On this novel rests principally the fame of its author. Imbued with the emotional socialistic literature of his time, he wrote this, the first French novel treating of the conditions of the working people. Primarily its object, as shown by many interpolated reflections, was to point out the social iniquity of present conditions in general; especially the inability of the poor to obtain redress from the civil laws, hus leading many to careers of crime. The author insists through-out upon the natural inclination of the human character to develop emotions of love of all that is good in social life, and hatred of injustice. Incidentally he brings out the necessity for reform in the penal system and protests against the abuse of the poor in the public hospitals. The novel became popular and produced legislative reforms, doing for the poor of Paris what Dickens’s novels did for the poor of London. It first appeared serially in the Journal des Débats, Later it was dramatized by the author himself and presented on the stage. The moral appeal in the novel is best expressed in a letter that Sue wrote to the editor of the Journal des Débats, published with the last instalment. “Unfortunately, many years will, perhaps, pass before these great (social) questions, of such vital interest to the masses, will be solved. Meanwhile every day brings forward and unveils new miseries. I shall regard myself recompensed beyond my hopes whenever I feel that I have inspired by my writings any generous action or charitable thought. There is generally in France much commiseration for the suffering; but very often the occasion is wanting to exercise charity in a manner profitable to the heart, and, if it may be said, in an interesting way,”
IT was a cold and rainy evening in the year 1838. A man of athletic form crossed the Pont du Change and plunged into the cité, a labyrinth of obscure streets which extend from the Palais de Justice to Notre Dame, the criminal quarter of Paris. The man of whom we speak was called the Chourineur, meaning, in the slang of the quarter, one who stabs. Known as ex-galley slave, of gigantic strength and ferocious disposition, be was much feared by the denizens of the cité.
“Ah, is that you, La Gounaleuse?” (“the singer “) he said, recognizing one of a group of girls sheltering themselves from the rain under an arcade. “Come, you shall pay for my brandy.”
“I have nothing; even for my clothes I owe the Ogresse,” replied the trembling girl. The Chourineur grasped her arm, but she wrenched herself loose and fled down a dark alley, pursued by the enraged desperado.
“Now I have you,” he roared, diving into a doorway.
A sudden blow sent him sprawling. He regained his feet, but the stranger, a man of slight build, threw him down again. Once more the Chourineur rose, but a blow with the fist sent him to the pavement for the third time, stunned.
“Don’t kill him,” said the girl to her protector, “if he has enough.”
“Enough?” said the stranger.
“Yes, yes, enough,” growled the brigand. “You’ve rinsed me well, but who the devil are you? Only the Maître d’Ecole has done that before.”
“Have I played fair?” demanded the unknown,’ threateningly.
“I do not complain,” replied the Chourineur peevishly”no hard feelings.”
“Then let us drink together.”
“Agreed. And you, too, Goualeuse, you said a good word for me.”
The three went to an inn, a low drinking resort. The Chourineur seemed reconciled to his defeat, the three became intimate, and over the drinks each related his history.
The Chourineur had grown up on the pavements, sleeping in cellars and lime-kilns. Later he had enlisted in the army, and in a quarrel had killed a sergeant. He had been condemned to death; but for several meritorious feats he had performed, one the saving of a drowning comrade, this sentence had been commuted to fifteen years in the galleys. He had served this term and tried to find work, but was everywhere refused on account of his record. As yet he had remained honest, earning a bare living as a wharf laborer.
La Goualeuse likewise did not know her parents. She had been brought up by an evil, one-eyed woman, La Chouette, who had beaten her, and one day, as a punishment, pulled out a tooth. Then she had fled and been imprisoned in a house of correction, from which she had been liberated only a few months before. Reduced to extremities, she had come to the cité, and for clothing and shelter mortgaged herself to the mistress of this inn, known as the Ogresse. Despite her life, her face had retained a look of virginal purity, therefore she was also known as Fleur de Marie.
The stranger represented himself as Rodolphe, a painter of fans. He was beyond thirty, handsome, and possessed of a dignity to command respect.
