The Great Play "Les Avaries" of Eugene Brieux
Novelized with the approval of the author
by Upton Sinclair
THE PRODUCTION OF EUGENE BRIEUX'S PLAY, "LES AVARIES," OR, TO GIVE IT ITS ENGLISH TITLE, "DAMAGED GOODS," HAS INITIATED A MOVEMENT IN THIS COUNTRY WHICH MUST BE REGARDED AS EPOCH-MAKING.—New York Times
Page 4 is a virtually unreadable letter in handwritten script from M. Brieux.
My endeavor has been to tell a simple story, preserving as closely as possible the spirit and feeling of the original. I have tried, as it were, to take the play to pieces, and build a novel out of the same material. I have not felt at liberty to embellish M. Brieux's ideas, and I have used his dialogue word for word wherever possible. Unless I have mis-read the author, his sole purpose in writing LES AVARIES was to place a number of most important facts before the minds of the public, and to drive them home by means of intense emotion. If I have been able to assist him, this bit of literary carpentering will be worth while. I have to thank M. Brieux for his kind permission to make the attempt, and for the cordial spirit which he has manifested.
PRESS COMMENTS ON THE PLAY
DAMAGED GOODS was first presented in America at a Friday matinee on March 14th, 1913, in the Fulton Theater, New York, before members of the Sociological Fund. Immediately it was acclaimed by public press and pulpit as the greatest contribution ever made by the Stage to the cause of humanity. Mr. Richard Bennett, the producer, who had the courage to present the play, with the aid of his co-workers, in the face of most savage criticism from the ignorant, was overwhelmed with requests for a repetition of the performance.
Before deciding whether of not to present DAMAGED GOODS before the general public, it was arranged that the highest officials in the United States should pass judgment upon the manner in which the play teaches its vital lesson. A special guest performance for members of the Cabinet, members of both houses of Congress, members of the United States Supreme Court, representatives of the Diplomatic corps and others prominent in national life was given in Washington, D.C.
Although the performance was given on a Sunday afternoon (April 6, 1913), the National Theater was crowded to the very doors with the most distinguished audience ever assembled in America, including exclusively the foremost men and women of the Capital. The most noted clergymen of Washington were among the spectators.
The result of this remarkable performance was a tremendous endorsement of the play and of the manner in which Mr. Bennett and his co-workers were presenting it.
This reception resulted in the continuance of the New York performances until mid-summer and is responsible for the decision on the part of Mr. Bennett to offer the play in every city in America where citizens feel that the ultimate welfare of the community is dependent upon a higher standard of morality and clearer understanding of the laws of health.
The WASHINGTON POST, commenting on the Washington performance, said:
The play was presented with all the impressiveness of a sermon; with all the vigor and dynamic force of a great drama; with all the earnestness and power of a vital truth.
In many respects the presentation of this dramatization of a great social evil assumed the aspects of a religious service. Dr. Donald C. Macleod, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, mounted the rostrum usually occupied by the leader of the orchestra, and announced that the nature of the performance, the sacredness of the play, and the character of the audience gave to the play the significance of a tremendous sermon in behalf of mankind, and that as such it was eminently fitting that a divine blessing be invoked. Dr. Earle Wilfley, pastor of the Vermont Avenue Christian Church, asked all persons in the audience to bow their heads in a prayer for the proper reception of the message to be presented from the stage. Dr. MacLeod then read the Bernard Shaw preface to the play, and asked that there be no applause during the performance, a suggestion which was rigidly followed, thus adding greatly to the effectiveness and the seriousness of the dramatic portrayal.
The impression made upon the audience by the remarkable play is reflected in such comments as the following expressions voiced after the performance:
RABBI SIMON, OF THE WASHINGTON HEBREW CONGREGATION—If I could preach from my pulpit a sermon one tenth as powerful, as convincing, as far-reaching, and as helpful as this performance of DAMAGED GOODS must be, I would consider that I had achieved the triumph of my life.
COMMISSIONER CUNO H. RUDOLPH—I was deeply impressed by what I saw, and I think that the drama should be repeated in every city, a matinee one day for father and son and the next day for mother and daughter.
REV. EARLE WILFLEY—I am confirmed in the opinion that we must take up our cudgels in a crusade against the modern problems brought to the fore by DAMAGED GOODS. The report that these diseases are increasing is enough to make us get busy on a campaign against them.
SURGEON GENERAL BLUE—It was a most striking and telling lesson. For years we have been fighting these condition in the navy. It is high time that civilians awakened to the dangers surrounding them and crusaded against them in a proper manner.
MRS. ARCHIBALD HOPKINS—The play was a powerful presentation of a very important question and was handled in a most admirable manner. The drama is a fine entering wedge for this crusade and is bound to do considerable good in conveying information of a very serious nature.
MINISTER PEZET, OF PERU—There can be no doubt but that the performance will have great uplifting power, and accomplish the good for which it was created. Fortunately, we do not have the prudery in South America that you of the north possess, and have open minds to consider these serious questions.
JUSTICE DANIEL THEW WRIGHT—I feel quite sure that DAMAGED GOODS will have considerable effect in educating the people of the nature of the danger that surrounds them.
SENATOR KERN, OF INDIANA—There can be no denial of the fact that it is time to look at the serious problems presented in the play with an open mind.
Brieux has been hailed by Bernard Shaw as "incomparably the greatest writer France has produced since Moliere," and perhaps no writer ever wielded his pen more earnestly in the service of the race. To quote from an article by Edwin E. Slosson in the INDEPENDENT:
Brieux is not one who believes that social evils are to be cured by laws and yet more laws. He believes that most of the trouble is caused by ignorance and urges education, public enlightenment and franker recognition of existing conditions. All this may be needed, but still we may well doubt its effectiveness as a remedy. The drunken Helot argument is not a strong one, and those who lead a vicious life know more about its risks than any teacher or preacher could tell them. Brieux also urges the requirement of health certificates for marriage, such as many clergymen now insist upon and which doubtless will be made compulsory before long in many of our States.
Brieux paints in black colors yet is no fanatic; in fact, he will be criticised by many as being too tolerant of human weakness. The conditions of society and the moral standards of France are so different from those of America that his point of view and his proposals for reform will not meet with general acceptance, but it is encouraging to find a dramatist who realizes the importance of being earnest and who uses his art in defense of virtue instead of its destruction.
Other comments follow, showing the great interest manifested in the play and the belief in the highest seriousness of its purpose:
There is no uncleanness in facts. The uncleanness is in the glamour, in the secret imagination. It is in hints, half-truths, and suggestions the threat to life lies.
This play puts the horrible truth in so living a way, with such clean, artistic force, that the mind is impressed as it could possibly be impressed in no other manner.
Best of all, it is the physician who dominates the action. There is no sentimentalizing. There is no weak and morbid handling of the theme. The doctor appears in his ideal function, as the modern high-priest of truth. Around him writhe the victims of ignorance and the criminals of conventional cruelty. Kind, stern, high-minded, clear-headed, yet human-hearted, he towers over all, as the master.
This is as it should be. The man to say the word to save the world of ignorant wretches, cursed by the clouds and darkness a mistaken modesty has thrown around a life-and-death instinct, is the physician.
The only question is this: Is this play decent? My answer is that it is the decentest play that has been in New York for a year. It is so decent that it is religious.—HEARST'S MAGAZINE.
The play is, above all, a powerful plea for the tearing away of the veil of mystery that has so universally shrouded this subject of the penalty of sexual immorality. It is a plea for light on this hidden danger, that fathers and mothers, young men and young women, may know the terrible price that must be paid, not only by the generation that violates the law, but by the generations to come. It is a serious question just how the education of men and women, especially young men and young women, in the vital matters of sex relationship should be carried on. One thing is sure, however. The worst possible way is the one which has so often been followed in the past—not to carry it on at all but to ignore it.—THE OUTLOOK.
