A Withered Heart
Monsieur Madeleine: An older man, the mayor of
Montreuil-Sur-Mer, gentle and inscrutable
Madame Victurnien: An elderly woman, self-righteous and bitter, who snooped out and discovered Fantine's secret purely for her own gratification.
Cosette: Fantine's abused child
Scene: MADAME VICTURNIEN's Parlor
(MADAME VICTURNIEN is sitting in a chair in her parlor, which is cramped and sparsely furnished. She is a thin, severe woman, extremely simply clad, with grey hair pulled tightly back in a bun. She is currently wearing reading glasses perched upon her nose, evidently for reading the large Bible open upon her desk. At the moment, however, she is not looking at the Scriptures, but is instead watching a portrait on the mantlepiece, a small framed picture of a strict-looking, middle-aged man--Monsieur Victurien, long dead. There is a knock at the door.)
MADAME VICTURNIEN: (starting almost guiltily) Yes?
VOICE OF MONSIEUR MADELEINE: Madame Victurnien, may I request a moment of your time?
MADAME VICTURNIEN: (rising hurriedly) Monsieur le maire! (She hastens to the door, pausing to smooth her hair and dress before opening it.)
MADAME VICTURNIEN: Please, Monsieur le maire, come in...
(MONSIEUR MADELEINE enters. He is a powerfully-built man in his late forties or early fifties, simply dressed, with grey hair and a melancholy, benevolent expression. At the moment, however, he seems almost angry. MADAME VICTURNIEN is unaware of this, bustling around putting away her Bible and drawing a chair close to the meager fire.)
MADAME VICTURNIEN: You must forgive me, Monsieur le maire. I did not expect you, so early it is...
MONSIEUR MADELEINE: (cutting in) It is only a short visit. I merely have some questions to ask you about....an affair which has come to my attention.
MADAME VICTURNIEN: (puzzled) An..affair, monsieur le maire?
MONSIEUR MADELEINE:(Nods abruptly) Madame Victurnien, I have been working very hard much of last night and this morning to ascertain particular facts...
(He trails off, evidently unsure how to phrase his inquiry, then speaks again.)
MONSIEUR MADELEINE: You made a journey to Montfermeil some months ago, did you not?
MADAME VICTURNIEN: (surprised) Er...yes, Monsieur le maire, I did..
MONSIEUR MADELEINE: For what purpose?
MADAME VICTURNIEN: (discomfited, then holds her head up) I had learned somethign disgraceful about a young woman--one of YOUR workers, m'sieu le maire! Disgraceful, a loose woman with no right...
MONSIEUR MADELEINE: (cutting in, quiet but stern) No right to begin her life anew?
MADAME VICTURNIEN: (flustered, then quickly regains her composure) She came from Paris, monsieur le maire, and she had fallen in with her OWN kind there, had a child, shared beds with many a man..
(During this, MONSIEUR MADELEINE has risen and taking a position in front of the hearth, settling hands in his pockets, and examining the portrait of Monsieur Victurnien.)
MONSIEUR MADELEINE:(interrupting gently) Were you ever in love, Madame Victurnien?
(MADAME VICTURNIEN stops short, looking up at him)
MADAME VICTURNIEN: I...
(MONSIEUR MADELEINE speaks without turning around.)
MONSIEUR MADELEINE: You were married--to a former monk, I believe. You must therefore have been in love, no?
MADAME VICTURNIEN: (evidently disturbed) Monsieur le maire, I...
MONSIEUR MADELEINE:(meditatively) I was not.(He turns abruptly and retakes his seat) Not once. But, I think, when one falls in love, one loses one's head temporarily. Do you agree, Madame Victurnien? Monsieur Victurnien was, I know, a former monk who turned revolutionary--did you and he easily keep your heads, when so many were losing theirs?
MADAME VICTURNIEN: (uncertainly) I..I think we did, monsieur le maire..(softly) but I dont' think we were..
(She trails off, looking at her hands, then looks up and speaks arrogantly.)
MADAME VICTURNIEN: Yes, monsieur le maire, we did keep our heads. And we did NOT sin...
MONSIEUR MADELEINE: (sounding slightly amused) Never sinned in all your life, Madame Victurnien?
MADAME VICTURNIEN: (stiffly) I did not commit that worst of sins, monsieur le maire.
MONSIEUR MADELEINE: (musingly) No, of course not..