As the three sat conversing there was a noise at the door, and a huge, ruffianly fellow entered. His nose was gone, and his face was frightfully scarred. With him was a woman of unsavory appearance, one green eye glowing in her hideous face.
“The Maitre d’Ecole,” whispered the Chourineur, “the only fellow besides you that has rinsed me. He was in the galleys with me, and escaped. Since then he has disfigured his face; even his old comrades can’t recognize him.”
As the pair advanced into the inn Fleur de Marie gave a start and instinctively drew close to Rodolphe.
“La Chouette!” she whispered.
The Maitre d’Ecole looked about him for a moment, then came striding toward the table where Fleur de Marie sat, followed by the one-eyed hag.
“Eh, you I want,” he growled. “You,” addressing Rodolphe, “my jockey, throw me that blonde over the table.”
“Mon Dieu!” cried La Goualeuse, in terror, “protect me.”
Rodolphe rose, and so threatening was his aspect that the Maitre d’Ecole instinctively stepped back. Just at this moment a man hurried in from the street, apparently a coal-dealer. He came up to Rodolphe and whispered in English:
“My lord, Sarah and Tom are coming.”
Rodolphe turned with a start, then followed the collier hurriedly toward the door. But the Maitre d’Ecole, recovering himself, sprang forward.
“You don’t get off so easily,” he growled.
Rodolphe’s fist shot out, and the brigand fell backward across a table. Then Rodolphe disappeared through the doorway.
A moment later two strangers entered; one a tall man in riding costume, the other apparently a lad, but, to an observant eye, evidently a woman in a man’s costume. They ordered drinks, meanwhile keenly scrutinizing the inmates of the place. The man pulled out a purse to pay, revealing to the keen glance of the Maître d’Ecole a roll of bank-notes. His attention was immediately attracted away from Fleur de Marie, who took this opportunity to quit the room, and the Chourineur followed, going into the street.
The two strangers left shortly afterward, followed by the Maitre d’Ecole and La Chouette. They passed down the street, and had arrived before a ruined house when they were grasped and held from behind.
“Your purse or your life.”
They made no resistance. As they were being relieved of their money the disguised woman said suddenly:
“Do you wish to earn some more moneytwo thousand francs?”
“Yes, how?” demanded La Chouette.
“Did you see the slender young man with blond moustache who left just before we entered?”
“It concerns him. Meet me somewhere to-morrow.” “You wish to lay a trap?”
Come to the plain of Saint Denis at noon to-morrow. From a distance you can see I am alone.”
“Good, I shall be there,” said La Chouette.
The robbers and their two victims parted. But an invisible witness had been present. The Chourineur, who had taken shelter in the cellar of the deserted house, had caught most of the dialogue.
Next day Rodolphe appeared again at the inn and held a private conversation with the Ogresse. The result was, he paid her La Goualeuse’s debt. The young girl was called, and Rodolphe invited her for a ride to the country with him. The girl had impressed him as unusual; in her he had inspired a sense of awe, a recognition of his superiority over the men she usually came in contact with.
They spent the day roaming about the fields, Toward evening he took her to a farmhouse, situated in a pretty green field near a village.
“We shall meet my old nurse here,” he told her.
A middle-aged, prematurely gray-haired woman met them with a friendly smile. Together they wandered over the place, seeing the cows, the chickens, the dairy. Fleur de Marie’s delight was unbounded.
“I leave you here in care of Madame Georges,” said Rodolphe finally.
“But, Monsieur Rodolphe, what does this meanto stay always?”
“Always; it shall be your home.”
Madame Georges accompanied Rodolphe to the gate. “I shall seek out your boy,” he spoke to her.
“May the good God help you, Monsieur. His father would never reveal to me whether he lives. The monster, in escaping from the galleys, met his death, they say. But who knows, he may yet be alive. He may seek me out here on this farm where you have so kindly placed me.”
Rodolphe met the Chourineur that evening, and the latter revealed to him the conversation he had heard between Sarah and the two robbers.
