shakes,
as Arnal says."
"In fact, alongside of these matadores of crime, you are--"
"A lamb, my dear comrade. Since you are so obliging, do not forget my
"Do not be uneasy, my general."
"1st Alexandrine; 2d the fish, and the hamper of wine; 3d the old 1817
Cognac, the ground coffee, and the eiderdown coverlet."
"You shall have all. Anything more?"
"Yes, I forgot. Do you know where M. Badinot lives?"
"The broker? yes."
"Will you tell him that I reckon on his obliging disposition to find me a
lawyer who is prepared for my cause--that I shall not regard a cool
"I will see M. Badinot, be assured, general; this evening all your
commissions shall be executed, and to-morrow you will receive what you have
demanded. Adieu, and a good heart, general."
And the prisoner left on one side, and the visitor on the other.
Now compare the crime of Pique-Vinaigre, a robber, to the offense of
Boulard, the bailliff. Compare the point of departure from virtue of the
two, and the reasons, necessities, which have pushed them on to crime.
Compare, finally, the punishment that awaits them. Coming out of prison,
inspiring everywhere fear and indifference, the liberated convict could not
follow, in the residence appointed him, the trade he knew; he hoped to be
able to work at an occupation dangerous to his life, but suitable for his
strength; this resource failed him.
Then he breaks his terms of release, returns to Paris, contriving to
conceal his former life and find some work. He arrives, exhausted with
fatigue, dying with hunger; by chance he discovers that a sum of money is
deposited in a neighboring house; he yields to temptation, he forces a
window, opens a desk, steals one hundred francs, and flies. He is arrested,
is a prisoner. He will be tried, condemned. For a second crime, fifteen or
twenty years of hard labor and the pillory is what awaits him. He knows it.
This formidable punishment he deserves. Property is sacred. He who, at
night, breaks open your doors to take your goods ought to undergo a severe
penalty. In vain shall the culpable plead the want of work, poverty, his
position so difficult and intolerable, the wants which this position, this
condition of a liberated convict, imposes on him. So much the worse; there
is but one law. Society, for its peace and safety, will and ought to be
armed with boundless power, and without pity repress these audacious
attacks upon others.
Yes, this wretch, ignorant and stupid, this corrupted and despised convict,
has merited his fate. But what shall he then deserve who, intelligent,
rich, educated, surrounded by the esteem of all, clothed with an official
character, will steal--not to eat, but to satisfy some fanciful caprice, or
to try the chance of stock-jobbing? Will steal, not a hundred francs, but a
hundred thousand francs--a million? Will steal, not at night, at the peril
of his life, but tranquilly, quite at his ease, in the sight of all? Will
steal, not from an unknown who has placed his money under the safeguard of
a lock, but from a client, who has placed from necessity his money under
the safeguard of the public officer, whom the law points out--imposes on
his confidence? What terrible punishment will be deserve, then, who,
instead of stealing a small sum almost from necessity, will steal wholesale
a considerable amount? Would it not be a crying injustice not to apply to
him a similar punishment to that bestowed on the poor villain pushed to
extremities by misery, to theft by want? Get along! says the law. How!
apply to a man well brought up the same punishment as to a vagabond? For
shame! To compare an offense of good society with a vulgar burglary? Fie!
Thus, for the public defaulting officer: two months imprisonment. For the
liberated prisoner: twenty years hard labor, and the pillory. What can be
added to these facts? They speak for themselves.
What sad and serious reflections they give birth to. Faithful to his
promise, the old warder had called for Germain. When Boulard re-entered
the prison, the door opened, Germain entered, and Rigolette was no longer
separated from her poor lover but by a slight wire railing.
Germain's features were wanting in regularity, but a more interesting face
could scarcely be seen; his bearing was exalted; his figure graceful; his
dress plain, but neat (gray trousers and a black frock-coat closely
buttoned), showed none of that slovenly carelessness so peculiar to
prisoners; his white hands bore witness of a care for his person which had
still more increased the aversion of the other prisoners; for moral
perversity is almost always joined to personal filthiness. His brown hair,
naturally curled, which he wore long and parted on the side, according to
the fashion of the times, hung around his pale and dejected face; his eyes,
of a beautiful blue, announced frankness and kindness; his smiles, at once
sad and sweet, expressed benevolence and habitual melancholy; for, although
very young, this unfortunate youth had experienced many trials.