It (DAMAGED GOODS) is, of course, a masterpiece of "thesis drama,"—an argument, dogmatic, insistent, inescapable, cumulative, between science and common sense, on one side, and love, of various types, on the other. It is what Mr. Bernard Shaw has called a "drama of discussion"; it has the splendid movement of the best Shaw plays, unrelieved—and undiluted—by Shavian paradox, wit, and irony. We imagine that many audiences at the Fulton Theater were astonished at the play's showing of sheer strength as acted drama. Possibly it might not interest the general public; probably it would be inadvisable to present it to them. But no thinking person, with the most casual interest in current social evils, could listen to the version of Richard Bennett, Wilton Lackaye, and their associates, without being gripped by the power of Brieux's message.—THE DIAL.
It is a wonder that the world has been so long in getting hold of this play, which is one of France's most valuable contributions to the drama. Its history is interesting. Brieux wrote it over ten years ago. Antoine produced it at his theater and Paris immediately censored it, but soon thought better of it and removed the ban. During the summer of 1910 it was played in Brussels before crowded houses, for then the city was thronged with visitors to the exposition. Finally New York got it last spring and eugenic enthusiasts and doctors everywhere have welcomed it. —THE INDEPENDENT.
A letter to Mr. Bennett from Dr. Hills, Pastor of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn.
23 Monroe Street Bklyn. August 1, 1913.
Mr. Richard Bennett, New York City, N.Y. My Dear Mr. Bennett:
During the past twenty-one years since I entered public life, I have experienced many exciting hours under the influence of reformer, orator and actor, but, in this mood of retrospection, I do not know that I have ever passed through a more thrilling, terrible, and yet hopeful experience than last evening, while I listened to your interpretation of Eugene Brieux' "DAMAGED GOODS."
I have been following your work with ever deepening interest. It is not too much to say that you have changed the thinking of the people of our country as to the social evil. At last, thank God, this conspiracy of silence is ended. No young man who sees "Damaged Goods" will ever be the same again. If I wanted to build around an innocent boy buttresses of fire and granite, and lend him triple armour against temptation and the assaults of evil, I would put him for one evening under your influence. That which the teacher, the preacher and the parent have failed to accomplish it has been given to you to achieve. You have done a work for which your generation owes you an immeasurable debt of gratitude.
I shall be delighted to have you use my Study of Social Diseases and Heredity in connection with your great reform.
With all good wishes, I am, my dear Mr. Bennett, Faithfully yours,
Newell Dwight Hillis
It was four o'clock in the morning when George Dupont closed the door and came down the steps to the street. The first faint streaks of dawn were in the sky, and he noticed this with annoyance, because he knew that his hair was in disarray and his whole aspect disorderly; yet he dared not take a cab, because he feared to attract attention at home. When he reached the sidewalk, he glanced about him to make sure that no one had seen him leave the house, then started down the street, his eyes upon the sidewalk before him.
George had the feeling of the morning after. There are few men in this world of abundant sin who will not know what the phrase means. The fumes of the night had evaporated; he was quite sober now, quite free from excitement. He saw what he had done, and it seemed to him something black and disgusting.
Never had a walk seemed longer than the few blocks which he had to traverse to reach his home. He must get there before the maid was up, before the baker's boy called with the rolls; otherwise, what explanation could he give?—he who had always been such a moral man, who had been pointed out by mothers as an example to their sons.
George thought of his own mother, and what she would think if she could know about his night's adventure. He thought again and again, with a pang of anguish, of Henriette. Could it be possible that a man who was engaged, whose marriage contract had actually been signed, who was soon to possess the love of a beautiful and noble girl—that such a man could have been weak enough and base enough to let himself be trapped into such a low action?
He went back over the whole series of events, shuddering at them, trying to realize how they had happened, trying to excuse himself for them. He had not intended such a culmination; he had never meant to do such a thing in his life. He had not thought of any harm when he had accepted the invitation to the supper party with his old companions from the law school. Of course, he had known that several of these chums led "fast" lives—but, then, surely a fellow could go to a friend's rooms for a lark without harm!
He remembered the girl who had sat by his side at the table. She had come with a friend who was a married woman, and so he had assumed that she was all right. George remembered how embarrassed he had been when first he had noticed her glances at him. But then the wine had begun to go to his head—he was one of those unfortunate wretches who cannot drink wine at all. He had offered to take the girl home in a cab, and on the way he had lost his head.
Oh! What a wretched thing it was. He could hardly believe that it was he who had spoken those frenzied words; and yet he must have spoken them, because he remembered them. He remembered that it had taken a long time to persuade her. He had had to promise her a ring like the one her married friend wore. Before they entered her home she had made him take off his shoes, so that the porter might not hear them. This had struck George particularly, because, even flushed with excitement as he was, he had not forgotten the warnings his father had given him as to the dangers of contact with strange women. He had thought to himself, "This girl must be safe. It is probably the first time she has ever done such a thing."
But now George could get but little consolation out of that idea. He was suffering intensely—the emotion described by the poet in the bitter words about "Time's moving finger having writ." His mind, seeking some explanation, some justification, went back to the events before that night. With a sudden pang of yearning, he thought of Lizette. She was a decent girl, and had kept him decent, and he was lonely without her. He had been so afraid of being found out that he had given her up when he became engaged; but now for a while he felt that he would have to break his resolution, and pay his regular Sunday visit to the little flat in the working-class portion of Paris.
It was while George was fitting himself for the same career as his father—that of notary—that he had made the acquaintance of the young working girl. It may not be easy to believe, but Lizette had really been a decent girl. She had a family to take care of, and was in need. There was a grandmother in poor health, a father not much better, and three little brothers; so Lizette did not very long resist George Dupont, and he felt quite virtuous in giving her sufficient money to take care of these unfortunate people. Among people of his class it was considered proper to take such things if one paid for them.
All the family of this working girl were grateful to him. They adored him, and they called him Uncle Raoul (for of course he had not been so foolish as to give them his true name).
Since George was paying for Lizette, he felt he had the right to control her life. He gave her fair warning concerning his attitude. If she deceived him he would leave her immediately. He told this to her relatives also, and so he had them all watching her. She was never trusted out alone. Every Sunday George went to spend the day with his little "family," so that his coming became almost a matter of tradition. He interested her in church affairs—mass and vespers were her regular occasions for excursions. George rented two seats, and the grandmother went with her to the services. The simple people were proud to see their name engraved upon the brass plate of the pew.
The reason for all these precautions was George's terror of disease. He had been warned by his father as to the dangers which young men encounter in their amours. And these lessons had sunk deep into George's heart; he had made up his mind that whatever his friends might do, he, for one, would protect himself.
That did not mean, of course, that he intended to live a virtuous life; such was the custom among young men of his class, not had it probably ever occurred to his father that it was possible for a young man to do such a thing. The French have a phrase, "l'homme moyen sensuel"—the average sensual man. And George was such a man. He had no noble idealisms, no particular reverence for women. The basis of his attitude was a purely selfish one; he wanted to enjoy himself, and at the same time to keep out of trouble.
He did not find any happiness in the renunciation which he imposed upon himself; he had no religious ideas about it. On the contrary, he suffered keenly, and was bitter because he had no share in the amusements of his friends. He stuck to his work and forced himself to keep regular hours, preparing for his law examinations. But all the time he was longing for adventures. And, of course, this could not go on forever, for the motive of fear alone is not sufficient to subdue the sexual urge in a full-blooded young man.
The affair with Lizette might have continued much longer had it not been for the fact that his father died. He died quite suddenly, while George was away on a trip. The son came back to console his broken-hearted mother, and in the two week they spent in the country together the mother broached a plan to him. The last wish of the dying man had been that his son should be fixed in life. In the midst of his intense suffering he had been able to think about the matter, and had named the girl whom he wished George to marry. Naturally, George waited with some interest to learn who this might be. He was surprised when his mother told him that it was his cousin, Henriette Loches.
He could not keep his emotion from revealing itself in his face. "It doesn't please you?" asked his mother, with a tone disappointment.
"Why no, mother," he answered. "It's not that. It just surprises me."
"But why?" asked the mother. "Henriette is a lovely girl and a good girl."
"Yes, I know," said George; "but then she is my cousin, and—" He blushed a little with embarrassment. "I had never thought of her in that way."
Madame Dupont laid her hand upon her son's. "Yes, George," she said tenderly. "I know. You are such a good boy."