“Man Dieu, but I like you already too well to see you come to harm,” said the ex-convict. Rodolphe then asked the Chourineur to see the Maître d’Ecole that night.
“Tell him to meet me at the flower-market to-morrow morning. I shall have, you can say, a profitable business on hand for him.”
Rodolphe strolled into the market next morning and came upon the Maitre d’Ecole. The brigand was suspicious.
” Quick,” he said, ” if you have business, we will let the matter of last night rest. You have a fist like a cannon-ball. What is it?”
They went into an inn, where La Chouette met them. Rodolphe unfolded his scheme of entering a house in the Allée des Veuves, the residence of a doctor gone to the country. The Maître d’Ecole agreed, but insisted on their remaining together till the evening. On leaving the inn Rodolphe dropped a note, which he saw picked up by the collier of the evening before, now attired as a gentleman, doctors she recognized as the hateful La Chouette. They forced an oath of secrecy from her and liberated her near a police station. La Chouette then informed the police that a vagrant had passed down the street, and Fleur de Marie was arrested and sent to St. Lazare. A forged note was sent to Madame Georges, signed by Rodolphe, explaining Marie’s absence by his having taken her to Paris.
Rodolphe became intimate with Rigolette, but quite by accident he learned of Germain’s address through a second-hand dealer who had bought his furniture. He was employed as cashier in the office of a notary, Jacques Ferrand. Rodolphe had heard evil reports of this man, though he was highly respected and known as a pious man.
One of Rigolette’s friends, a girl of seventeen, was a servant in Ferrand’s house and had been drugged and outraged by him. Then he had her sent to St. Lazare as a vagrant.
When Rodolphe finally attempted to communicate with Germain he learned that the young man had been accused of theft and imprisoned. Rigolette went to see him every day in prison.
La Chouette, who had recently been discharged from the hospitalfor Rodolphe had not had her arrested after the burglaryconceived of a scheme to blackmail the notary Ferrand. His housekeeper, ten years before, had turned over to La Chouette a child which she was to care for in consideration of one thousand francs. She obtained an interview with Ferrand, but he denied all knowledge of the child.
Ferrand was, in fact, thoroughly frightened. He learned that Fleur de Marie was in St. Lazare, and determined to paralyze La Chouette’s threats by removing Fleur de Marie.
On an island in the Seine lived a criminal family, the Martials, who throve by thieving and murder. With Nicholas Martial Ferrand arranged that Marie was to be conducted across the river and upset. His housekeeper was to meet the girl at the prison door after the notary should procure her release and, pretending she had come from Madame Georges, bring her down to the river.
“Both the women must be disposed of,” whispered Ferrand. Fleur de Marie’s abduction had been caused by Sarah, who, believing Rodolphe too much interested in her, decided to rid herself of a possible rival. La Chouette had been her tool.
The Marquis d’Harville, a dear friend of Rodolphe, had secretly suspected his wife of infidelity. Rodolphe had cleared this matter with much delicacy, and so won the deep regard of the young wife, Clémence. They agreed to seek worthy objects of charity together. Thus it was that the Marquise went one day to St. Lazare and had Fleur de Marie pointed out to her as an unusual girl. She held a half hour’s conversation with her, and, being convinced of her sweet, pure nature, promised to obtain her liberty. But that day her husband fell victim to a fatal accident and the young widow hurried off to Normandy to her father’s home.
Some days later Fleur de Marie was informed of her release, and naturally thought it due to the influence of the Marquise. At the door she met an elderly, stout woman.
“Ah, you come from Madame d’Harville,” cried she.
“Yes, yes, but hurry. I shall conduct you to your friends.” “To Madame Georges?”
“Yes, my dear. She waits youah! but a surprise awaits you. You must ask me no questions.”
She hurried her out into a cab, and they drove off. Marie was surprised to observe that they approached the river.
“Ah, what a beautiful island lies there!” she cried with sudden rapture.
“It pleases you? Well, we are going there.”
“Butthat is notis Madame Georges there?”
“Yes, yes, but yes, I shall tell you; they prepare a feast for you there.”
