Justine (Chapter 3)
An Adaptation of the Classic Story by the Marquis de Sade
Note: We may omit the narrative history of Justine's trials as she retold them, from their beginning, to Madame de Lorsange. There would be little use in retreading the same ground for our present purposes. Also, we will return to telling the story from the third-person perspective, that we have, hitherto, employed, so as not to confuse the reader, and to maintain the singular cohesive nature of our work. —Author
Justine, in order that she could continue to earn her keep, was put to work by her callous landlady, washing and scrubbing like a galley slave, with little in the way of food and nothing for payment. Justine subsisted on a diet of coarse, dark bread, a little water, and soup, even more rarely.
In time, the landlady came to Justine and announced that she had, finally, found her employment. "If, that is, you want it," the landlady seemed to caution.
Not comprehending, Justine fell to her knees, and implored the landlady to introduce her to the employer.
It turned out that it was a very crooked businessman, a pawnbroker and loan shark who lent money to needy people but then charged, as any usurer, an exorbitant interest rate to pay it back. It was in this way that Du Harpin had become exceedingly wealthy. He lived, though, in the poorest section of town, with a woman that could have been his mother if it were not that he called her "wife."
Du Harpin took Justine aside before hiring her and explained her duties, and the rules.
"Therese," said Du Harpin, for that is what Justine wished to be known as, so as to disguise her shame, "Honesty is the value most highly prized in my household. If I find that you have ever so much as stolen a single penny from me, I'll have you hanged. Do you understand me?"
Justine nodded in terror. She could see, quite clearly, that the cruel man was most definitely serious.
"You see, Therese, my wife and I enjoy few pleasures. We reap those pleasures through dint of our constant toil, and our sober living. We are never extravagant. Now Therese, you must tell me... Do you eat much?"
Justine was as thin as a rail, and constantly in the grip of hunger. She answered, "Only a little coarse bread and water. And soup, messeur. When, indeed, I can get it."
At this, Du Harpin's face lit up in surprise, is mouth twisting into a smile of cruel mockery.
"Soup!" He exclaimed, turning to his wife. "Do you hear that, my dear? Do you hear what comes of extravagance and luxury? This creature, I'll wager, has been near-starvation for a year, and now—that thing wants soup!"
Du Harpin turned back to his "Therese," and, scolding her, very sternly informed her that, "My wife and I seldom have soup; even on Sundays. And we work like galley slaves. Therese, you will get a slice or two of bread a day, and a bottle of river water. At the end of the year, you shall have a few francs—my wife will give you one of her old dresses to mend. And that, my dear, is rather too generous, considering how light your duties here are going to be.
"All you must do is wash, sweep, clean the rooms here, all six of them. You shall do this three days a week. Daily, you will powder my wig, help my wife dress and prepare her own wig, look after the pets, prepare the meals, polish the silverware; and spend the rest of your time, several hours daily, mending stockings, caps, bed linen, etc. Other wise, you'll have all the time you need to do whatever you please. At your leisure."
Justine realized, quite suddenly, that the monstrous couple would work her nearly to death, and starve her to boot. But at present, she saw no escape from her situation, and so she relented, and threw herself into the grueling daily routine.
Du Harpin and his wife were exceedingly miserly. No light was ever used in his room; no lamp ever burned there. Instead, he made do with the light falling from the lamps in the streets outside.
There was never a tablecloth; never a napkin or towels were used, the Du Harpins thinking these to be monstrous extravagances. Justine would continually make such items, but they were all carefully stowed away in some recess, to be later sold. None of the clothing was ever laundered, either, for fear of it wearing out. Plaster dust was used in place of powder, for the wigs.
Wine was unknown in the household, even on religious holidays, as Madame Du Harpin thought water to be, "the natural drink of man." The soles of their shoes were lined with iron, to keep them serviceable, if not comfortable; and neither of them had procured a new pair since their marriage, 30 years before.