Now, of course, George did not feel that he was quite such a good boy; but his mother was a deeply religious woman, who had no idea of the truth about the majority of men. She would never have got over the shock if he had told her about himself, and so he had to pretend to be just what she thought him.
"Tell me," she continued, after a pause, "have you never felt the least bit in love?"
"Why no—I don't think so," George stammered, becoming conscious of a sudden rise of temperature in his cheeks.
"Because," said his mother, "it is really time that you were settled in life. Your father said that we should have seen to it before, and now it is my duty to see to it. It is not good for you to live alone so long."
"But, mother, I have YOU," said George generously.
"Some day the Lord may take me away," was the reply. "I am getting old. And, George, dear—" Here suddenly her voice began to tremble with feeling—"I would like to see my baby grandchildren before I go. You cannot imagine what it would mean to me."
Madame Dupont saw how much this subject distressed her son, so she went on to the more worldly aspects of the matter. Henriette's father was well-to-do, and he would give her a good dowry. She was a charming and accomplished girl. Everybody would consider him most fortunate if the match could be arranged. Also, there was an elderly aunt to whom Madame Dupont had spoken, and who was much taken with the idea. She owned a great deal of property and would surely help the young couple.
George did not see just how he could object to this proposition, even if he had wanted to. What reason could he give for such a course? He could not explain that he already had a family—with stepchildren, so to speak, who adored him. And what could he say to his mother's obsession, to which she came back again and again—her longing to see her grandchildren before she died? Madame Dupont waited only long enough for George to stammer out a few protestations, and then in the next breath to take them back; after which she proceeded to go ahead with the match. The family lawyers conferred together, and the terms of the settlement were worked out and agreed upon. It happened that immediately afterwards George learned of an opportunity to purchase the practice of a notary, who was ready to retire from business in two months' time. Henriette's father consented to advance a portion of her dowry for this purpose.
Thus George was safely started upon the same career as his father, and this was to him a source of satisfaction which he did not attempt to deny, either to himself of to any one else. George was a cautious young man, who came of a frugal and saving stock. He had always been taught that it was his primary duty to make certain of a reasonable amount of comfort. From his earliest days, he had been taught to regard material success as the greatest goal in life, and he would never have dreamed of engaging himself to a girl without money. But when he had the good fortune to meet one who possessed desirable personal qualities in addition to money, he was not in the least barred from appreciating those qualities. They were, so to speak, the sauce which went with the meat, and it seemed to him that in this case the sauce was of the very best.
George—a big fellow of twenty-six, with large, round eyes and a good-natured countenance—was full blooded, well fed, with a hearty laugh which spoke of unimpaired contentment, a soul untroubled in its deeps. He seemed to himself the luckiest fellow in the whole round world; he could not think what he had done to deserve the good fortune of possessing such a girl as Henriette. He was ordinarily of a somewhat sentimental turn—easily influenced by women and sensitive to their charms. Moreover, his relationship with Lizette had softened him. He had learned to love the young working girl, and now Henriette, it seemed, was to reap the benefit of his experience with her.
In fact, he found himself always with memories of Lizette in his relationships with the girl who was to be his wife. When the engagement was announced, and he claimed his first kiss from his bride-to-be, as he placed a ring upon her finger, he remembered the first time he had kissed Lizette, and a double blush suffused his round countenance. When he walked arm and arm with Henriette in the garden he remembered how he had walked just so with the other girl, and he was interested to compare the words of the two. He remembered what a good time had had when he had taken Lizette and her little family for a picnic upon one of the excursion steamers which run down the River Seine. Immediately he decided that he would like to take Henriette on such a picnic, and he persuaded an aunt of Henriette's to go with her as a chaperon. George took his bride-to-be to the same little inn where he had lunch before.
Thus he was always haunted by memories, some of which made him cheerful and some of which made him mildly sad. He soon got used to the idea, and did not find it awkward, except when he had to suppress the impulse to tell Henriette something which Lizette had said, or some funny incident which had happened in the home of the little family. Sometimes he found himself thinking that it was a shame to have to suppress these impulses. There must be something wrong, he thought, with a social system which made it necessary for him to hide a thing which was so obvious and so sensible. Here he was, a man twenty-six years of age; he could not have afforded to marry earlier, nor could he, as he thought, have been expected to lead a continent life. And he had really loved Lizette; she was really a good girl. Yet, if Henriette had got any idea of it, she would have been horrified and indignant—she might even have broken off the engagement.
And then, too, there was Henriette's father, a personage of great dignity and importance. M. Loches was a deputy of the French Parliament, from a district in the provinces. He was a man of upright life, and a man who made a great deal of that upright life—keeping it on a pedestal where everyone might observe it. It was impossible to imagine M. Loches in an undignified or compromising situation—such as the younger man found himself facing in the matter of Lizette.
The more he thought about it the more nervous and anxious George became. Then it was decided it would be necessary for him to break with the girl, and be "good" until the time of his marriage. Dear little soft-eyed Lizette—he did not dare to face her personally; he could never bear to say good-by, he felt. Instead, he went to the father, who as a man could be expected to understand the situation. George was embarrassed and not a little nervous about it; for although he had never misrepresented his attitude to the family, one could never feel entirely free from the possibility of blackmail in such cases. However, Lizette's father behaved decently, and was duly grateful for the moderate sum of money which George handed him in parting. He promised to break the news gently to Lizette, and George went away with his mind made up that he would never see her again.
This resolution he kept, and he considered himself very virtuous in doing it. But the truth was that he had grown used to intimacy with a woman, and was restless without it. And that, he told himself, was why he yielded to the shameful temptation the night of that fatal supper party.
He paid for the misadventure liberally in remorse. He felt that he had been a wretch, that he had disgraced himself forever, that he had proved himself unworthy of the pure girl he was to marry. So keen was his feeling that it was several days before he could bring himself to see Henriette again; and when he went, it was with a mind filled with a brand-new set of resolutions. It was the last time that he would ever fall into error. He would be a new man from then on. He thanked God that there was no chance of his sin being known, that he might have an opportunity to prove his new determination.
So intense were his feelings that he could not help betraying a part of them to Henriette. They sat in the garden one soft summer evening, with Henriette's mother occupied with her crocheting at a decorous distance. George, in reverent and humble mood, began to drop vague hints that he was really unworthy of his bride-to-be. He said that he had not always been as good as he should have been; he said that her purity and sweetness had awakened in him new ideals; so that he felt his old life had been full of blunders. Henriette, of course, had but the vaguest of ideas as to what the blunders of a tender and generous young man like George might be. So she only loved him the more for his humility, and was flattered to have such a fine effect upon him, to awaken in him such moods of exaltation. When he told her that all men were bad, and that no man was worthy of such a beautiful love, she was quite ravished, and wiped away tears from her eyes.
It would have been a shame to spoil such a heavenly mood by telling the real truth. Instead, George contented himself with telling of the new resolutions he had formed. After all, they were the things which really mattered; for Henriette was going to live with his future, not with his past.
It seemed to George a most wonderful thing, this innocence of a young girl, which enabled her to move through a world of wickedness with unpolluted mind. It was a touching thing; and also, as a prudent young man could not help realizing, a most convenient thing. He realized the importance of preserving it, and thought that if he ever had a daughter, he would protect her as rigidly as Henriette had been protected. He made haste to shy off from the subject of his "badness" and to turn the conversation with what seemed a clever jest.
"If I am going to be so good," he said, "don't forget that you will have to be good also!"
"I will try," said Henriette, who was still serious.
"You will have to try hard," he persisted. "You will find that you have a very jealous husband."
"Will I?" said Henriette, beaming with happiness—for when a woman is very much in love she doesn't in the least object to the man's being jealous.
"Yes, indeed," smiled George. "I'll always be watching you."
"Watching me?" echoed the girl with a surprised look.
And immediately he felt ashamed of himself for his jest. There could be no need to watch Henriette, and it was bad taste even to joke about it at such a time. That was one of the ideas which he had brought with him from his world of evil.