Once on the shore, the old woman signaled, and two boats came from the island. Fleur de Marie felt an instinctive uneasiness on beholding the foul face of Nicholas Martial. But she seated herself in the boat with the old woman, and they shot out into the stream.
Half an hour later two gentlemen strolling along the opposite river-bank saw the body of a young girl floating by and rescued it. One was a doctor. Discovering signs of life, he set to work and presently a faint glow of vitality revived. Then she was carried to his home.
That same night La Chouette appeared at the home of Lady Sarah, keeping an appointment. Lady Sarah took the creature into her private room and locked the door, leaving open only the passage from the garden whence they had entered.
“Listen,” said the scheming noblewoman, “I want you to find me a girl of about seventeen, one who has lost her parents when young, of agreeable face, a foundling.”
La Chouette showed her astonishment.
“Ah, ça; but say, my little lady, have you forgotten La Goualeuse?”
“I want nothing of her,” said Lady Sarah impatiently. “But listen a moment. Take La Goualeuse; she was only six years old when this gueux of a Jacques Ferrand gave her to me, with a thousand francs, to get rid of her.”
” Jacques Ferrand!” cried Sarah, “the notary!”
“Yes, what of it?”
“A little blonde?”
“Ah, mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!” cried Sarah, falling on her knees. Suddenly she rose. Hastily opening a secretary, she took from it an ebony casket, which she opened. She took from it diamond necklaces and bracelets, throwing them on the table in her hurry to reach the bottom.
“Is this she?” she cried, producing a small miniature on blue enamel.
Sarah took out paper and pen and began writing.
“Come,” she said, “as you dictate, so I write. A written declaration”
She did not finish. La Chouette brought down her arm and her dagger entered Sarah’s back between the shoulder-blades. She threw out her hands and fell forward.
Hastily gathering the jewels, the murderess slipped through the door into the garden and escaped into the dark streets.
That night the police made one of the most notable hauls of the year; they captured a group of notorious criminals in the act of murdering a diamond-agent in a low-class resort on the banks of the Seine, among them all the Martial family. In the cellar they found the blind Maître d’Ecole, chained to a pillar. He had evidently been confined there by his former comrades, who perhaps feared that in his helpless state he might fall under the care of honest people and reveal to them the habits of his associates. He was mad; in his arms he gripped, almost crushed, the dead and mangled body of La Chouette, who, seeking to escape down the cellar, had stumbled within the captive’s reach.
Jacques Ferrand engaged a new housekeeper. She was young, beautiful, possessed of hypnotic powers of fascination. On the third day the notary, his first advances having been repelled, became possessed of a mad desire for her. She played him well; one evening, in a frenzied outburst, he offered her his papers, proofs of crimes he had committed, only to possess her. She grasped the papers. When he entered her room her window was open, she was gone. Jacques Ferrand fell to the floor in a fit of apprehensive terror.
A week passed. His clerks noticed in the notary a curious change. He denied admission to his clients, though they knew his interests suffered heavily thereby. His face thinned, his temples hollowed, his complexion became ghastly yellow. In constant company with him was a red-bearded man, known as Monsieur Brodamonte.
Then came the announcement that Germain had been freed from prison, the charges against him being dropped. Also that Monsieur Ferrand gave a million francs to found a workingmen’s bank where the poor could borrow without paying interest. Germain was to be cashier.
Ferrand’s sufferings were intense. Brodamonte, discovered in a criminal act by Rodolphe, was now his slave, and acted as his agent. Both were watched by a well-concealed circle of spies. Brodamonte forced Ferrand’s system of restitution, under Rodolphe’s directions. This was his punishment: a miser, he must give; a thief, he must return what he had stolen from his victims; and, always a pious fraud, he was now compelled to place all his money in trust with the good, simple old abbé he had long deceived.
Rigolette had met Fleur de Marie in the street as she had left St. Lazare. Being old friends from the house of correction, they had exchanged some words, though Ferrand’s housekeeper had not given them time for a long conversation.