The food was, likewise, apportioned out in a miserly fashion. Bread, upon being cut, was not allowed to go to waste, every crumb being saved. Du Harpin put out a special pan to catch the crumbs as the bread was cut, and these crumbs were later fried together with vegetables fo the Sabbath meal.
Of course, Du Harpin followed this extreme miserliness as if it were a religion to him; as if he were an aspiring ascetic. There were temptations, though, which did arouse in him his passionate greed.
Upstairs, the Du Harpins had a neighbor who was a jeweler. This man had a golden snuffbox that Du Harpin quite liked, and Du Harpin was often heard to say that he'd like to get his hands on it, if he could but manage to sneak in to the upstairs apartment and smuggle the thing away. But, too afraid to get his hands dirty with such a criminal act, he hit upon the idea of putting his "Therese" up to the crime.
"Oh," he said, "there is no cause to be ashamed of a little burglary, my dear. Why, it is in the very order of things that one creature, possessing more, should become the target of a covetous rival; who, wishing to not see a fellow creature overburdened with the stuff for which, strictly speaking, there is little necessity, endeavors to dispossess him of that which, otherwise, might cause him to suffer from becoming too great a drain on his nerves. In this way, the poor batten upon the wealthy, yes; yet, the wealthy, my dear, likewise exploit the poor. Exploitation is in the very marrow of our bones. Why, I'll have you know, in divers places, robbery is practically looked upon as a virtue; piety and honesty are crimes. Besides," he said, pacing a bit about the room as he astounded "Therese" with these sophistries, "if you should be caught, why, I'll use my considerable influence to have you pardoned."
And with that, Du Harpin handed Justine two keys, one for the upstairs apartment, and the other for the vault wherein the golden box he desired was kept.
Justine, thunderstruck to hear the old miser pronounce such a diabolical scheme, and aghast at being picked to accomplish it, exclaimed, "Sir! Must the master now begin to sew the seeds of corruption in his own servant? And," began Justine, suddenly hitting upon an argument against him, "if I should choose to use this weapon against you, tell me: what will you do then? What if this corruption you proffer comes back to engulf you, as well as your intended victim?"
At this Du Harpin began to understand that Justine would not cooperate with his designs; in point of fact, was a threat to him now, as she could denounce him to the police.
Looking only mildly irritated as he turned to face the horror-struck girl, he tried to pass off that he had just been "testing" her for her honesty.
"We can't be too careful, you know, my wife and I. We've hired many servants who turned out to be nothing more than common thieves and whores."
And with that, he left the apartment. Justine, exhausted from listening to the man justify his criminal designs, threw herself upon her couch, and was soon asleep.
It is an old truism that one must either fully fall in with the criminals and blackguards one encounters, or else, one must flee from them as from a phantom. Otherwise, if they perceive you a threat, you will pay dearly for it.
It was not long before she was awakened by a loud banging at the door.
In rushed Du Harpin, with several police.
"There she is officer. You see! The little slut has stolen my diamonds!"
"Good God," cried Justine, throwing her hands to her head. "I... robbed you? How could you dare accuse me of such?"
The policemen ransacked the room. The diamonds were found among Justine's belongings. Very well, then; it was decided that that was all the evidence that was needed; Justine's guilt was certain.
Hustled off to jail, the resultant trial was a mockery of justice. Justine, having no wealthy or influential friends (and Fate having, apparently, decreed that, in her case, the old maxim that "no good deed ever goes unpunished," should wring grimly true), could only stand as a poor, bedraggled and fearful wretch in the dock, protesting that she was framed by Du Harpin, out of malice for refusing to be his accomplice in robbery.
But the court found that ridiculous. Du Harpin was a fine, upstanding and moral citizen, quite beyond reproach. The judge very quickly found Justine guilty of theft, and the sentence he handed down was the harshest one possible, death.
She was packed off to the prison, to await the penalty handed down.