The truth was, however, that George would always be a suspicious husband; nothing could ever change that fact, for there was something in his own conscience which he could not get out, and which would make it impossible for him to be at ease as a married man. It was the memory of something which had happened earlier in his life before he met Lizette. There had been one earlier experience, with the wife of his dearest friend. She had been much younger than her husband, and had betrayed an interest in George, who had yielded to the temptation. For several years the intrigue continued, and George considered it a good solution of a young man's problem. There had been no danger of contamination, for he knew that his friend was a man of pure and rigid morals, a jealous man who watched his wife, and did not permit her to contract those new relations which are always dangerous. As for George, he helped in this worthy work, keeping the woman in terror of some disease. He told her that almost all men were infected, for he hoped by this means to keep her from deceiving him.
I am aware that this may seem a dreadful story. As I do not want anyone to think too ill of George Dupont, I ought, perhaps, to point out that people feel differently about these matters in France. In judging the unfortunate young man, we must judge him by the customs of his own country, and not by ours. In France, they are accustomed to what is called the MARIAGE DE CONVENANCE. The young girl is not permitted to go about and make her own friends and decide which one of them she prefers for her husband; on the contrary, she is strictly guarded, her training often is of a religious nature, and her marriage is a matter of business, to be considered and decided by her parents and those of the young man. Now, whatever we may think right, it is humanly certain that where marriages are made in that way, the need of men and women for sympathy and for passionate interest will often lead to the forming of irregular relationships after marriage. It is not possible to present statistics as to the number of such irregular relationships in Parisian society; but in the books which he read and in the plays which he saw, George found everything to encourage him to think that it was a romantic and delightful thing to keep up a secret intrigue with the wife of his best friend.
It should also, perhaps, be pointed out that we are here telling the truth, and the whole truth, about George Dupont; and that it is not customary to tell this about men, either in real life or in novels. There is a great deal of concealment in the world about matters of sex; and in such matters the truth-telling man is apt to suffer in reputation in comparison with the truth-concealing one.
Nor had George really been altogether callous about the thing. It had happened that his best friend had died in his arms; and this had so affected the guilty pair that they had felt their relationship was no longer possible. She had withdrawn to nurse her grief alone, and George had been so deeply affected that he had avoided affairs and entanglements with women until his meeting with Lizette.
All this was now in the far distant past, but it had made a deeper impression upon George than he perhaps realized, and it was now working in his mind and marring his happiness. Here was a girl who loved him with a noble and unselfish and whole-hearted love—and yet he would never be able to trust her as she deserved, but would always have suspicions lurking in the back of his mind. He would be unable to have his friends intimate in his home, because of the memory of what he had once done to a friend. It was a subtle kind of punishment. But so it is that Nature often finds ways of punishing us, without our even being aware of it.
That was all for the future, however. At present, George was happy. He put his black sin behind him, feeling that he had obtained absolution by his confession to Henriette. Day by day, as he realized his good fortune, his round face beamed with more and yet more joy.
He went for a little trip to Henriette's home in the country. It was a simple village, and they took walks in the country, and stopped to refresh themselves at a farmhouse occupied by one of M. Loches' tenants. Here was a rosy and buxom peasant woman, with a nursing child in her arms. She was destined a couple of years later to be the foster-mother of Henriette's little girl and to play an important part in her life. But the pair had no idea of that at present. They simply saw a proud and happy mother, and Henriette played with the baby, giving vent to childish delight. Then suddenly she looked up and saw that George was watching her, and as she read his thoughts a beautiful blush suffused her cheeks.
As for George, he turned away and went out under the blue sky in a kind of ecstasy. Life seemed very wonderful to him just then; he had found its supreme happiness, which was love. He was really getting quite mad about Henriette, he told himself. He could hardly believe that the day was coming when he would be able to clasp her in his arms.
But in the blue sky of George's happiness there was one little cloud of storm. As often happens with storm-clouds, it was so small that at first he paid no attention to it at all.
He noted upon his body one day a tiny ulcer. At first he treated it with salve purchased from an apothecary. Then after a week or two, when this had no effect, he began to feel uncomfortable. He remembered suddenly he had heard about the symptoms of an unmentionable, dreadful disease, and a vague terror took possession of him.
For days he tried to put it to one side. The idea was nonsense, it was absurd in connection with a woman so respectable! But the thought would not be put away, and finally he went to a school friend, who was a man of the world, and got him to talk on the subject. Of course, George had to be careful, so that his friend should not suspect that he had any special purpose in mind.
The friend was willing to talk. It was a vile disease, he said; but one was foolish to bother about it, because it was so rare. There were other diseases which fellows got, which nearly every fellow had, and to which none of them paid any attention. But one seldom met anyone who had the red plague that George dreaded.
"And yet," he added, "according to the books, it isn't so uncommon. I suppose the truth is that people hide it. A chap naturally wouldn't tell, when he knew it would damn him for life."
George had a sick sensation inside of him. "Is it as bad as that?" he asked.
"Of course," said the other, "Should you want to have anything to do with a person who had it? Should you be willing to room with him or travel with him? You wouldn't even want to shake hands with him!"
"No, I suppose not," said George, feebly.
"I remember," continued the other, "an old fellow who used to live out in the country near me. He was not so very old, either, but he looked it. He had to be pushed around in a wheel-chair. People said he had locomotor ataxia, but that really meant syphilis. We boys used to poke all kinds of fun at him because one windy day his hat and his wig were blown off together, and we discovered that he was as bald as an egg. We used to make jokes about his automobile, as we called it. It had a little handle in front, instead of a steering-wheel, and a man behind to push, instead of an engine."
"How horrible!" remarked George with genuine feeling.
"I remember the poor devil had a paralysis soon after," continued the friend, quite carelessly. "He could not steer any more, and also he lost his voice. When you met him he would look at you as it he thought he was talking, but all he could say was 'Ga-ga-ga'."
George went away from this conversation in a cold sweat. He told himself over and over again that he was a fool, but still he could not get the hellish idea out of his mind. He found himself brooding over it all day and lying awake at night, haunted by images of himself in a wheel-chair, and without any hair on his head. He realized that the sensible thing would be for him to go to a doctor and make certain about his condition; but he could not bring himself to face the ordeal—he was ashamed to admit to a doctor that he had laid himself open to such a taint.
He began to lose the radiant expression from his round and rosy face. He had less appetite, and his moods of depression became so frequent that he could not hide then even from Henriette. She asked him once or twice if there were not something the matter with him, and he laughed—a forced and hurried laugh—and told her that he had sat up too late the night before, worrying over the matter of his examinations. Oh, what a cruel thing it was that a man who stood in the very gateway of such a garden of delight should be tormented and made miserable by this loathsome idea!
The disturbing symptom still continued, and so at last George purchased a medical book, dealing with the subject of the disease. Then, indeed, he opened up a chamber of horrors; he made up his mind an abiding place of ghastly images. In the book there were pictures of things so awful that he turned white, and trembled like a leaf, and had to close the volume and hide it in the bottom of his trunk. But he could not banish the pictures from his mind. Worst of all, he could not forget the description of the first symptom of the disease, which seemed to correspond exactly with his own. So at last he made up his mind he must ascertain definitely the truth about his condition.
He began to think over plans for seeing a doctor. He had heard somewhere a story about a young fellow who had fallen into the hands of a quack, and been ruined forever. So he decided that he would consult only the best authority.
He got the names of the best-known works on the subject from a bookstore, and found that the author of one of these books was practicing in Paris as a specialist. Two or three days elapsed before he was able to get up the courage to call on this doctor. And oh, the shame and horror of sitting in his waiting-room with the other people, none of whom dared to look each other in the eyes! They must all be afflicted, George thought, and he glanced at them furtively, looking for the various symptoms of which he had read. Or were there, perhaps, some like himself—merely victims of a foolish error, coming to have the hag of dread pulled from off their backs?
And then suddenly, while he was speculating, there stood the doctor, signaling to him. His turn had come!
The doctor was a man about forty years of age, robust, with every appearance of a strong character. In the buttonhole of the frock coat he wore was a red rosette, the decoration of some order. Confused and nervous as George was, he got a vague impression of the physician's richly furnished office, with its bronzes, marbles and tapestries.