Rigolette had mentioned this meeting by chance to Rodolphe. Much alarmed, he at once sent a servant out to Madame Georges on the farm, and thus learned of the absence of the girl and the deception that had caused Madame Georges to make no inquiries.
Rodolphe truly guessed that La Goualeuse’s abduction had been instigated by Sarah. But who had caused her release was still a mystery. He inquired at the prison, and, to his astonishment, was told that the Marquise d’Harville had taken the girl under her protection. But Clémence was with her father in Normandy. He obtained a detailed description from the matron of the woman who had met Fleur de Marie, and found it agreed with Rigolette’s.
Suddenly an idea burst upon him. Looking over the papers taken from Ferrand, he saw that the notary had reason to fear the existence of a certain child he had turned over to La Chouette ten years previously. These suspicions changed to conviction when he learned that on the day of Marie’s release two women had been drowned in the Seine. So great was his rage that he now determined to revenge himself doubly on the criminal notary.
Lady Sarah was recovering slowly. Rodolphe, believing her to be dying, consented to visit her. He found her sitting up, dressed, but pale and weak.
“Rodolphe, I am dying,” she said; “I have something of great importance to tell you.” He observed her intense agitation, and waited patiently.
“Our child is not dead!” burst from her suddenly. “Our child!”
“I tell you, she lives!”
“Enough, Madame, you cannot deceive me. I know your schemes.”
“But listen, I have proof!” she cried eagerly. “I have told you the truth. You remember I had left the child with my notary to superintend her education. He was false to me. She had not died, but was disposed of to a woman known as La Chouette, and”
“Hold!” cried Rodolphe, “stop!” He pressed his hands to his throbbing temples.
ËUGÉNE SUE tog “See,” she continüed, “here is the portrait.”
He seized the miniature. Yes, in the child’s face were recognizable the blue eyes, the oval face, the fair hait, so familiar to him in Fleur de Marie.
” God!” he cried, “you wretched woman! La Goualeuse our daughter! Found, only to lose her again. Dead!” “No, no, she lites, Rodolphe.”
“Enough, vile womaman! Your child is dead, mürderëd. May the kndwlédge curse your last moments!” And he rushed from the house, leaving Sarah in a fainting, and, as he thought, dying condition.
Meanwhile the Marquise d’Harville had returned to Paris and, chancing to visit her friend, Dr. Griffan, learned of the presence of La Goualeuse in his house. The poor girl had long been in a critical condition, therefore had not written to her friends of her escape from death. She could barely walk now, and meant to write.
Madame d’Harville, knowing Rodolphe’s interest in Fleur de Marie, determined to take her with her in her carriage to convey the good news to Rodolphe in person.
Some days later she appeared at Rodolphe’s magnificent apartments and announced to him that Fleur de Marie was be-low in the carriage. Rodolphe rose, pale, supporting himself by the table. Madame d’Harville’s surprise restrained him.
“Ah, Clémence,” he murmured, “you do not know what you have done for me. Fleur de Marie ismy daughter.”
“Your daughter, your Highness?”
Then suddenly she understood. Fleur de Marie was brought up, and it required Clémence to restrain Rodolphe so that he broke the news gently. Fleur de Marie was even then overcome, for she had loved Rodolphe as she would have loved her God.
Sarah died soon afterward. Rodolphe asked Clémence to become mother to Marie, now the Princess Amelia, and they returned to Germany. On setting out they passed in their carriage through a crowd attending an execution. Several criminals in the crowd, recognizing Rodolphe, attempted to attack him. Suddenly a man sprang forward in his defense, but was stabbed by one of the crowd and fell dying. It was the Chourineur.
“I could not go to Algiers,” he murmured; “I wished to be near you, Monsieur Rodolphe.”
A noble prince sought the hand of the Princess Amelia, but she, feeling her past degradation, retired to a convent, where she died, beloved by all, mourned deeply by Rodolphe and Clémence.
Ferrand, the notary, died in convulsions, killing Brodamonte with a poisoned dagger. Germain, restored to his mother, married Rigolette, to whom Rodolphe had given a dowry.