In a word, nothing could be more touching than his appearance, suffering,
affecting, resigned; as also nothing more honest, more loyal, than the
heart of this young man. The cause even of his arrest (despoiling it of the
calumnious aggravations due to the hatred of Jacques Ferrand) proved the
kind-heartedness of Germain, and accused him only of a moment's
thoughtlessness or imprudence; culpable, doubtless, but pardonable, when
one reflects that he was able to replace in the desk of the notary the sum
taken to save Morel the lapidary. Germain blushed slightly when, through
the grating, he perceived the fresh and charming face of Rigolette. She,
according to her custom, wished to appear gay, to encourage and cheer his
spirits; but she ill-concealed the sorrow and emotion that she had always
felt since he had been imprisoned. Seated on a bench on the other side of
the railing, she held on her lap her basket.
The old warder, instead of remaining in the passage, went and seated
himself near a stove at the extremity of the room. In a few moments he fell
asleep. Germain and Rigolette could talk at their ease.
"Come, M. Germain," said the grisette, approaching her face as close as she
could to the grating, the better to examine the features of her friend,
"let me see if I am satisfied with your face. Is it less sorrowful? Hum!
hum! so, so; take care; you will make me angry."
"How kind you are to come again to-day!"
"Again! what! that is a reproach."
"Ought I not, in truth, reproach you for doing so much for me--for me, who
can do nothing but thank you?"
"An error, sir; for I am also as happy from my visits as you are. So I
must, in my turn, thank you. Ah! ah! there is where I have caught you,
Master Unjust. I have half a mind to punish you for your wicked ideas, by
not giving you what I have brought."
"Another kindness! how you spoil me!--oh! thank you. Pardon me if I repeat
so often this word, which you dislike!--but you leave me nothing else to
"In the first place, you do not know what I have brought."
"What is that to me?"
"Well, you are polite!"
"Whatever it may be, does it not come from you? Your touching kindness,
does it not fill me with gratitude, and----"
Germain could not finish, but cast down his eyes.
"And with what?" asked Rigolette, blushing.
"And with--and with devotion," stammered Germain.
"Why not add respect at once, like at the end of a letter," said Rigolette
impatiently. "You deceive me; it was not that which you intended to say.
You stopped short."
"I assure you----"
"You assure me!--you assure me! I see you blush through the grating. Am I
not your little friend, your neighbor? Why do you conceal anything? Be
frank, then, with me; tell me all," added the grisette, timidly; for she
only waited for an avowal from Germain to tell him openly that she loved
him. An honest and generous love, which the misfortunes of Germain had
called into existence.
"I assure you," answered the prisoner, with a sigh, "that I conceal nothing
"Fie, the false man!" cried Rigolette, stamping her foot. "Well, you see
this large cravat of white wool that I brought for you?" and she took it
from her basket. "To punish you for your dissimulation, you shall not have
it. I knit it for you. I said to myself, it must be so cold, so damp, in
those large prison yards, that at least he will be protected nicely with
this; he is so chilly."
"Yes, you are liable to cold," said Rigolette, interrupting him. "Perhaps I
recollect it well! that did not, however, prevent you hindering me (out of
delicacy) from putting any more wood in my stove when you passed the
evening with me. Oh, I have a good memory!"
"And I also-only too good!" said Germain, in an agitated voice, passing his
hand over his eyes.
"Come, now, there you are becoming sad again, although I forbid it."
"How; do you wish me not to be touched, even to tears, when I think of all
that you have done for me since my detention here? And this new attention,
is it not charming? Do I not know that you encroach upon your nights to
make time to come and see me? On my account you impose upon yourself extra
"That is it! Pity me then, quickly, because every two or three days I take
a fine walk to come and visit my friends, I, who adore a walk. It is so
amusing to look at the shops along the streets!"
"And to come out on such a day; such a wind!"