The doctor signaled to the young man to be seated in the chair before his desk. George complied, and then, as he wiped away the perspiration from his forehead, stammered out a few words, explaining his errand. Of course, he said, it could not be true, but it was a man's duty not to take any chances in such a matter. "I have not been a man of loose life," he added; "I have not taken so many chances as other men."
The doctor cut him short with the brief remark that one chance was all that was necessary. Instead of discussing such questions, he would make an examination. "We do not say positively in these cases until we have made a blood test. That is the one way to avoid the possibility of mistake."
A drop of blood was squeezed out of George's finger on to a little glass plate. The doctor retired to an adjoining room, and the victim sat alone in the office, deriving no enjoyment from the works of art which surrounded him, but feeling like a prisoner who sits in the dock with his life at stake while the jury deliberates.
The doctor returned, calm and impassive, and seated himself in his office-chair.
"Well, doctor?" asked George. He was trembling with terror.
"Well," was the reply, "there is no doubt whatever."
George wiped his forehead. He could not credit the words. "No doubt whatever? In what sense?"
"In the bad sense," said the other.
He began to write a prescription, without seeming to notice how George turned page with terror. "Come," he said, after a silence, "you must have known the truth pretty well."
"No, no, sir!" exclaimed George.
"Well," said the other, "you have syphilis."
George was utterly stunned. "My God!" he exclaimed.
The doctor, having finished his prescription, looked up and observed his condition. "Don't trouble yourself, sir. Out of every seven men you meet upon the street, in society, or at the theater, there is at least one who has been in your condition. One out of seven—fifteen per cent!"
George was staring before him. He spoke low, as if to himself. "I know what I am going to do."
"And I know also," said the doctor, with a smile. "There is your prescription. You are going to take it to the drugstore and have it put up."
George took the prescription, mechanically, but whispered, "No, sir."
"Yes, sir, you are going to do as everybody else does."
"No, because my situation is not that of everybody else. I know what I am going to do."
Said the doctor: "Five times out of ten, in the chair where you are sitting, people talk like that, perfectly sincerely. Each one believes himself more unhappy than all the others; but after thinking it over, and listening to me, they understand that this disease is a companion with whom one can live. Just as in every household, one gets along at the cost of mutual concessions, that's all. Come, sir, I tell you again, there is nothing about it that is not perfectly ordinary, perfectly natural, perfectly common; it is an accident which can happen to any one. It is a great mistake that people speak if this as the 'French Disease,' for there is none which is more universal. Under the picture of this disease, addressing myself to those who follow the oldest profession in the world, I would write the famous phrase: 'Here is your master. It is, it was, or it must be.'"
George was putting the prescription into the outside pocket of his coat, stupidly, as if he did not know what he was doing. "But, sir," he exclaimed, "I should have been spared!"
"Why?" inquired the other. "Because you are a man of position, because you are rich? Look around you, sir. See these works of art in my room. Do you imagine that such things have been presented to me by chimney-sweeps?"
"But, Doctor," cried George, with a moan, "I have never been a libertine. There was never any one, you understand me, never any one could have been more careful in his pleasures. If I were to tell you that in all my life I have only had two mistresses, what would you answer to that?"
"I would answer, that a single one would have been sufficient to bring you to me."
"No, sir!" cried George. "It could not have been either of those women." He went on to tell the doctor about his first mistress, and then about Lizette. Finally he told about Henriette, how much he adored her. He could really use such a word—he loved her most tenderly. She was so good—and he had thought himself so lucky!
As he went on, he could hardly keep from going to pieces. "I had everything," he exclaimed, "everything a man needed! All who knew me envied me. And then I had to let those fellows drag me off to that miserable supper-party! And now here I am! My future is ruined, my whole existence poisoned! What is to become of me? Everybody will avoid me—I shall be a pariah, a leper!"
He paused, and then in sudden wild grief exclaimed, "Come, now! Would it not be better that I should take myself out of the way? At least, I should not suffer any more. You see that there could not be any one more unhappy than myself—not any one, I tell you, sir, not any one!" Completely overcome, he began to weep in his handkerchief.
The doctor got up, and went to him. "You must be a man," he said, "and not cry like a child."
"But sir," cried the young man, with tears running down his cheeks, "if I had led a wild life, if I had passed my time in dissipation with chorus girls, then I could understand it. Then I would say that I had deserved it."
The doctor exclaimed with emphasis, "No, no! You would not say it. However, it is of no matter—go on."
"I tell you that I would say it. I am honest, and I would say that I had deserved it. But no, I have worked, I have been a regular grind. And now, when I think of the shame that is in store for me, the disgusting things, the frightful catastrophes to which I am condemned—"
"What is all this you are telling me?" asked the doctor, laughing.
"Oh, I know, I know!" cried the other, and repeated what his friend had told him about the man in a wheel-chair. "And they used to call me handsome Raoul! That was my name—handsome Raoul!"
"Now, my dear sir," said the doctor, cheerfully, "wipe your eyes one last time, blow your nose, put your handkerchief into your pocket, and hear me dry-eyed."
George obeyed mechanically. "But I give you fair warning," he said, "you are wasting your time."
"I tell you—" began the other.
"I know exactly what you are going to tell me!" cried George.
"Well, in that case, there is nothing more for you to do here—run along."
"Since I am here," said the patient submissively, "I will hear you."
"Very well, then. I tell you that if you have the will and the perseverance, none of the things you fear will happen to you."
"Of course, it is your duty to tell me that."
"I will tell you that there are one hundred thousand like you in Paris, alert, and seemingly well. Come, take what you were just saying—wheel-chairs. One doesn't see so many of them."
"No, that's true," said George.
"And besides," added the doctor, "a good many people who ride in them are not there for the cause you think. There is no more reason why you should be the victim of a catastrophe than any of the one hundred thousand. The disease is serious, nothing more."
"You admit that it is a serious disease?" argued George.
"One of the most serious?"
"Yes, but you have the good fortune—"
"The GOOD fortune?"
"Relatively, if you please. You have the good fortune to be infected with one of the diseases over which we have the most certain control."
"Yes, yes," exclaimed George, "but the remedies are worse than the disease."
"You deceive yourself," replied the other.
"You are trying to make me believe that I can be cured?"
"You can be."
"And that I am not condemned?"
"I swear it to you."
"You are not deceiving yourself, you are not deceiving me? Why, I was told—"
The doctor laughed, contemptuously. "You were told, you were told! I'll wager that you know the laws of the Chinese concerning party-walls."
"Yes, naturally," said George. "But I don't see what they have to do with it."
"Instead of teaching you such things," was the reply, "it would have been a great deal better to have taught you about the nature and cause of diseases of this sort. Then you would have known how to avoid the contagion. Such knowledge should be spread abroad, for it is the most important knowledge in the world. It should be found in every newspaper."
This remark gave George something of a shock, for his father had owned a little paper in the provinces, and he had a sudden vision of the way subscribers would have fallen off, if he had printed even so much as the name of this vile disease.
"And yet," pursued the doctor, "you publish romances about adultery!"
"Yes," said George, "that's what the readers want."
"They don't want the truth about venereal diseases," exclaimed the other. "If they knew the full truth, they would no longer think that adultery was romantic and interesting."
He went on to give his advice as to the means of avoiding such diseases. There was really but one rule. It was: To love but one woman, to take her as a virgin, and to love her so much that she would never deceive you. "Take that from me," added the doctor, "and teach it to your son, when you have one."
George's attention was caught by this last sentence.
"You mean that I shall be able to have children?" he cried.
"Certainly," was the reply.
"I repeat it to you; if you take care of yourself properly for a long time, conscientiously, you have little to fear."
"Ninety-nine times out of a hundred."
George felt as if he had suddenly emerged from a dungeon. "Why, then," he exclaimed, "I shall be able to marry!"
"You will be able to marry," was the reply.
"You are not deceiving me? You would not give me that hope, you would not expose me? How soon will I be able to marry?"
"In three or four years," said the doctor.
"What!" cried George in consternation. "In three or four years? Not before?"
"How is that? Am I going to be sick all that time? Why, you told me just now—"
Said the doctor: "The disease will no longer be dangerous to you, yourself—but you will be dangerous to others."
"But," the young man cried, in despair, "I am to be married a month from now."
