List Of Contents | Contents of The Wandering Jew v3, by Eugene Sue
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

and fearful creature had gathered from the emergency of the occasion.

"Dear me! where do you come from, my good Mother Bunch?" said Frances.
"Just now, in going to see if my son had returned, I opened your door,
and was quite astonished to find you gone out so early."

"I bring you news of Agricola."

"Of my son!" cried Frances, trembling all over.  "What has happened to
him?  Did you see him?--Did you speak to him?--Where is he?"

"I did not see him, but I know where he is."  Then, perceiving that
Frances grew very pale, the girl added: "He is well; he is in no danger."

"Blessed be God, who has pity on a poor sinner!--who yesterday restored
me my husband, and to-day, after a night of cruel anguish, assures me of
the safety of my child!"  So saying, Frances knelt down upon the floor,
and crossed herself with fervor.

During the moment of silence, caused by this pious action, Rose and
Blanche approached Mother Bunch, and said to her in a low voice, with an
expression of touching interest: "How wet you are! you must be very cold.
Take care you do not get ill.  We did not venture to ask Madame Frances
to light the fire in the stove, but now we will do so."

Surprised and affected by the kindness of Marshal Simon's daughters, the
hunchback, who was more sensible than others to the least mark of
kindness, answered them with a look of ineffable gratitude: "I am much
obliged to you, young ladies; but I am accustomed to the cold, and am
moreover so anxious that I do not feel it."

"And my son?" said Frances, rising after she had remained some moments on
her knees; "why did he stay out all night?  And could you tell me where
to find him, my good girl?  Will he soon come? why is he so long?"

"I assure you, Agricola is well; but I must inform you, that for some


"You must have courage, mother."

"Oh! the blood runs cold in my veins.  What has happened? why shall I not
see him?"

"Alas, he is arrested."

"Arrested!" cried Rose and Blanche, with affright.

"Father! Thy will be done!" said Frances; "but it is a great misfortune.
Arrested! for what?  He is so good and honest, that there must be some

"The day before yesterday," resumed Mother Bunch, "I received an
anonymous letter, by which I was informed that Agricola might be arrested
at any moment, on account of his song.  We agreed together that he should
go to the rich young lady in the Rue de Babylone, who had offered him her
services, and ask her to procure bail for him; to prevent his going to
prison.  Yesterday morning he set out to go to the young lady's."

"And neither of you told me anything of all this--why did you hide it
from me?"

"That we might not make you uneasy, mother; for, counting on the
generosity of that young lady, I expected Agricola back every moment.
When he did not come yesterday evening.  I said to myself: 'Perhaps the
necessary formalities with regard to the bail have detained him.' But the
time passed on, and he did not make his appearance.  So, I watched all
night, expecting him."

"So you did not go to bed either, my good girl?"

"No, I was too uneasy.  This morning, not being able to conquer my fears,
I went out before dawn.  I remembered the address of the young lady in
the Rue de Babylone, and I ran thither."

"Oh, well!" said Frances, with anxiety; "you were in the right.
According to what my son told us, that young lady appeared very good and

Mother Bunch shook her head sorrowfully; a tear glittered in her eyes, as
she continued: "It was still dark when I arrived at the Rue de Babylone;
I waited till daylight was come."

"Poor child! you, who are so weak and timid," said Frances, with deep
feeling, "to go so far, and in this dreadful weather!--Oh, you have been
a real daughter to me!"

"Has not Agricola been like a brother to me!" said Mother Bunch, softly,
with a slight blush.

"When it was daylight," she resumed: "I ventured to ring at the door of
the little summer-house; a charming young girl, but with a sad, pale
countenance, opened the door to me.  'I come in the name of an
unfortunate mother in despair,' said I to her immediately, for I was so
poorly dressed that I feared to be sent away as a beggar; but seeing, on
the contrary, that the young girl listened to me with kindness, I asked
her if, the day before, a young workman had not come to solicit a great
favor of her mistress.  'Alas! yes,' answered the young girl; 'my
mistress was going to interest herself for him, and, hearing that he was
in danger of being arrested, she concealed him here; unfortunately, his
retreat was discovered, and yesterday afternoon, at four o'clock, he was
arrested and taken to prison.'"