"A reason the more; you have no idea what funny figures you meet! Some
holding on their hats with both hands, so that the wind shall not carry
them off; others, with their umbrellas turned wrong side out like a tulip,
are making incredible grimaces, shutting their eyes, while the rain beats
in their faces. Ah! this morning, during my whole walk, it was a real
comedy! I promised myself to make you laugh by telling it you. But you will
not even force a smile."
"It is not my fault; pardon me, but the kind interest you have manifested
for me touches my very heart. You know it; my emotions are never gay; they
are stronger than--"
Rigolette, not wishing to let him observe that, notwithstanding her
prattle, she was very near partaking his agitation, hastened to change the
conversation, and replied:
"You say that your feelings are stronger than you; but there is another
thing that you will not master, although I have begged and supplicated
you," added Rigolette.
"Of what do you speak?"
"Of your obstinacy in always keeping yourself apart from the other
prisoners; in never speaking to them. The warder has just told me again
that, for your own interest, you should associate with them. I am sure you
will not do it. You are silent. You see well it is always the same thing!
You will not be contented until these frightful men have done you some
"You do not know the horror with which they inspire me. You do not know
all the personal reasons that I have to fly and execrate them and their
"Alas! yes; I think I know them--these reasons. I have read the papers
which you wrote for me, and which I went to your lodgings to get after
your imprisonment. There I have learned the dangers you have incurred
since your arrival in Paris, because you would not associate yourself in
crime with the scoundrel who brought you up. It was on account of the
trap set for you that you left the Rue du Temple, only telling me where
you were going to reside. In those papers I have also read something
else," added Rigolette, blushing anew, and casting down her eyes; "I
have read some things--that--"
"Oh! that you should have been always ignorant of, I swear it," cried
Germain, quickly, "but for the misfortune which has fallen upon me--Ah! I
interest you; be generous; pardon me these follies; forget them. In happier
times I allowed myself these dreams, as wild as they were."
Rigolette had a second time endeavored to extract an avowal from the lips
of Germain, by making allusion to passages filled with tenderness and
passion, which he had formerly written and dedicated to the recollections
of the grisette; for, as we have said, he had always felt for her a lively
and sincere affection; but to enjoy the cordial intimacy of his sweet
neighbor, he had concealed this love under the mask of friendship. Rendered
by misfortune still more suspicious and timid, he could not imagine that
Rigolette loved him with love: he, a prisoner, he, withering under a
terrible accusation, while before these misfortunes she had never evinced
any attachment stronger than that of a sister. The grisette, seeing herself
so little understood, suppressed a sigh, waiting--hoping for a better
occasion to unfold to Germain the wishes of her heart. She answered, then,
with embarrassment: "I can easily comprehend that the society of these bad
people causes you horror, but that is no reason for you to brave useless
"I assure you that in order to follow your advice, I have several times
tried to address some of them who seemed the least criminal; but if you
knew what language! what men!"
"Alas! it is true, it must be terrible."
"What is still more terrible is, to find I become more and more accustomed,
habituated to the frightful conversations which, in spite of myself, I hear
all the day; yes, now I listen with a sad apathy to the horrors which,
during my first days here, aroused my indignation; thus, I begin to doubt
myself," cried he, with bitterness.
"Oh! M. Germain, what do you say?"
"By constantly living in these horrid places, our minds become accustomed
to criminal thoughts, as our hearing becomes habituated to the gross words
which resound continually around us. I comprehend now that one can enter
here innocent, although accused, and leave it perverted."
"Yes, but not you--not you?"
"Yes, I; and others a thousand times better than I. Alas! those who, before
conviction, condemn us to this odious association, are ignorant of its
mournful and fatal effects. They are ignorant that almost in all cases the
air which is breathed here becomes contagious--fatal to honor!"
"I pray you do not talk thus; you cause me too much sorrow."
"You ask me the cause of my growing sadness, there you have it. I did not
wish to tell you; but I have only one way of acknowledging your pity for
"My pity--my pity!"