"That is impossible."
"But I cannot do any differently. The contract is ready! The banns have been published! I have given my word!"
"Well, you are a great one!" the doctor laughed. "Just now you were looking for your revolver! Now you want to be married within the month."
"But, Doctor, it is necessary!"
"But I forbid it."
"As soon as I knew that the disease is not what I imagined, and that I could be cured, naturally I didn't want to commit suicide. And as soon as I make up my mind not to commit suicide, I have to take up my regular life. I have to keep my engagements; I have to get married."
"No," said the doctor.
"Yes, yes!" persisted George, with blind obstinacy. "Why, Doctor, if I didn't marry it would be a disaster. You are talking about something you don't understand. I, for my part—it is not that I am anxious to be married. As I told you, I had almost a second family. Lizette's little brothers adored me. But it is my aunt, an old maid; and, also, my mother is crazy about the idea. If I were to back out now, she would die of chagrin. My aunt would disinherit me, and she is the one who has the family fortune. Then, too, there is my father-in-law, a regular dragoon for his principles—severe, violent. He never makes a joke of serious things, and I tell you it would cost me dear, terribly dear. And, besides, I have given my word."
"You must take back your word."
"You still insist?" exclaimed George, in despair. "But then, suppose that it were possible, how could I take back my signature which I put at the bottom of the deed? I have pledged myself to pay in two months for the attorney's practice I have purchased!"
"Sir," said the doctor, "all these things—"
"You are going to tell me that I was lacking in prudence, that I should never have disposed of my wife's dowry until after the honeymoon!"
"Sir," said the doctor, again, "all these considerations are foreign to me. I am a physician, and nothing but a physician, and I can only tell you this: If you marry before three or four years, you will be a criminal."
George broke out with a wild exclamation. "No sir, you are not merely a physician! You are also a confessor! You are not merely a scientist; and it is not enough for you that you observe me as you would some lifeless thing in your laboratory, and say, 'You have this; science says that; now go along with you.' All my existence depends upon you. It is your duty to listen to me, because when you know everything you will understand me, and you will find some way to cure me within a month."
"But," protested the doctor, "I wear myself out telling you that such means do not exist. I shall not be certain of your cure, as much as any one can be certain, in less than three or four years."
George was almost beside himself. "I tell you you must find some means! Listen to me, sir—if I don't get married I don't get the dowry! And will you tell me how I can pay the notes I have signed?"
"Oh," said the doctor, dryly, "if that is the question, it is very simple—I will give you a plan to get out of the affair. You will go and get acquainted with some rich man; you will do everything you can to gain his confidence; and when you have succeeded, you will plunder him."
George shook his head. "I am not in any mood for joking."
"I am not joking," replied his adviser. "Rob that man, assassinate him even—that would be no worse crime than you would commit in taking a young girl in good health in order to get a portion of her dowry, when at the same time you would have to expose her to the frightful consequences of the disease which you would give her."
"Frightful consequences?" echoed George.
"Consequences of which death would not be the most frightful."
"But, sir, you were saying to me just now—"
"Just now I did not tell you everything. Even reduced, suppressed a little by our remedies, the disease remains mysterious, menacing, and in its sum, sufficiently grave. So it would be an infamy to expose your fiancee in order to avoid an inconvenience, however great that might be."
But George was still not to be convinced. Was it certain that this misfortune would befall Henriette, even with the best attention?
Said the other: "I do not wish to lie to you. No, it is not absolutely certain, it is probable. And there is another truth which I wish to tell you now: our remedies are not infallible. In a certain number of cases—a very small number, scarcely five per cent—they have remained without effect. You might be one of those exceptions, your wife might be one. What then?"
"I will employ a word you used just now, yourself. We should have to expect the worst catastrophes."
George sat in a state of complete despair.
"Tell me what to do, then," he said.
"I can tell you only one thing: don't marry. You have a most serious blemish. It is as if you owed a debt. Perhaps no one will ever come to claim it; on the other hand, perhaps a pitiless creditor will come all at once, presenting a brutal demand for immediate payment. Come now—you are a business man. Marriage is a contract; to marry without saying anything—that means to enter into a bargain by means of passive dissimulation. That's the term, is it not? It is dishonesty, and it ought to come under the law."
George, being a lawyer, could appreciate the argument, and could think of nothing to say to it.
"What shall I do?" he asked.
The other answered, "Go to your father-in-law and tell him frankly the truth."
"But," cried the young man, wildly, "there will be no question then of three or four years' delay. He will refuse his consent altogether."
"If that is the case," said the doctor, "don't tell him anything."
"But I have to give him a reason, or I don't know what he will do. He is the sort of man to give himself to the worst violence, and again my fiancee would be lost to me. Listen, doctor. From everything I have said to you, you may perhaps think I am a mercenary man. It is true that I want to get along in the world, that is only natural. But Henriette has such qualities; she is so much better than I, that I love her, really, as people love in novels. My greatest grief—it is not to give up the practice I have bought—although, indeed, it would be a bitter blow to me; my greatest grief would be to lose Henriette. If you could only see her, if you only knew her—then you would understand. I have her picture here—"
The young fellow took out his card-case. And offered a photograph to the doctor, who gently refused it. The other blushed with embarrassment.
"I beg your pardon," he said, "I am ridiculous. That happens to me, sometimes. Only, put yourself in my place—I love her so!" His voice broke.
"My dear boy," said the doctor, feelingly, "that is exactly why you ought not to marry her."
"But," he cried, "if I back out without saying anything they will guess the truth, and I shall be dishonored."
"One is not dishonored because one is ill."
"But with such a disease! People are so stupid. I myself, yesterday—I should have laughed at anyone who had got into such a plight; I should have avoided him, I should have despised him!" And suddenly George broke down again. "Oh!" he cried, "if I were the only one to suffer; but she—she is in love with me. I swear it to you! She is so good; and she will be so unhappy!"
The doctor answered, "She would be unhappier later on."
"It will be a scandal!" George exclaimed.
"You will avoid one far greater," the other replied.
Suddenly George set his lips with resolution. He rose from his seat. He took several twenty-franc pieces from his pocket and laid them quietly upon the doctor's desk—paying the fee in cash, so that he would not have to give his name and address. He took up his gloves, his cane and his hat, and rose.
"I will think it over," he said. "I thank you, Doctor. I will come back next week as you have told me. That is—probably I will."
He was about to leave.
The doctor rose, and he spoke in a voice of furious anger. "No," he said, "I shan't see you next week, and you won't even think it over. You came here knowing what you had; you came to ask advice of me, with the intention of paying no heed to it, unless it conformed to your wishes. A superficial honesty has driven you to take that chance in order to satisfy your conscience. You wanted to have somebody upon whom you could put off, bye and bye, the consequences of an act whose culpability you understand! No, don't protest! Many of those who come here think and act as you think, and as you wish to act; but the marriage made against my will has generally been the source of such calamities that now I am always afraid of not having been persuasive enough, and it even seems to me that I am a little to blame for these misfortunes. I should have been able to prevent them; they would not have happened if those who are the authors of them knew what I know and had seen what I have seen. Swear to me, sir, that you are going to break off that marriage!"
George was greatly embarrassed, and unwilling to reply. "I cannot swear to you at all, Doctor; I can only tell you again that I will think it over."
"That WHAT over?"
"What you have told me."
"What I have told you is true! You cannot bring any new objections; and I have answered those which you have presented to me; therefore, your mind ought to be made up."
Groping for a reply, George hesitated. He could not deny that he had made inquiry about these matters before he had come to the doctor. But he said that he was not al all certain that he had this disease. The doctor declared it, and perhaps it was true, but the most learned physicians were sometimes deceived.
He remembered something he had read in one of the medical books. "Dr. Ricord maintains that after a certain period the disease is no longer contagious. He has proven his contentions by examples. Today you produce new examples to show that he is wrong! Now, I want to do what's right, but surely I have the right to think it over. And when I think it over, I realize that all the evils with which you threaten me are only probable evils. In spite of your desire to terrify me, you have been forced to admit that possibly my marriage would not have any troublesome consequence for my wife."