Though the orphans took no part in this melancholy conversation, the
sorrow and anxiety depicted in their countenances, showed how much they
felt for the sufferings of Dagobert's wife.

"But the young lady?" cried Frances.  "You should have tried to see her,
my good Mother Bunch, and begged her not to abandon my son.  She is so
rich that she must have influence, and her protection might save us from
great calamities."

"Alas!" said Mother Bunch, with bitter grief, "we must renounce this last

"Why?" said Frances.  "If this young lady is so good, she will have pity
upon us, when she knows that my son is the only support of a whole
family, and that for him to go to prison is worse than for another,
because it will reduce us all to the greatest misery."

"But this young lady," replied the girl, "according to what I learned
from her weeping maid, was taken last evening to a lunatic asylum: it
appears she is mad."

"Mad!  Oh! it is horrible for her, and for us also--for now there is no
hope.  What will become of us without my son?  Oh, merciful heaven!"  The
unfortunate woman hid her face in her hands.

A profound silence followed this heart-rending outburst.  Rose and
Blanche exchanged mournful glances, for they perceived that their
presence augmented the weighty embarrassments of this family.  Mother
Bunch, worn out with fatigue, a prey to painful emotions, and trembling
with cold in her wet clothes, sank exhausted on a chair, and reflected on
their desperate position.

That position was indeed a cruel one!

Often, in times of political disturbances, or of agitation amongst the
laboring classes, caused by want of work, or by the unjust reduction of
wages (the result of the powerful coalition of the capitalists)--often
are whole families reduced, by a measure of preventive imprisonment, to
as deplorable a position as that of Dagobert s household by Agricola's
arrest--an arrest, which, as will afterwards appear, was entirely owing
to Rodin's arts.

Now, with regard to this "precautionary imprisonment," of which the
victims are almost always honest and industrious mechanics, driven to the
necessity of combining together by the In organization of Labor and the
Insufficiency of Wages, it is painful to see the law, which ought to be
equal for all, refuse to strikers what it grants to masters--because the
latter can dispose of a certain sum of money.  Thus, under many
circumstances, the rich man, by giving bail, can escape the annoyance and
inconveniences of a preventive incarceration; he deposits a sum of money,
pledges his word to appear on a certain day, and goes back to his
pleasures, his occupations, and the sweet delights of his family.
Nothing can be better; an accused person is innocent till he is proved
guilty; we cannot be too much impressed with that indulgent maxim.  It is
well for the rich man that he can avail himself of the mercy of the law.
But how is it with the poor?

Not only has he no bail to give, for his whole capital consists of his
daily labor; but it is upon him chiefly that the rigors of preventive
measures must fall with a terrible and fatal force.

For the rich man, imprisonment is merely the privation of ease and
comfort, tedious hours, and the pain of separation from his family--
distresses not unworthy of interest, for all suffering deserves pity, and
the tears of the rich man separated from his children are as bitter as
those of the poor.  But the absence of the rich man does not condemn his
family to hunger and cold, and the incurable maladies caused by
exhaustion and misery.

For the workman, on the contrary, imprisonment means want, misery,
sometimes death, to those most dear to him.  Possessing nothing, he is
unable to find bail, and he goes to prison.  But if he have, as it often
happens, an old, infirm father or mother, a sick wife, or children in the
cradle?  What will become of this unfortunate family?  They could hardly
manage to live from day to day upon the wages of this man, wages almost
always insufficient, and suddenly this only resource will be wanting for
three or four months together.

What will this family do?  To whom will they have recourse?

What will become of these infirm old men, these sickly wives, these
little children, unable to gain their daily bread?  If they chance to
have a little linen and a few spare clothes, these will be carried to the
pawnbroker's, and thus they will exist for a week or so--but afterwards?

And if winter adds the rigors of the season to this frightful and
inevitable misery?

Then will the imprisoned artisan see in his mind's eyes, during the long
and sleepless nights, those who are dear to him, wan, gaunt, haggard,
exhausted, stretched almost naked upon filthy straw, or huddled close
together to warm their frozen limbs.  And, should he afterwards be
acquitted, it is ruin and desolation that he finds on his return to his
poor dwelling.

And then, after that long cessation from labor, he will find it difficult
to return to his old employers.  How many days will be lost in seeking
for work! and a day without employment is a day without bread!

