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- Mysteries of Paris, V3 - 20/89 -
make time to come and see me? On my account you impose upon yourself extra labor."
"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 harm!"
"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 fellows!"
"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 dangers."
"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 me."
"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 any of his probity, she feared that, notwithstanding the excellence of his nature, Germain might at some future period become indifferent to that which then tormented him so cruelly.
Rigolette, wiping her eyes, and addressing Germain, who was leaning against the grating, said to him with a touching, serious, almost solemn accent, and in a manner he had never seen her assume, "Listen to me, Germain; I shall express myself perhaps badly; I do not speak so well as you; but what
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