Rirette

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RIRETTE

Rirette[1]

A nice name, isn’t it? A name right out of another time when the coquettes still wore bonnets, when windmills still had blades and when it was, nonetheless, the bonnets that flew over the windmills. And is it a real name or a nickname given in a good mood during the spring because of that smile that brightens her face?

I thought that was enough because I do not know her. I have never had the chance to meet her, nor any of her friends. I only know her by her pictures, snapshots taken by chance. A sweet, mischievous face, lively eyes, like a little girl—but a girl who is a relative of Gavroche[2], a girl who, after playing well and laughing, loving the sun, drinking cheap wine under the arbor, sighing over slow waltzes, smelling violets at four sous with more enthusiasm than others do a rose at one gold louis, she would die carefree and beautiful… heroically!

Is she from Paris, my neck of the woods? Is she a runaway bourgeoisie or an adventurous worker from a distant province? I know nothing at all. Paris took her, that’s all I know. It fashioned her in its way, gave her its native girls’ zest, their alert grace, that lip turned rosy from Montmorency cherries or Robinson strawberries. There is also the taste for mystery, romance, the unexpected and for risk…

Too much, alas, poor Rirette! Did I tell you that Rirette was in prison? She laughed when they arrested her; laughed in the courts of justice, at the onlookers, the reporters, the photographers; laughed at the light, the free air, the broad daylight! I also did not tell you that Rirette was 22 years old—and with two little girls who were taken away from her.

This alone is serious because this girl loves her girls tenderly and passionately. And yet she condemned herself to never see them again. She accepted being deprived of their arms around her neck, their little mouths on her cheek, their affectionate words that are like hugs. This young mother has cut herself off from her children instead of giving to Justice the little service they demand of her: become an informant.

This was the price, given the levity of the charges weighing on her, whereby she could have doubtlessly obtained her provisional freedom, maybe even an acquittal. The law, for those who bow to it, has a lot of indulgence…

Being serious, this time, she said no. And she repeated it at every attempt, worsening her fate in perfect knowledge of the cause, accepting all charges that her irritating silence brought on.

I mentioned Gavroche… maybe we should speak of Bara[3].

#

What did she do? She did not kill or steal or burn or explode. She was not one of those interesting society women whose guilt or non-guilt is the talk of the town, the subject of controversies and conversations. She is also not a heroine of love: she has harmed no man or woman out of passion.

Her case is less serious and more complex—and therefore more dangerous.

Since her friend has progressive opinions, they reproach her for some suspicious acquaintances. Isn’t that it? Whoever lives in a rather wide and busy circle, should they have to answer for everyone they meet, greet, shake hands with or with whom they happened to be a guest in the same place—which is the case?

Especially when we are talking about the office of a newspaper, a more crowded place than anywhere else in the world! Rirette (I remind you she is 22 years old) was working for a newspaper that was foolhardy enough to rent the space in her name.

“Now, during the search we found two little revolvers in the office of this newspaper and it was established that these guns had been stolen. Possession of stolen property.”

“I’m not a thief!” Rirette shouted indignation. “I didn’t even know that these weapons were stolen.”

“That’s possible,” the judge replied. “But you must have known who had put them there. You were the tenant, legally, and therefore responsible… There could very well be a way to mitigate your responsibility and reduce the charges against you. The thief had no fear of compromising you by dumping stolen goods in a place rented in your name. He had no scruples toward you… why would you have any toward him? Give us a name!”

Rirette looked at the judge, the bailiff, the green walls within which so many unfortunate, so many innocent and guilty had argued. She thought of her little girls, of freedom, of her comrades who remained faithful and whom it would be nice to see walking around the streets of Paris.

The judge waited, thought she was hesitating while she was, in fact, dreaming.

“Come on,” an encouraging voice said.

“No,” Rirette shook her head and her face that had turned pale after so many months in jail. “To denounce someone is a dirty trick! Keep me, condemn me, send me to prison or wherever you want! I won’t do it!”

She was put back in the paddy wagon and back behind bars in that great black house at the end of rue Faubourg Saint-Denis. And if, when the lights are turned out, Rirette is no longer Rirette, if she breaks down and cries, if she calls out to her children, stretches out her arms in the night, nobody will imagine, nobody will know. At dawn she is Rirette like she was the night before, brave and cheerful. If a sparrow alit behind the bars it could chirp, “How are you, little sister?”

#

In these times when character is becoming rare, it is interesting to me to show this wisp of a woman rebelling against becoming an informant. So many men (and good ones at that!) turn themselves willingly into informants.

Oh, I forgot! The newspaper is called “L’Anarchie” and Rirette is officially Mme [Mrs] Maitrejean. But these details take nothing away, isn’t it true, from the reality of the facts or the self-sacrifice of the denial.

 

Next:  22-Horrors of War

[1] Gil Blas, August 11 1912.

[2] A street urchin in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables.

[3] Joseph Bara (1779-1793), young boy who died fighting for the French Revolution.

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