Let us repeat our opinion, that if, under various circumstances, the law
did not afford to the rich the facility of giving bail, we could only
lament over all such victims of individual and inevitable misfortune.
But since the law does provide the means of setting provisionally at
liberty those who possess a certain sum of money, why should it deprive
of this advantage those very persons, for whom liberty is indeed
indispensable, as it involves the existence of themselves and families?

Is there any remedy for this deplorable state of things?  We believe
there is.

The law has fixed the minimum of bail at five hundred francs.  Now five
hundred francs represent, upon the average, six months' labor of an
industrious workman.

If he have a wife and two children (which is also about the average), it
is evidently quite impossible for him to have saved any such sum.

So, to ask of such a man five hundred francs, to enable him to continue
to support his family, is in fact to put him beyond the pale of the law,
though, more than any one else, he requires its protection, because of
the disastrous consequences which his imprisonment entails upon others.

Would it not be equitable and humane, a noble and salutary example, to
accept, in every case where bail is allowed (and where the good character
of the accused could be honorably established), moral guarantees, in the
absence of material ones, from those who have no capital but their labor
and their integrity--to accept the word of an honest man to appear upon
the day of trial?  Would it not be great and moral, in these days to
raise the value of the lighted word, and exalt man in his own eyes, by
showing him that his promise was held to be sufficient security?

Will you so degrade the dignity of man, as to treat this proposition as
an impossible and Utopian dream?  We ask, how many prisoners of war have
ever broken their parole, and if officers and soldiers are not brothers
of the workingman?

Without exaggerating the virtue of promise-keeping in the honest and
laborious poor, we feel certain, that an engagement taken by the accused
to appear on the day of trial would be always fulfilled, not only with
fidelity, but with the warmest gratitude--for his family would not have
suffered by his absence, thanks to the indulgence of the law.

There is also another fact, of which France may well be proud.  It is,
that her magistrates (although miserably paid as the army itself) are
generally wise, upright, humane, and independent; they have the true
feeling of their own useful and sacred mission; they know how to
appreciate the wants and distresses of the working classes, with whom
they are so often brought in contact; to them might be safely granted the
power of fixing those cases in which a moral security, the only one that
can be given by the honest and necessitous man, should be received as

Finally, if those who make the laws have so low an opinion of the people
as to reject with disdain the suggestions we have ventured to throw out,
let them at least so reduce the minimum of bail, as to render it
available for those who have most need to escape the fruitless rigors of
imprisonment.  Let them take as their lowest limit, the month's wages of
an artisan--say eighty francs.

This sum would still be exorbitant; but, with the aid of friends, the
pawnbroker's, and some little advances, eighty francs might perhaps be
found--not always, it is true--but still sometimes--and, at all events,
many families would be rescued from frightful misery.

Having made these observations, let us return to Dagobert's family, who,
in consequence of the preventive arrest of Agricola, were now reduced to
an almost hopeless state.

The anguish of Dagobert's wife increased, the more she reflected on her
situation, for, including the marshal's daughters, four persons were left
absolutely without resource.  It must be confessed, however, that the
excellent mother thought less of herself, than of the grief which her son
must feel in thinking over her deplorable position.

At this moment there was a knock at the door.

"Who is there?" said Frances.

"It is me--Father Loriot."

"Come in," said Dagobert's wife.

The dyer, who also performed the functions of a porter, appeared at the
door of the room.  This time, his arms were no longer of a bright apple-
green, but of a magnificent violet.

"Mrs. Baudoin," said Father Loriot, "here is a letter that the giver of
holy water at Saint Merely's has just brought from Abbe Dubois, with a
request that I would bring it up to you immediately, as it is very

"A letter from my confessor?" said Frances, in astonishment; and, as she
took it, added: "Thank you, Father Loriot."

"You do not want anything?"

"No, Father Loriot."

"My respects to the ladies!" and the dyer went out.

"Mother Bunch, will you read this letter for me?" said Frances, anxious
to learn the contents of the missive in question.

"Yes, mother,"--and the young girl read as follows:

"'MY DEAR MADAME BAUDOIN,--I am in the habit of hearing you Tuesday and
Saturday, but I shall not be at liberty either to-morrow or the last day
of the week; you must then come to me this morning, unless you wish to
remain a whole week without approaching the tribunal of penance.'"

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: