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5 o Thérèse Corruption of a Minor out of Pity—Vice Squad—At the House of Detention—Wretched Childhood in the Slums—M. Régnier, Magistrate for the Prostitutes—The Iron Cage ‘‘     ?’’ I was saying to myself as I woke up shivering from the cold. ‘‘I cannot go back home. My mother wrote five days ago that she would be back in a week. She will be arriving tomorrow or later. But what am I to do for two days?’’ I spent that day on the wharf watching people fish. I had ten sous. I spent two on bread. Five days later, my mother still had not come back. I was crying . . . , I was hungry, and I could not walk anymore. I sat on the steps of Eglise Saint-Paul and put my head in my hands. Several people walked by without looking at me. I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. ‘‘What are you doing here, little girl? You have been here more than two hours. Are you crying?’’ The person addressing me was a rather pretty twenty-five- to thirtyyear -old woman. She was wearing a black silk dress, a bonnet with ribbons, a jumper with colorful flowers in the style of the day. She hiked up her dress on one side and revealed a well-turned foot in a black high-top shoe. Her very white, perfectly straight stockings denoted habits of elegant cleanliness . I told her why I was there. She stepped into a corner that separated the shops from the church. It was dark and she seemed to want to avoid being seen. ‘‘Poor girl,’’ she said, ‘‘do you think your mother will be back soon?’’ She asked me if I had written to her. I answered that I did not know  Thérèse how to write, and that, in any case, I did not know her address in Fontainebleau . ‘‘You cannot sleep in the street. . . . I cannot take you. . . . Oh, well, never mind, you have to eat.You see, I cannot walk by your side. Follow me a few steps behind and enter where you will see me enter.’’        I was so afraid of losing her that I was walking on her heels. I saw her laugh with women who were walking back and forth. She stopped in front of a wine merchant’s door and glanced inside the shop, which was crowded. She took an alley that abutted the shop, opened a door that probably led to one of the wine merchant’s rooms, and picked up a candle and a key with a brass number. Once on the second floor, she opened a glass door draped with poppy-red calico curtains. The ceiling was low.Therewas a bed, a sort of sofa, two chairs, a table. ‘‘Come in,’’ she said. ‘‘Tomorrow, I shall go see if your mother is back. You will be better here than in the street.’’ She came back with bread, wine, and cold cuts. I had been so hungry that my stomach had shrunk. ‘‘Well,’’ she asked, ‘‘are you feeling better?’’ ‘‘Yes, madame. I want to thank you! . . .’’ And I kissed her enthusiastically. I asked her what she did. She replied, ‘‘What I do! . . . I am doing something bad bringing you to my rooms. I was like you. A man ruined me the way one wanted to ruin you six days ago. I did not defend myself , and this is where it led me. I have to hide the fact that I am keeping you here for a day or two. If it was known that you are here, we would be suspected of things you or I could not even imagine, and I would be in a lot of trouble. How old are you?’’ ‘‘I am going on fifteen.’’ ‘‘Fifteen!’’ she repeated. ‘‘My God, that would cost me six months!’’ ‘‘Six months!’’ I said without understanding. ‘‘Yes, girl. Corruption of a minor!’’ ‘‘I do not understand.’’ ‘‘It is not easy to explain. I am not Thérèse anymore, I am a number. I do not follow my will anymore but the regulations on a card. If I want to go out bareheaded, the regulations state that I must wear a bonnet. If I want to go out during the day, the regulations forbid it. I am not allowed to walk down certain esplanades. I must never appear at a win-  Thérèse dow, and I especially must never go out with...


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