"Yes, it is to conceal nothing from you. Ah, well! I acknowledge it with
affright. I no longer recognize myself. I have good reason to despise, to
fly these wretches. Their presence, their contact affects me, in spite of
myself. One would say that they have the fatal power to vitiate the
atmosphere they breathe. It seems to me that I feel the corruption entering
through every pore. If they absolve me from the fault I have committed, the
sight, the acquaintance of honest men will fill me with confusion and
shame. I have not yet had the enjoyment of pleasant companions; but I dread
the day when I shall find myself among honorable people, because I have the
consciousness of my weakness."
"Of your weakness?"
"Of my cowardice!"
"Of your cowardice? but what unjust ideas you have of yourself!"
"Ah! is it not to be cowardly and culpable to compound with one's duty and
probity? And that I have done!"
"I! On entering here I did not extenuate the magnitude of my fault, all
excusable as it was, perhaps. Well! now it appears to me less, from hearing
these robbers and these murderers speak of their crimes with obscene jests
or ferocious pride. I surprise myself sometimes envying them their
audacious indifference, and upbraiding myself bitterly for the remorse with
which I am tormented for so slight an offense compared to their misdeeds."
"But you are right; your deed, far from being blamable, is generous; you
were sure of being able to return the money which you took only for a few
hours, in order to save a whole family from ruin, from death, perhaps."
"No matter; in the eyes of the law, in the eyes of honest men, it is a
robbery. Doubtless, it is less criminal to steal for such a purpose than
for any other; but it is a fatal symptom, to be obliged, in order to excuse
one's self in one's eyes, to look around for a reason. I am no longer the
equal of men without a stain. Behold me already forced to compare myself
with the degraded men with whom I live. Thus, in time, I well see,
conscience is blunted, and becomes hardened. To-morrow, I shall commit a
robbery, not with the certainty of being able to restore what I took for a
laudable object, but I shall steal from cupidity, and I shall doubtless
think myself innocent in comparison to those who murder to rob. And yet, at
this present moment, there is as great a distance between me and an
assassin, as there is between me and an irreproachable man. Thus, because
there are beings a thousand times more degraded than I am, my degradation
is to be excused in my eyes! Instead of being able to say, as formerly, I
am as honest as the most honest men, I will console myself by saying I am
the least degraded of the wretches among whom I am condemned to live!"
"Not always? Once out of this?"
"No matter; even if acquitted, these people know me; when they leave the
prison, if they meet me, they will speak to me as their old jail companion.
If any one is ignorant of the accusation which brought me to the assizes,
these wretches will threaten to divulge it. Thus you well see, cursed and
now indissoluble links unite me to them, while, shut alone in my cell until
the day of my trial, unknown by them as they would have been unknown to me,
I should not have been assailed by these fears, which may paralyze the best
resolutions. And then, alone, in thinking of my fault, it would have been
magnified instead of being diminished; the graver it appeared to me, the
greater would have been my future expiation. Thus, the more I should have
felt the need of my own pardon, the more in my poor sphere I should have
tried to do good. For it needs a hundred good actions to atone for a single
bad one. But shall I ever dream of expiating that which at this moment
scarcely causes me any remorse? Hold! I feel it, I obey an irresistible
influence, against which I have struggled for a long time with all my
strength. I was educated for crime, I yield to my destiny; after all,
isolated, without family, what matters it that my destiny should be
accomplished, be it honest or criminal? And yet, my intentions were good
and pure. When they wished to make me guilty, I experienced a profound
satisfaction in saying to myself: I have never been wanting in honor, and
that, perhaps, was more difficult for me than all the rest. And now--oh!
it is frightful--frightful!" cried the prisoner, sobbing in so heartrending
a manner that Rigolette, deeply affected, could not restrain her tears.
Let us say, however, that Germain, thanks to his sterling probity, had
struggled for a long time victoriously, and that he felt the approaches of
the malady more than he experienced in reality. His fear of seeing his
fault become of less gravity in his own eyes, proved that he still felt all
its enormity; but the trouble, apprehension, and doubts which cruelly
agitated his virtuous and generous mind were not the less alarming
symptoms. Guided by the rectitude of her understanding, by her woman's
sagacity, and by the impulses of her love, Rigolette divined that which we
have just said. Although well convinced that her friend had not yet lost