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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

A Severe Young Judge

By Émile Augier (1820–1889)

From ‘The Adventuress’

CLORINDE[softly]—Here’s Célie. Look at her clear eyes. I love her, innocent child!

Annibal—Yes, yes, yes![He sits down in a corner.]

Clorinde[approaching Célie, who has paused in the doorway]—My child, you would not avoid me to-day if you knew how happy you make me!

Célie—My father has ordered me to come to you.

Clorinde—Ordered you? Did you need an order? Are we really on such terms? Tell me, do you think I do not love you, that you should look upon me as your enemy? Dear, if you could read my heart you would find there the tenderest attachment.

Célie—I do not know whether you are sincere, Madame. I hope that you are not, for it distresses one to be loved by those—

Clorinde—Whom one does not love? They must have painted me black indeed, that you are so reluctant to believe in my friendship.

Célie—They have told me—what I have heard, thanks to you, Madame, was not fit for my young ears. This interview is cruel— Please let me—

Clorinde—No, no! Stay, Mademoiselle. For this interview, painful to us both, nevertheless concerns us both.

Célie—I am not your judge, Madame.

Clorinde—Nevertheless you do judge me, and severely! Yes, my life has been blameworthy; I confess it. But you know nothing of its temptations. How should you know, sweet soul, to whom life is happy and goodness easy? Child, you have your family to guard you. You have happiness to keep watch and ward for you. How should you know what poverty whispers to young ears on cold evenings! You, who have never been hungry, how should you understand the price that is asked for a mouthful of bread?

Célie—I don’t know the pleadings of poverty, but one need not listen to them. There are many poor girls who go hungry and cold and keep from harm.

Clorinde—Child, their courage is sublime. Honor them if you will, but pity the cowards.

Célie—Yes, for choosing infamy rather than work, hunger, or death! Yes, for losing the respect of all honest souls! Yes, I can pity them for not being worthier of pity.

Clorinde—So that’s your Christian charity! So nothing in the world—bitter repentance or agonies of suffering, or vows of sanctity for all time to come—may obliterate the past?

Célie—You force me to speak without knowledge. But—since I must give judgment—who really hates a fault will hate the fruit of it. If you keep this place, Madame, you will not expect me to believe in the genuineness of your renunciations.

Clorinde—I do not dishonor it. There is no reason why I should leave it. I have already proved my sincerity by high-minded and generous acts. I bear myself as my place demands. My conscience is at rest.

Célie—Your good action—for I believe you—is only the beginning of expiation. Virtue seems to me like a holy temple. You may leave it by a door with a single step, but to enter again you must climb up a hundred on your knees, beating your breast.

Clorinde—How rigid you all are, and how your parents train their first-born never to open the ranks! Oh, fortunate race! impenetrable phalanx of respectability, who make it impossible for the sinner to reform! You keep the way of repentance so rough that the foot of poor humanity cannot tread it. God will demand from you the lost souls whom your hardness has driven back to sin.

Célie—God, do you say? When good people forgive they betray his justice. For punishment is not retribution only, but the acknowledgment and recompense of those fighting ones that brave hunger and cold in a garret, Madame, yet do not surrender.

Clorinde—Go, child! I cannot bear more—

Célie—I have said more than I meant to say. Good-by. This is the first and last time that I shall ever speak of this.

[She goes.]