(He rises, suddenly terrible and menacing
MONSIEUR MADELEINE:(growing more and more angry and passionate) And because, in a life that, like everyone's, is filled with sin, you never committed THAT particular crime, you considered yourself worthy to sit in judgement on a young woman no more then a girl, a child with a child to support? You considered it your responsibility to destroy her life as well as that of a small girl who was guilty of NO crime, for a moment of weakness, to plunge her into deeper degradation, for....what? To gratify your own self-righteousness?
MADAME VICTURNIEN: (leaping to her feet) MONSIEUR LE MAIRE!!
MONSIEUR MADELEINE:(Suddenly quite calm again) Forgive me, Madame Victurnien. I have strayed from my original path. I beg your pardon.
MADAME VICTURNIEN:(evidently much flabbergasted) Monsieur...
MONSIEUR MADELEINE:(steady and imperturbedly) You went to see the child, correct?
MADAME VICTURNIEN: I...yes, monsieur le maire.
MONSIEUR MADELEINE: And how did she appear to be treated?
(MADAME VICTURNIEN hesitates. The lights dim slightly, narrowing and focusing on a small figure slipping in the door behind MONSIEUR MADELEINE--a little girl, dirty, bruised, and rag-clad, clutching a broom--Fantine's daughter, COSETTE. MADAME VICTURNIEN starts in surprise, shaking her head at hte apparition, and MONSIEUR MADELEINE reaches out a concerned hand.)
COSETTE: Remember...you know, you remember...
MONSIEUR MADELEINE; Madame Victurnien?
(COSETTE sinks back against the wall as the lights return, watching MADAME VICTURNIEN. MADAME VICTURNIEN shakes her head to dispell the phantoms, closing her eyes, and finally answers.)
MADAME VICTURNIEN: I...yes, monsieur le maire. She seemed very well-treated. Very happy. Her mother made a wise choice for onc--for the child.
(COSETTE sighs, takes a firmer grip on her broom, and vanishes out the door.)
MONSIEUR MADELEINE:(Lnodding) Thank you, Madame. That is all I wished to know.
(He turns to go, and MADAME VICTURNIEN steps forward, holding her hands out toward his back, her face suddenly pleading.)
MADAME VICTURNIEN: Monsieur le maire?
(MONSIEUR MADELEINE turns back, and MADAME VICTURNIEN quickly composes herself)
MONSIEUR MADELEINE: Madame Viturnien?
MADAME VICTURNIEN; Are you sure you won't stay to breakfast?
(MONSIEUR MADELEINE shakes his head, making a small bow.)
MONSIEUR MADELEINE: No, thank you. I have much to do this morning--I do not wish to visit her until I know all the facts. Good day, Madame Victurnien.
(MADAME VICTURNIEN hurries forward, grabbing at his sleeve.)
MADAME VICTURNIEN: Please, monsieur le maire...
(MONSIEUR MADELEINE pulls away, a trifle impatiently, and a cufflink flies from his sleeve.)
MONSIEUR MADELEINE:(turning around to look for it) Bother...
(MADAME VICTURNIEN stoops down and feels along the floor, then rises with her hands behind her back)
MADAME VICTURNIEN: I'm terribly sorry, monsieur le maire...I don't see it anywhere.
MONSIEUR MADELEINE:(waving one hand quickly) Please. It's nothing. I shall leave you now.
(MONSIEUR MADELEINE pauses with his hand on the doorknob, and speaks without turning around)
MONSIEUR MADELEINE: You give a great deal to the parish, Madame Victurnien, so I have heard. It might serve you well to remember there are two kinds of charity--one which gives money, and one which gives pardon. The good Lord would bid us have both.
(He leaves. MADAME VICTURNIEN sits down for a moment, dazed, then rises and suddenly turns on its face the portrait of her husband on the mantlepiece. She opens her hand, which has been clenched, and something glistens--MONSIEUR MADELEINE's cufflink.)
MADAME VICTURNIEN:: (softly, to herself) Madame Madeleine..
(MONSIEUR MADELEINE's voice re-echoes in her mind and through the room.)
MONSIEUR MADELEINE'S VOICE: Were you ever in love, Madame Victurnien?
(MADAME VICTURNIEN crosses to the window and opens the curtain to watch MONSIEUR MADELEINE leave, raising the cufflink to her lips)
MADAME VICTURNIEN(softly) Yes. YES.