The doctor found difficulty in restraining himself. But he said, "Go on. I will answer you afterwards."
And George blundered ahead in his desperation. "Your remedies are powerful, you tell me; and for the calamities of which you speak to befall me, I would have to be among the rare exceptions—also my wife would have to be among the number of those rare exceptions. If a mathematician were to apply the law of chance to these facts, the result of his operation would show but slight chance of a catastrophe, as compared with the absolute certainty of a series of misfortunes, sufferings, troubles, tears, and perhaps tragic accidents which the breaking of my engagement would cause. So I say that the mathematician—who is, even more than you, a man of science, a man of a more infallible science—the mathematician would conclude that wisdom was not with you doctors, but with me."
"You believe it, sir!" exclaimed the other. "But you deceive yourself." And he continued, driving home his point with a finger which seemed to George to pierce his very soul. "Twenty cases identical with your own have been patiently observed, from the beginning to the end. Nineteen times the woman was infected by her husband; you hear me, sir, nineteen times out of twenty! You believe that the disease is without danger, and you take to yourself the right to expose your wife to what you call the chance of your being one of those exceptions, for whom our remedies are without effect. Very well; it is necessary that you should know the disease which your wife, without being consulted, will run a chance of contracting. Take that book, sir; it is the work of my teacher. Read it yourself. Here, I have marked the passage."
He held out the open book; but George could not lift a hand to take it.
"You do not wish to read it?" the other continued. "Listen to me." And in a voice trembling with passion, he read: "'I have watched the spectacle of an unfortunate young woman, turned into a veritable monster by means of a syphilitic infection. Her face, or rather let me say what was left of her face, was nothing but a flat surface seamed with scars.'"
George covered his face, exclaiming, "Enough, sir! Have mercy!"
But the other cried, "No, no! I will go to the very end. I have a duty to perform, and I will not be stopped by the sensibility of your nerves."
He went on reading: "'Of the upper lip not a trace was left; the ridge of the upper gums appeared perfectly bare.'" But then at the young man's protests, his resolution failed him. "Come," he said, "I will stop. I am sorry for you—you who accept for another person, for the woman you say you love, the chance of a disease which you cannot even endure to hear described. Now, from whom did that woman get syphilis? It is not I who am speaking, it is the book. 'From a miserable scoundrel who was not afraid to enter into matrimony when he had a secondary eruption.' All that was established later on—'and who, moreover, had thought it best not to let his wife be treated for fear of awakening her suspicions!'"
The doctor closed the book with a bang. "What that man has done, sir, is what you want to do."
George was edging toward the door; he could no longer look the doctor in the eye. "I should deserve all those epithets and still more brutal ones if I should marry, knowing that my marriage would cause such horrors. But that I do not believe. You and your teachers—you are specialists, and consequently you are driven to attribute everything to the disease you make the subject of your studies. A tragic case, an exceptional case, holds a kind of fascination for you; you think it can never be talked about enough."
"I have heard that argument before," said the doctor, with an effort at patience.
"Let me go on, I beg you," pleaded George. "You have told me that out of every seven men there is one syphilitic. You have told me that there are one hundred thousand in Paris, coming and going, alert, and apparently well."
"It is true," said the doctor, "that there are one hundred thousand who are actually at this moment not visibly under the influence of the disease. But many thousands have passed into our hospitals, victims of the most frightful ravages that our poor bodies can support. These—you do not see them, and they do not count for you. But again, if it concerned no one but yourself, you might be able to argue thus. What I declare to you, what I affirm with all the violence of my conviction, is that you have not the right to expose a human creature to such chances—rare, as I know, but terrible, as I know still better. What have you to answer to that?"
"Nothing," stammered George, brought to his knees at last. "You are right about that. I don't know what to think."
"And in forbidding you marriage," continued the doctor, "is it the same as if I forbade it forever? Is it the same as if I told you that you could never be cured? On the contrary, I hold out to you every hope; but I demand of you a delay of three or four years, because it will take me that time to find out if you are among the number of those unfortunate ones whom I pity with all my heart, for whom the disease is without mercy; because during that time you will be dangerous to your wife and to your children. The children I have not yet mentioned to you."
Here the doctor's voice trembled slightly. He spoke with moving eloquence. "Come, sir, you are an honest man; you are too young for such things not to move you; you are not insensible to duty. It is impossible that I shan't be able to find a way to your heart, that I shan't be able to make you obey me. My emotion in speaking to you proves that I appreciate your suffering, that I suffer with you. It is in the name of my sincerity that I implore you. You have admitted it—that you have not the right to expose your wife to such miseries. But it is not only your wife that you strike; you may attack in her your own children. I exclude you for a moment from my thought—you and her. It is in the name of these innocents that I implore you; it is the future, it is the race that I defend. Listen to me, listen to me! Out of the twenty households of which I spoke, only fifteen had children; these fifteen had twenty-eight. Do you know how many out of these twenty-eight survived? Three, sir! Three out of twenty-eight! Syphilis is above everything a murderer of children. Herod reigns in France, and over all the earth, and begins each year his massacre of the innocents; and if it be not blasphemy against the sacredness of life, I say that the most happy are those who have disappeared. Visit our children's hospitals! We know too well the child of syphilitic parents; the type is classical; the doctors can pick it out anywhere. Those little old creatures who have the appearance of having already lived, and who have kept the stigmata of all out infirmities, of all our decay. They are the victims of fathers who have married, being ignorant of what you know—things which I should like to go and cry out in the public places."
The doctor paused, and then in a solemn voice continued: "I have told you all, without exaggeration. Think it over. Consider the pros and cons; sum up the possible misfortunes and the certain miseries. But disregard yourself, and consider that there are in one side of the scales the misfortunes of others, and in the other your own. Take care that you are just."
George was at last overcome. "Very well," he said, "I give way. I won't get married. I will invent some excuse; I will get a delay of six months. More than that, I cannot do."
The doctor exclaimed, "I need three years—I need four years!"
"No, Doctor!" persisted George. "You can cure me in less time than that."
The other answered, "No! No! No!"
George caught him by the hand, imploringly. "Yes! Science in all powerful!"
"Science is not God," was the reply. "There are no longer any miracles."
"If only you wanted to do it!" cried the young man, hysterically. "You are a learned man; seek, invent, find something! Try some new plan with me; give me double the dose, ten times the does; make me suffer. I give myself up to you; I will endure everything—I swear it! There ought to be some way to cure me within six months. Listen to me! I tell you I can't answer for myself with that delay. Come; it is in the name of my wife, in the name of my children, that I implore you. Do something for them!"
The doctor had reached the limit of his patience. "Enough, sir!" he cried. "Enough!"
But nothing could stop the wretched man. "On my knees!" he cried. "I put myself on my knees before you! Oh! If only you would do it! I would bless you; I would adore you, as one adores a god! All my gratitude, all my life—half my fortune! For mercy's sake, Doctor, do something; invent something; make some discovery—have pity!"
The doctor answered gravely, "Do you wish me to do more for you than for the others?"
George answered, unblushingly, 'answered, unblushingly, "Yes!" He was beside himself with terror and distress.
The other's reply was delivered in a solemn tone. "Understand, sir, for every one of out patients we do all that we can, whether it be the greatest personage, or the last comer to out hospital clinic. We have no secrets in reserve for those who are more fortunate, or less fortunate than the others, and who are in a hurry to be cured."
George gazed at him for a moment in bewilderment and despair, and then suddenly bowed his head. "Good-by, Doctor," he answered.
"Au revoir, sir," the other corrected—with what proved to be prophetic understanding. For George was destined to see him again—even though he had made up his mind to the contrary!
George Dupont had the most important decision of his life to make; but there was never very much doubt what his decision would be. One the one hand was the definite certainty that if he took the doctor's advice, he would wreck his business prospects, and perhaps also lose the woman he loved. On the other hand were vague and uncertain possibilities which it was difficult for him to make real to himself. It was all very well to wait a while to be cured of the dread disease; but to wait three or four years—that was simply preposterous!
He decided to consult another physician. He would find one this time who would not be so particular, who would be willing to take some trouble to cure him quickly. He began to notice the advertisements which were scattered over the pages of the newspapers he read. There were apparently plenty of doctors in Paris who could cure him, who were willing to guarantee to cure him. After much hesitation, he picked out one whose advertisement sounded the most convincing.
The office was located in a cheap quarter. It was a dingy place, not encumbered with works of art, but with a few books covered with dust. The doctor himself was stout and greasy, and he rubbed his hands with anticipation at the sight of so prosperous-looking a patient. But he was evidently a man of experience, for he knew exactly what was the matter with George, almost without the formality of an examination. Yes, he could cure him, quickly, he said. There had recently been great discoveries made—new methods which had not reached the bulk of the profession. He laughed at the idea of three or four years. That was the way with those specialists! When one got forty francs for a consultation, naturally, one was glad to drag out the case. There were tricks in the medical trade, as in all others. A doctor had to live; when he had a big name, he had to live expensively.
The new physician wrote out two prescriptions, and patted George on the shoulder as he went away. There was no need for him to worry; he would surely be well in three months. If he would put off his marriage for six months, he would be doing everything within reason. And meantime, there was no need for him to worry himself—things would come out all right. So George went away, feeling as if a mountain had been lifted from his shoulders.
He went to see Henriette that same evening, to get the matter settled. "Henriette," he said, "I have to tell you something very important—something rather painful. I hope you won't let it disturb you too much."
She was gazing at him in alarm. "What is it?"
"Why," he said, blushing in spite of himself, and regretting that he had begun the matter so precipitately, "for some time I've not been feeling quite well. I've been having a slight cough. Have you noticed it?"
"Why no!" exclaimed Henriette, anxiously.
"Well, today I went to see a doctor, and he says that there is a possibility—you understand it is nothing very serious—but it might be—I might possibly have lung trouble."
"George!" cried the girl in horror.
He put his hand upon hers. "Don't be frightened," he said. "It will be all right, only I have to take care of myself." How very dear of her, he thought—to be so much worried!
"George, you ought to go away to the country!" she cried. "You have been working too hard. I always told you that if you shut yourself up so much—"
"I am going to take care of myself," he said. "I realize that it is necessary. I shall be all right—the doctor assured me there was no doubt of it, so you are not to distress yourself. But meantime, here is the trouble: I don't think it would be right for me to marry until I am perfectly well."
Henriette gave an exclamation of dismay.
"I am sure we should put it off," he went on, "it would be only fair to you."
"But, George!" she protested. "Surely it can't be that serious!"
"We ought to wait," he said. "You ought not to take the chance of being married to a consumptive."
The other protested in consternation. He did not look like a consumptive; she did not believe that he WAS a consumptive. She was willing to take her chances. She loved him, and she was not afraid. But George insisted—he was sure that he ought not to marry for six months.
"Did the doctor advise that?" asked Henriette.
"No," he replied, "but I made up my mind after talking to him that I must do the fair and honorable thing. I beg you to forgive me, and to believe that I know best."
George stood firmly by this position, and so in the end she had to give way. It did not seem quite modest in her to continue persisting.
George volunteered to write a letter to her father; and he hoped this would settle the matter without further discussion. But in this he was disappointed. There had to be a long correspondence with long arguments and protestations from Henriette's father and from his own mother. It seemed such a singular whim. Everybody persisted in diagnosing his symptoms, in questioning him about what the doctor had said, who the doctor was, how he had come to consult him—all of which, of course, was very embarrassing to George, who could not see why they had to make such a fuss. He took to cultivating a consumptive look, as well as he could imagine it; he took to coughing as he went about the house—and it was all he could do to keep from laughing, as he saw the look of dismay on his poor mother's face. After all, however, he told himself that he was not deceiving her, for the disease he had was quite as serious as tuberculosis.
It was very painful and very trying. But there was nothing that could be done about it; the marriage had been put off for six months, and in the meantime he and Henriette had to control their impatience and make the best of their situation. Six months was a long time; but what if it had been three or four years, as the other doctor had demanded? That would have been a veritable sentence of death.
George, as we have seen, was conscientious, and regular and careful in his habits. He took the medicine which the new doctor prescribed for him; and day by day he watched, and to his great relief saw the troublesome symptoms gradually disappearing. He began to take heart, and to look forward to life with his former buoyancy. He had had a bad scare, but now everything was going to be all right.
Three or four months passed, and the doctor told him he was cured. He really was cured, so far as he could see. He was sorry, now, that he had asked for so long a delay from Henriette; but the new date for the wedding had been announced, and it would be awkward to change it again. George told himself that he was being "extra careful," and he was repaid for the inconvenience by the feeling of virtue derived from the delay. He was relieved that he did not have to cough any more, or to invent any more tales of his interviews with the imaginary lung-specialist. Sometimes he had guilty feelings because of all the lying he had had to do; but he told himself that it was for Henriette's sake. She loved him as much as he loved her. She would have suffered needless agonies had she known the truth; she would never have got over it—so it would have been a crime to tell her.
He really loved her devotedly, thoroughly. From the beginning he had thought as much of her mental sufferings as he had of any physical harm that the dread disease might do to him. How could he possibly persuade himself to give her up, when he knew that the separation would break her heart and ruin her whole life? No; obviously, in such a dilemma, it was his duty to use his own best judgment, and get himself cured as quickly as possible. After that he would be true to her, he would take no more chances of a loathsome disease.
The secret he was hiding made him feel humble—made him unusually gentle in his attitude towards the girl. He was a perfect lover, and she was ravished with happiness. She thought that all his sufferings were because of his love for her, and the delay which he had imposed out of his excess of conscientiousness. So she loved him more and more, and never was there a happier bride than Henriette Loches, when at last the great day arrived.
They went to the Riveria for their honeymoon, and then returned to live in the home which had belonged to George's father. The investment in the notary's practice had proven a good one, and so life held out every promise for the young couple. They were divinely happy.
After a while, the bride communicated to her husband the tidings that she was expecting a child. Then it seemed to George that the cup of his earthly bliss was full. His ailment had slipped far into the background of his thoughts, like an evil dream which he had forgotten. He put away the medicines in the bottom of his trunk and dismissed the whole matter from his mind. Henriette was well—a very picture of health, as every one agreed. The doctor had never seen a more promising young mother, he declared, and Madame Dupont, the elder, bloomed with fresh life and joy as she attended her daughter-in-law.
Henriette went for the summer to her father's place in the provinces, which she and George had visited before their marriage. They drove out one day to the farm where they had stopped. The farmer's wife had a week-old baby, the sight of which made Henriette's heart leap with delight. He was such a very healthy baby that George conceived the idea that this would be the woman to nurse his own child, in case Henriette herself should not be able to do it.
They came back to the city, and there the baby was born. As George paced the floor, waiting for the news, the memory of his evil dreams came back to him. He remembered all the dreadful monstrosities of which he had read—infants that were born of syphilitic parents. His heart stood still when the nurse came into the room to tell him the tidings.
But it was all right; of course it was all right! He had been a fool, he told himself, as he stood in the darkened room and gazed at the wonderful little mite of life which was the fruit of his love. It was a perfect child, the doctor said—a little small, to be sure, but that was a defect which would soon be remedied. George kneeled by the bedside and kissed the hand of his wife, and went out of the room feeling as if he had escaped from a tomb.
All went well, and after a couple of weeks Henriette was about the house again, laughing all day and singing with joy. But the baby did not gain quite as rapidly as the doctor had hoped, and it was decided that the country air would be better for her. So George and his mother paid a visit to the farm in the country, and arranged that the country woman should put her own child to nurse elsewhere and should become the foster-mother of little Gervaise.
George paid a good price for the service, far more than would have been necessary, for the simple country woman was delighted with the idea of taking care of the grandchild of the deputy of her district. George came home and told his wife about this and had a merry time as he pictured the woman boasting about it to the travelers who stopped at her door. "Yes, ma'am, a great piece of luck I've got, ma'am. I've got the daughter of the daughter of our deputy—at your service ma'am. My! But she is as fat as out little calf—and so clever! She understands everything. A great piece of luck for me, ma'am. She's the daughter of the daughter of our deputy!" Henriette was vastly entertained, discovering in her husband a new talent, that of an actor.